Minds and Hearts and Prayers
By Amanda Hudson
Probably we are better off not worrying about the quality of our prayers so much, but instead just put our efforts and energy into showing up in God’s presence each day and trying.
The best-prayed rosary is still going to have moments of “brain-drift.” Ditto the most beautiful Masses, most heartfelt novenas and loveliest meditations.
The less-than-best-prayed prayers are host to many — and even an abundance — of distractions. Our worries, our rumbly stomachs, our aching backs and so on trump our attempts at holy thoughts.
But God can work with such prayers anyway.
Distractions most certainly rule our minds. The only time our thoughts will be tamed is when God Himself “grabs our minds,” as a wise friar once said. Otherwise, we gain merit at least from wresting with such ruminations and dragging them back into our prayers. That same friar noted that we can make hundreds of acts of love in a time of attempted meditation just by pulling our unruly thoughts back to what we hope to do: pray.
He also taught the wisdom of bringing our distractions — particularly our concerns — right to God and put them in His hands. And pray about them.
This works even when our distractions are particularly nasty or fantastical. Perhaps some of the soft porn that we see in many movies and media these days keep cycling through our thoughts, particularly if we are of a hormone-rich stage of life. Maybe super heroic action/adventure or our attraction to a character or lifestyle prove to be “sticky” in our thoughts. Whatever we view is absorbed into us — and it takes time, a change of viewing habits, and lots of dumping such fantasies out of our brains into God’s hands with a plea for His mercy and His help — to lessen their prevalence and impact.
Pleasant thoughts, of course, also can distract us from prayer, although we don’t tend to bemoan them much. Again, we can invite Jesus in and ponder His more beautiful and clever creations with Him. That practice can easily move into spontaneous praise of His greatness — always a good thing.
That natural flowing of praise to God resembles what St. Teresa of Jesus (of Avila) describes as prayer that flows up like a fountain of water. She compares other prayer times to dragging buckets of water to our garden-soul, building aqueducts to channel water to our souls – all more or less labor intensive.
Prayer, St. Teresa says, “is an exercise of love.” 
The work of prayer is honorable. But like service done in love for God that at some point needs to rely on God for results, so too prayer. 
Even as we stumble along, God uses our frequently pathetic attempts at prayer to grow virtues within us and at the same time to empty us of our faults. Over time — most often a long time — we find we have more fortitude, more love, more patience with others and ourselves. Less criticism and more compassion. Less judgement and more encouragement. More hope in God and greater optimism for someday getting to heaven.
Prayer involves our minds, but it is not limited to that frequently-preoccupied source of prayer words.
More importantly, prayer involves our hearts, and God most fervently wants to change them and grow our capacity for love of Him and others. 
Let us hold out our hearts to Him, even in our most-distracted times of prayer, and let Him change us at that deeper-than-thoughts level.
Let’s keep showing up to pray, every day, and not worry about doing it “right” so much as being willing to give Him our hearts, and let Him get to work on them.
May God bless our “buckets” of prayers just as much as our “fountains” of prayers.