A common problem for Orthodox Christians is being attacked by worldly thoughts while praying. I’m no exception. Due to my overactive imagination, my thoughts stray during prayer, and rarely does a minute go by where my mind is completely pure and focused on the Lord God. The attacks can be so bad that, even though I know of the Orthodox concept of “watchfulness,” I indulge in thoughts, sometimes even pausing my prayer to do so. Nonetheless, the first step for me in being watchful is knowing what type of thought categories Satan uses to distract me. I’ve identified 16 of them through experience.

Anger

Someone did something that has made you mad or upset. While praying, you may imagine ways to confront the person or convince yourself how bad they really are. Satan likes focusing your anger on a person rather than material objects, such as bad weather, to stir up your passions more strongly. Also, I was told by a priestmonk that irritation has its root in anger, so thoughts of being irritated by someone would also classify.

Example of distracting thought during prayer: “I don’t believe my mother falsely accused me of dropping orange juice on the floor. Next time she does that, I’m going to tell her off!”

Anxiety and fear

You’re worried about something that may happen or has already happened. You dwell on negative or catastrophic outcomes. Anxiety is common in our generation. All of us could probably be diagnosed with some sort of “anxiety disorder.”

Example: “Are they going to mandate the vaccine at my job? If they do, how will I earn an income? Maybe I’ll starve.”

Body pleasing

I often have thoughts of sensations of my body and how to take better care of it. This is most commonly related to temperature, whether I’m hot or cold, and any discomfort in my feet. I also think of ways I could make my body more comfortable.

Example: “The lumbar support cushion in my car is a bit hard. I wonder if Amazon has a different style that I can buy.”

Body touching

During prayer, you may suddenly get the urge to examine your skin, explore your ear canal for pieces of wax, remove lint from your navel, pop a pimple on your head, stretch, crack your knuckles, smell your hair, or play with your beard.

Example: “This zit on my forehead just won’t pop. Let me try to scrape it with my fingernail one more time while I recite the Nicene Creed and see if there is any white juice.”

Despair

I find that thoughts of despair during prayer are often a sign of an acute demonic attack, and coincide with other disturbances of the soul. Here you will have thoughts of hopelessness, either for your salvation, material situation, or life in general. Take thoughts of despair seriously, because Satan is actively trying to upend your faith.

Example: “Prayer is too hard! I will never pray in peace!”

Events and news

You focus on things happening in the world, whether high-profile news or upcoming events in your social circle.

Example: “I wonder what the result of the election will be. If the conservative candidate loses, it’s the end of America.”

Fantasy

I commonly create grand fantasies in my mind that are oriented into the future. Fantasies are especially damaging because you’re attempting to escape from the current reality, similar to what drug addicts do.

Example: “If I lived in a log cabin, I would be so happy. It would be so peaceful and serene. I could watch the birds all day. I wonder how many logs I would need to build it. Let me count…”

Food

You recollect the taste of the last meal you ate. Then you think of the next meal you will eat, and how tasty it will be. If you often cook like me, you may also imagine the recipes you want to make in the future. Often, I think of ways to improve recipes.

Example: “My banana bread was delicious, but a bit too dense. Should I use 50 grams less sugar next time?”

Judgment

Judgment doesn’t lie far from thoughts of anger. You judge other people for not pleasing you or not being perfect like you.

Example: “I’m tired of African women almost hitting me with their bad driving. They are dangerous.”

Meta

Meta thoughts are small thoughts that describe what you’re currently experiencing while praying, such as the warmth from your prayer candle or the realization that you haven’t had a distracting thought in a while.

Example: “I think I’m experiencing grace right now because this prayer is better than yesterday’s.”

Nonsense

Sometimes you get bombarded with gibberish or trivia that seems comes from nowhere.

Example: “I wonder what’s the difference between brown eggs and white eggs.”

Past and memories

While my thoughts often stray into the future, I noticed many other people, especially women, linger in the past. Past memories, resentments, and grievances come up during prayer, often coinciding with anger and judgment. Other times, you think of pleasing episodes from travel or intimate moments with the opposite sex.

Example: “Living in Poland was so pleasant. I really miss the café culture and chocolate croissants.”

Pride

Thoughts of pride and superiority may be about how you’re skilled or accomplished in a certain area. You may also compare yourself favorably to someone else as if saying, “At least I’m not like that person.”

Example: “I read one new Orthodox book each month. I’m doing a great job maintaining the faith.”

Tasks and to-do

A big problem for me is I review chores and work tasks while praying. I even dive into the logistics of how exactly I’m going to execute a task. Sometimes I plan out my schedule and the times I should start baking my latest cake recipe.

Example: “If you start baking the masculine layer cake at 11am, and then make pancakes no later than 1pm, you’ll have time to do a live stream at 2:30pm.”

