Several months ago, I was playing with my son in our backyard. We have a freestanding porch swing where I prefer to spend a significant percentage of my life, so I sat on the swing while he had toys that he was playing with in the grass. I love it when he wears his cowboy hat, and he really liked wearing it that day. I was enjoying watching him play, and then at times, he would put his toy down, come climb up in the swing next to me and just sit next to his daddy on the swing, wearing his cowboy hat. Then, pretty quickly, he would see something else he wanted to play with, get down and play with it for a while, then crawl back in the swing with me, and the cycle kept repeating.
My heart felt so full that afternoon. I loved it that even though he had his toys there and enjoyed playing with them, at times he still wanted to come sit with his daddy on the swing in his cowboy hat. The fact that something else would quickly grab his attention didn’t bother me in the least. He wasn’t yet two, and I was much more capable of enjoying his company than he was mine, but it still made my heart want to burst with joy and pride over that little guy when he did turn his attention to me and wanted to be by my side.
When we pray, it is easy to become discouraged, thinking that we have not prayed "well" because our minds have gone in a hundred different directions rather than staying focused on God during the time of prayer. The best spiritual guides I've read and listened to encourage us to completely do away with the categories of praying "well" or "poorly" because of their irrelevance to how God works in us in prayer. They say that the part we play in prayer is mainly just showing up, and I'm convinced that's the part that matters most to God. Distractions will come to us when we pray, and since I expect that's been the case for the huge majority of people who have ever walked the planet, I doubt God is surprised or bothered when it happens to us, particularly in a time that we have set aside to be with him. Even with the distractions, we end up giving God more of our attention when the time is set aside than when it isn't. Surely the distractions bother us much more than they do him.
So, when we realize that the distractions have come, the best advice I've been given is just not to hang on to them with our attention. Rather, as if they were a cloud going by in the sky or a piece of wood floating on a river, we just let them pass by. Once we're aware that the distraction has come and we've made an decision to let it go, then, we crawl back up in the swing with our cowboy hats on and return our attention to our Father, and continue enjoying the chance to be together.