Prayer, Creativity & Faith

Overcoming the obstacles in prayer

GRAPHIC Guilt isn't productive

If you’re local(ish) and it’s remotely practical, I’d love to sit down and talk with you in person. The reality is that we’re scattered all over the place and it’s not likely to happen. I don’t feel like letting that stop us from having a good conversation, though. I mean, you can fix yourself a cup of your favorite coffee with just the right kind and amount of creamer or sugar or sweetener. And I can do the same here. And we can still talk from the comfort of our own living rooms—whenever it happens to be convenient.

Periodically, I’ll be posting questions here, and I hope you’ll interact with me. Nothing worse than inviting someone to coffee and having them not show up.

Speaking of that… A man at our church preached about this one time and the analogy really stuck with me. Imagine… I got all ready to go to lunch with my best friend. Picked out cute clothes and shoes (he probably didn’t mention that but that’s just where my mind went). Cleared my schedule, made arrangements for my kids (this was back when they were younger), and drove to the restaurant right on time. And then she didn’t show up? He proposed that maybe that’s how God feels when we say we’ll pray, when we say we want to spend time with Him, and we never get around to it.


If you’re like me, you’d stay and eat anyway. Because lunch. And because books make pretty good dining companions, even if they’re not quite as good as people. Well, not always.

But back to prayer. As I’ve promised repeatedly in my writing, this is a guilt-free zone and I don’t think guilt belongs in prayer. I also don’t believe God ever beats us up for our failings. Sure, He wants us there. And He’ll show us when we have done something wrong. But guilt isn’t productive. Love is. So He just tries to help us be better.

So let’s start a new conversation. What are some of the obstacles that keep you from praying or from spending time with God?

I want you to be real. The reason can be large or small. Maybe you can’t find a private spot in your house. Or maybe you don’t know if you believe in God. Maybe you don’t think He answers prayer. Maybe you think you don’t deserve it. Or you don’t know how to talk to someone you can’t see. Or someone has said something to make you feel guilty or unworthy, making you doubt whether you’re actually a Christian in the first place. Maybe you have three kids under the age of 5 and you rarely find a moment of quiet. Or maybe you aren’t sure what to say.

One thing I can promise you: you are not alone. You’re not the only one with your particular doubt or hurdle or issue or fear or crazy schedule. But the only way to find that out? Admit it and start a conversation about it.

I have plenty of my own issues, many of which I’ve already shared in my book. But I won’t ask you to share anything that I’m not willing to discuss. So this is my current struggle. Right now I’m in a season when writing consumes all of my attention and energy, and pure, focused prayer doesn’t get the time or attention it deserves. A friend helped by suggesting that—using my own words against me—our prayer lives change over time and in different seasons, and we need to be open to whatever God has for us. I need to remember that my prayer life may not look like the next person’s, but not to rule it out simply because of that. If I hadn’t shared, I wouldn’t have had my friend gently encourage me. But because I did, she pointed out to me that for this season, my prayer may (mostly) take the form of sitting in front of my computer and writing.

It helped. And it made me more intentional about it.

So what are your prayer struggles? What obstacles keep you from spending time with God? And, let’s turn this around: do you have any suggestions for me?


12 Responses to “Overcoming the obstacles in prayer”

  1. Kathy says:

    Right now I’m on summer break (I’m a teacher) so my schedule is out the window. Suddenly all the habits I had of praying as I woke up, listening to my Bible on the way to work, praying in the evening, went out the window with my schedule. Today I got in the car at 11:45 to run an errand, and I thought “Oh, there’s no point in putting my Bible on now, I’m going out of town tomorrow and won’t be able to listen for a whole week.” But then I thought, well, what does that have to do with today? Nothing. So I put on my Bible and ran my errand. It’s so hard to be consistent in the little things when life is busy and crazy, and I’ve found this summer that it can be hard to be consistent even when life slows down. (The crazy part never seems to go away for me…) So I’m trying to focus on one day at a time, even one hour at a time. And I’m reminding myself, as I read in another blog post, that not only do I love God, but God loves me too.