Theories and ideas

These are the pie-in-the-sky thoughts where you try to connect the dots from your education and life experience. There’s nothing wrong with that… but not while you’re praying. Sometimes I even draft articles like this one in my mind.

Example: “I should write an article on all the thoughts that attack me while I pray.”

Vanity

The last category is vain thoughts about yourself. You review your strengths (or weaknesses), you commend yourself for a good deed, you wonder if you should get a haircut, you review your latest accomplishments, and so on.

Example: “I was really nice to that inquirer in church. Maybe I inspired him to take up the faith.”

Can distracting thoughts be stopped?

I’m still battling this problem daily so I can’t offer much advice on how to deal with it, but I can share some steps I’ve taken. First, I’ve come to accept that I cannot control whether or not a thought enters my mind, but I can control if it persists or lingers. If I proceed to feed distracting thoughts, what will happen is that I’ll only be technically reading the words of a prayer while having a conversation with myself concerning the thought. You can’t stop the thought of what you’re going to eat for dinner from entering your mind, but you can decide not to answer back with the name of an entrée and side dish. Don’t feed the thoughts.

Prayer is like driving on a highway. You’re in your lane, and up ahead you see a road sign. You glance at that sign but don’t fixate on it, because if you do more than glance at it, you will start to veer out of your lane. There are many cars on the opposite side of the highway. You glance but you don’t stare at them. There is a dead deer on the road. You don’t try to examine its guts. Otherwise, you will end up in a ditch. While driving you cannot control all the “distractions” in the form of signs, cars, or other objects, but you deal with them by staying in your lane and maintaining appropriate speed. In prayer, you cannot control the thoughts that come in, so treat them like road signs. Recognize them as a thought and leave them there as you pass by. To my rudimentary understanding, this is what Orthodox elders call being “watchful.” You observe the thoughts coming in, acknowledge them as distractions, but you don’t start a dialogue with them or with yourself about them.

In the process of learning how to become watchful, I noticed that it was helpful to name the thoughts that were coming in as if I were a baseball umpire. I’d be praying, and I’d remember the lunch I just ate. “Food!” Then later I’d think of how supermarkets have started to have empty shelves. “Anxiety!” Then I’d have a thought about riding a rented bicycle by my favorite Polish lake. “Past!” This helped me understand that there are no good thoughts during prayer, and that if a thought that entered my mind is important, I’ll surely remember it after prayer, even if it’s an idea for my next greatest novel.

My understanding of distracting thoughts has improved, but I admit that on some days, I don’t have the willpower or strength to not engage with them. I can go through whole prayer sessions having a conversation with myself about a dozen different matters even though I’m simultaneously “praying.” I try not to get upset because I know that God recognizes my puny effort. I persist until the next prayer where my willpower may be stronger.

For a new Christian like myself, I believe the key is perseverance. I know the types of thoughts that assault me and I know that Satan is using an intelligent, refined, and concerted program to distance me from God. I simply try my best to focus when I’m speaking with Him, because when I’m speaking with a mere human being, I would want them to focus on me instead of every other worldly topic under the sun that enters their mind. How much more important is it for us to pay attention when speaking to God.

Read Next: What Spell Are You Under?

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For me, the biggest issue is that I just cannot focus during prayer. While I am praying, I catch myself just reading off the words, or speaking into the ether, and not treating my prayer like what it is (communion with God). When I do get into the mindset that God is listening to me as I speak, the prayer feels deeply more spiritual and significantly more productive

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This helped me understand that there are no good thoughts during prayer, and that if a thought that entered my mind is important, I’ll surely remember it after prayer, even if it’s an idea for my next greatest novel.

So true, funny how satan will try to distract the prayers of the faithful using "good thoughts" to help you plan the day, finish your chores, or pick a new project, but those lesser goods only serve to distract you from the Greatest Good.

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I don't have the mental multi-tasking capacity to be distracted during prayer, but I definitely don't spend as much time in prayer as y'all. I am bad about crying during prayer and while singing. Like, it triggers some part of my brain in a way that I cannot moderate. It makes it very difficult to sing in church.

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I’ll only be technically reading the words of a prayer while having a conversation with myself concerning the thought.

Did this often in college, but for prayer (when reciting from a prayer book) now when reading the words also trying to see the images in the mind to keep engagement with the recited prayers (morning and evening).

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I noticed another weird "disraction". When I start an evening prayer rule or a few minutes into it, I sometimes start burping or even having some flatulence issues. Even if it's not been a problem during the day. It's like some poopoo demon is making fun of me.

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WOW! I can soooooo relate to this Roosh. I’ve known for a long time now that fellow Christians share similar struggles with me, but to have it confirmed so clearly in your writings is a blessing indeed. I particularly related to my prayers being interrupted with your reference regarding “tasks and to do”. Thanks again for the article and may God bless you abundantly.

