Read Mark 14:37-38
Then he came and found them fast asleep. He spoke to Peter,”Are you asleep,Simon? Couldn’t you manage to watch for a single hour? Watch and pray,all of you,that you may not have to face temptation. Your spirit is willing,but human nature is weak.” (JBP)
It seems falling asleep while praying has a long history! In Gethsemane,in a time of crisis,Jesus’ closest friends couldn’t stay awake to support him in prayer. And so a little while later they failed to respond appropriately at Jesus’ arrest.
We not only fall asleep while praying. Our minds wander off in all sorts of directions. We try to focus on the matters at hand,on God himself,but find ourselves thinking about getting the car serviced,wondering how the children are going at school,deciding to see the doctor about that vague ache. We can embark on so many tangents that we forget what we began praying about.
Two things can be said about that. One is that some wandering thoughts might themselves be matters for prayer. They are not so much wandering thoughts to be fought against,but promptings of the Spirit that require our attention. The other thing to be said is that we are not to give up or assume God has given up on us. Jesus didn’t spurn his disciples as a result of their inattention in Gethsemane. He is endlessly patient with us.
We can discipline ourselves a bit better in prayer by using lists or having images or phrases to focus on. But as Jesus says,our human nature is weak. So meandering thoughts are part of our prayer life and are not to cause us to give up. We pray as we can,not as we can’t.