    • Good for you. I believe He honors every step we take towards Him. And I’m right there with you about summers. My summers are usually twice as busy as the rest of the year because I work from home and then suddenly I’m still working and have three more people home all day with me! Thanks for commenting, and have a good trip!

  2. Tammy says:

    I am on summer break ( I am a teacher) so my schedule is out of whack. Not only that but my twins graduated and we are preparing for college and I could go on with many excuses. There is a part of me that thinks I will do it later and later comes and I think well later again. I think you get the picture. I like routine and summer is not routine and therefore I have to learn how to make routine at least the important things. I have recently began writing to God at night before bed and choosing a verse to focus on next day. I love God with all my heart and so glad He loves me with my flaws and I know He will help me get back to Him.

    • Tammy, I love the idea of writing to God at night before bed and choosing a verse for the next day. Great way to settle your mind at the end of the day! Good luck with your summer, and thanks for sharing!

  3. Susie says:

    I’m a night shifter, and don’t wake easily. My brain is foggy and dull for about an hour or so after arising to my feet. My plan is always to have coffee/breakfast with God’s word and my journal, preceded by time on my knees – and always a miraculous day when I accomplish that. My biggest saboteur is details – need to pay that bill, call work, arrange another appointment, or have to hit the deck running to _this_ appointment.. There are piles of paperwork and correspondence I’m behind in, and I have to get a certain letter in the mailbox to beat the carrier – you get the picture, I think. Little cluttery details that side track. This past week I have been dealing with an injured back that flared up again. I cannot get up if I kneel, I cannot sit for very long – so I mostly stand up with my writing desk perched on the piano to write in my journal or read the scriptures, but concentration has been difficult during the pain. I find my best worship right now is when lying on the couch trying to sleep and singing hymns to God. The collected letters of Brother Lawrence in “Practicing the Presence of God” have been invaluable in assuring me that I can be with God anywhere, at any time, doing almost anything. Praying Upside Down has been helpful because you show us ways to see God differently and more clearly and precisely than comes naturally, i.e. to see with new eyes. I need to practice those things, too.

  4. missie b says:

    this is what i needed to read today. as i sit and ponder what my obstacles are when it comes to prayer, the first thing that comes to mind is mindfulness. my prayers are often said in short “thank you’s” or “lord, please. . .” i’m not sure whether or not i’m praying “right”. i’m not always sure what to say when i pray. make sense?

    • TOTAL sense. If it makes you feel better, I could have written your comment. My prayers are mostly the same way. But I also want to say that I don’t believe there’s a WRONG way to pray. If you’re praying, it’s right. Don’t beat yourself up. God hears all of our prayers, all types. Long or short. Focused or distracted. But I think there’s something beautiful that happens within us when we’re able to take a few minutes and reside in that place of peace, seeking His presence. And right now I’m asking myself, if it’s so wonderful, why don’t I do that more often? All the time, even? I don’t know. All I can do it try again, and assure myself that God knows. He hears. He listens. No matter how I pray. xo

  5. missie b says:

    i like the idea of choosing a verse for the next day. . .how does that work? i’m a TOTAL work in progress!

    • I don’t know… probably however you want it to work! Tammy, would you like to tell us a little more? Do you randomly flip through your Bible and pick something? Or are you more structured than that? 🙂

  6. chets says:

    Hi Kelly. I get so easily distracted when I pray? My mind wanders a lot. Pls what do I do? Thanks!

    • That’s a hard one — for all of us! I like to write my prayers. Something about the physical act of using my hand and eyes helps me focus with fewer distractions because it engages more of me.

      I’ve heard about a woman who keeps a sheet of paper by her when she prays, and she uses it to jot down the distracting thoughts — don’t forget to call about fixing the A/C, remember to pick up dry cleaning, those kinds of things — so she doesn’t have to worry about remembering it all. She writes the down and goes back to focusing on prayer.

      I think sometimes it can help to put on headphones and listen to quiet, spiritual music. That kind of shuts out the rest of the world so you can pray or think about God.

      It’s OK to get distracted. Just do the best you can. Try again. And again. And don’t feel guilty or worry about it. I believe God is happy when we try. Let me know if you try something that helps… I’d love to hear about it! Good luck!

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