Yesterday I was frustrated with my husband for getting distracted mid-conversation. Here we were talking–about something I found absolutely fascinating, by the way–and the next thing I know he’s halfway through an email. This really irritated my self-righteous side…until I remembered all the times I’ve done this to God.

It’s downright embarrassing how focused I can be writing or reading a book, yet how scattered I am when I try to pray. The minute I get started, it’s like an extra dose of caffeine is injected into my brain and suddenly everything I’ve put off for months absolutely needs to get done. I jump from one thing to the next, totally oblivious to the Divine conversation I was initially involved in.  I’ll be halfway through task three before I remember, “Oh, we’re you praying?” Then I’ll try again, and again, only to wind up elbow deep in the laundry basket ten minutes later.

Luckily God knows this about me, and loves me anyway. But because prayer is a vital part of who I am and the glue that cements my heart to the heart of my Savior, He is determined to help me stay focused on Him. Ah, focus. What a lovely, yet seemingly unattainable word! And I blame modern technology for my ever-bouncing thoughts. (Sorry, computer/fb/twitter/instant messaging geeks.) Staring at my computer screen day after day with my facebook account pulled up in one window, my email in another, along with a few word documents I’m working on, my phone set on alert, buzzing each time a new message comes in, my attention span is slowly waning. My brain waves have weakened and it’s time I whip them back into shape. And just like any other training, it’s gonna take a little sweat and determination to do it. A lifetime worth of determination, because as Francis Chan so wisely points out in his book, Crazy Love, whatever isn’t swimming upstream gets carried downstream. Whatever isn’t moving forward is sliding back.

Anyone who’s spent any time at a gym understand this. It always amazes me how hard it is to get in shape, yet how easy it is to get out of it. I’ve been running for about twenty-four years now. About three months ago, I could run eleven miles in an hour and a half; six miles in forty-eight minutes. But after completing a triathlon in May, I got lazy. My long runs were too time consuming, my hill training was swapped for a treadmill, and instead of pushing myself to that next level, when I got tired I just slowed it down a notch. And once I started slipping down the slope, the slide grew easier and the climb upward less appealing. The phrase, “I’ll run tomorrow” was on instant replay in my brain, until one day I went to run and found, in a relatively short period of time, my pace had slowed a full minute per mile and my endurance had been slashed in half. So now I’m back at square one, plodding and pushing one mile at a time until I regain what couch-sitting zapped. I need to rebuild my endurance.

I think it’s the same with our prayer time. We can’t expect to be able to dive into an hour long, passionate, two-way conversation with God if we’re accustomed to shout-out prayers. We’ve got to train ourselves, and our brains, how to connect with God and stay connected. And just like any other exercise, training works best when it becomes habit. As we increase the good habits, like staying focused, the bad habits, like losing focus, will wane.

Although my mind will probably always have the tendency to drift, there are certain things that have helped me to stay connected with God:

1. I have a regularly scheduled (yep, scheduled) Bible reading time and prayer time.

I know many do this as one activity. I’m so consumed with myself, I need an extra dose of God halfway through the day. I start my day with a cup of coffee and my Bible, then around two o’clock, I set aside an hour for praise and prayer. The two o’clock “appointment” started once my daughter began to go to school. I was spending so much time sitting in the pick-up line, I thought perhaps I could kill two birds with one stone. I began to use that time to pray and connect with God, and it became such a sweet experience, the results of which trickled into the rest of my day, I carried this practice into my summer and then into the following year. This has become my “date-time”, a special time between me and God. And in the summer when my schedule gets weird and two o’clock is no longer clearly defined, God tugs on my heart, reminding me of our time just like a doting husband would.

2. I use a visual prompt.

Perhaps I’m one of those visual learners (Give me a textbook over a lecture any day!) but I’ve found if I write down prayer prompts on a three-by-five card, it’s much easier to stay focused. And when I lose focus (which I’m sure to do, visual prompts or not), having a list makes it easier to refocus and pick up where I left off.

3. I pray in a way that works for me.

Most of the time, I like to pray out loud. And I like to move while I do it. My best, most intimate, prayer times have been on the treadmill. It’s almost like there’s a direct correlation between how fast my heart rate is to how close I feel to God. It probably has something to do with the ADHD, OCD in me. My daughter finds it amusing–especially when songs find their way into my prayer time. Although, driving down the road looking like you’re talking to yourself isn’t exactly a pride booster, but I’m learning how to talk with little lip movement.

4. I ask God for help.

We both know I’m easily distracted, so there’s no sense denying it. Nor should I settle for spiritual mediocracy. Instead, I openly acknowledge my areas of weakness and ask God to intervene. Sometimes I’ll have to pray for His help multiple times through out my prayer time. Every time I get distracted, I apologize and ask God to redirect me. Not because I’m following a daily to do list but because I know how much I need this time. I’ve seen how differently my day looks when I’m connecting with God.

So what about you? How do you tame your drifting mind? And how does habit play into that?