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While I’m sure there are a lot of books to read I recommend Searching for and Maintaining peace by Jacques Phillipe.

Here’s my short personal gloss on how he talks about this type of thing:

God knows I’m dense about some things. He knows I’m weak, He knows when I’m foggy and distracted. Even the strength or clarity to persevere as much as I can is in His hands.

Without God we can do nothing, our weakness is a reminder to trust in God. Even distress over our weakness can be a distraction from the missions He has for us. Rely on God.

Finally, and this is me more than Phillipe, even if you’re not Catholic, which I’m not, it makes sense to put a distinction between conscious deliberate sins and those failings which are more in the nature of a mistake. Not that you shouldn’t take those seriously of course, but they don’t rate the same response.

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I and others have struggled with recurring thoughts of blasphemous images. Martin Luther struggled with recurring thoughts about Satan's ass. (Yes, really.) Just remember - the presence of a problem doesn't always equal an absence of God.

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I'm glad you wrote this, Roosh. I have been having trouble with this for a year now, I was certain it was due to my own weakness that I was unable to sit and pray to Him and keep my mind focused, that I alone was unworthy to even try and pray. I always figured it was due to my own lack of focus in prayer (which is true) but I also understand that demonic forces will lure me away from closeness with God, they will tempt me with thoughts about changing my car's oil or other such nonsense.
In time, I have gotten better, and have grown significantly in the faith, but I still have a long way to go. Reading an article like this is reassuring to know that I am not the only one struggling.

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I think meditation would be useful. I don't think it's just for buddhists but I've noticed myself being able to be more focused, relaxed and able to control my feelings and thoughts during periods where I've been doing meditation. It helps more than one thinks.

And for the record, there are different types of meditation so it's possible to do while doing an activity such as walking.

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As Fr. Ripperger has informed us, the motto of the demons is "anything but God". Meaning, get the humans thinking on anything but God.

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Did this often in college, but for prayer (when reciting from a prayer book) now when reading the words also trying to see the images in the mind to keep engagement with the recited prayers (morning and evening).

I've found it helpful to pause a reading during prayer and apologize to God for my lack of focus. I confess my weakness and surrender the thought(s) to Him. If they persist, I will tell God exactly what the thought is (to the best of my ability) and ask Him to show me how to discern, how to focus, and if this thought is allowed by Him, and if so, can He reveal to me what to do as a result. Letting Jesus take the wheel of my mind- so to speak. So that I may speak the correct words in His Holy presence. Speaking by the Holy Spirit and knowing His perfect Love is the weapon to cast out all fear. Even a simple groan -of our spirit when we are sick, ill, under duress or incapable of coherent speech will be heard in perfect clarity by Our Father Who Art in Heaven. It's pretty cool. Helpful article! Thank you. It is encouraging to hear that we are not alone in these attacks. No thing is hidden from God and that is so nice!

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To chime in again - I suspect that I have some variety of mood disorder that makes me prone to things like this. I've found that cutting back on the caffeine has helped. Stimulants oftentimes amplify and accelerate the thought processes.

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To chime in again - I suspect that I have some variety of mood disorder that makes me prone to things like this. I've found that cutting back on the caffeine has helped. Stimulants oftentimes amplify and accelerate the thought processes.

When I first started block fasting (multiple-day fasting) I was still catering to my appetite by drinking coffee. I was drinking 3 cups a day, some with caffeine and some decaf. And I was sad all the time. When I cut back to one or fewer cups per day, my mood brightened considerably.

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When I pray on waking up, my biggest problem is managing my breathing to prevent constant yawning. It can be a real struggle to control it.

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To chime in again - I suspect that I have some variety of mood disorder that makes me prone to things like this. I've found that cutting back on the caffeine has helped. Stimulants oftentimes amplify and accelerate the thought processes.

I was in church the other day and having a real hard time paying attention. I was getting frustrated because it's usually not this bad. Then I remembered that right before, I had two chocolate chip cookies with dark chocolate, which has caffeine. It made a mess of my mind. I even buy decaffeinated teas.

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When I first started block fasting (multiple-day fasting) I was still catering to my appetite by drinking coffee. I was drinking 3 cups a day, some with caffeine and some decaf. And I was sad all the time. When I cut back to one or fewer cups per day, my mood brightened considerably.

I'm down to a double-shot in the morning and maybe a chai tea here or there. Have considered quitting outright for a while now.

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Great article. I had several out-loud guffaws over the examples!

One of the best things I have ever read and remembered is someone who was writing about falling asleep at night while praying, and how guilty he/she felt. Then someone told him/her, if your child was talking to you in bed, and fell asleep while talking to you, would you be upset or would you thing that their last thoughts were talking to me about their day, their concerns, their joys, their stories. I no longer feel bad about falling asleep while talking to God :)

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