Dear Dan, I have a question regarding the rosary that I’m hoping you can help me with. I love to pray the rosary and typically I’m able to meditate on the mysteries. Sometimes, I find myself not being able to sleep, but tired enough that I’m not able to effectively focus on the mysteries. In that situation, like last night, I focused my mind on each word, it was almost like praying against a white background, while I just focused on each word of the rosary with my intent on being able to draw my heart to God and away from distractions as much as I can. Is this an acceptable way to offer up the rosary?
Thank you for your blog. I am a quadriplegic and don’t have access to any sort of formal spiritual direction, so your blog has been a very welcome addition to my regular reading. God bless you.
Dear Friend, your question was moving to me. I am grateful that this apostolate has been a blessing to you. It is amazing how many people we come across who have very limited access to assistance in their spiritual journey. Your situation is a perfect example of the importance of providing this kind of material. With my admiration, here are a few thoughts.
Too Tired to Focus in Prayer
It might give you comfort to know that this is a universal problem. St. Thérèse of Lisieux suffered with this problem. Here’s a beautiful reflection of her sentiments on this topic from her Story of a Soul:
O Jesus, Your little bird is happy to be weak and little. What would become of it if it were big? Never would it have the boldness to appear in Your presence, to fall asleep in front of You. Yes, this is still one of the weaknesses of the little bird: when it wants to fix its gaze upon the Divine Sun, and when the clouds prevent it from seeing a single ray of that Sun, in spite of itself, its little eyes close, its little head is hidden beneath its wing, and the poor little thing falls asleep, believing all the time that it is fixing its gaze upon its Dear Star. When it awakens, it doesn’t feel desolate; its little heart is at peace and it begins once again its work of love. It calls upon the angels and saints who rise like eagles before the consuming Fire, and since this is the object of the little bird’s desire the eagles take pity on it, protecting and defending it, and putting to flight at the same time the vultures who want to devour it. These vultures are the demons whom the little bird doesn’t fear, for it is not destined to be their prey but the prey of the Eagle whom it contemplates in the center of the Sun of Love.
As someone who suffers from chronic pain and a very challenging sleep disorder, I understand what it means to be tired during prayer – so much so that I have fallen asleep while standing up during Mass (yes, you do fall down when that happens if you don’t catch yourself quickly enough)! That said, I have also taken aggressive measures regarding diet, medication, and sleep pattern modification. There is no excuse when we fail to do all that is within our power to mitigate challenges we face. However, when all of our good efforts fail or fall short, when our bodies fail us as they will all of us eventually, we recognize, as did St. Thérèse, that God is merciful and He understands the challenges we face and the weak vessels that we are. In this light, we can wake up and bring our heart and mind back into focus recognizing that we are loved and cherished and that the effort we have put forth to worship Him is reciprocated with love and tenderness.
The Battle of Prayer
Praying the Rosary one word at a time is an excellent way to work to turn our hearts to Him and to our honoring of Mary! There have been times when I have had to pray my vocal prayers with a measure of determined but gentle force in order to keep my mind and heart engaged. This doesn’t sound all that contemplative but these are times when we are wrestling ourselves and our weaknesses to Him and not times of ease and delight. The key here is to avoid getting frustrated. The Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (#572) describes this challenge in terms of a “battle”:
Prayer is a gift of grace but it always presupposes a determined response on our part because those who pray “battle” against themselves, their surroundings, and espectially the Tempter who does all he can to turn them away from prayer. The battle of prayer is inseparable from progress in the spiritual life…
Whatever you are feeling is what you are feeling, whatever you can do is what you can do, no need to lament or allow anxiety to rule you. Simply turn back to Him a thousand times if you must. Remember that a glance toward Him will bring a response of loving grace. I have no doubt that even the smallest acts of devotion, if they are all we can offer, are of great significance in the kingdom of heaven.
An hour of prayer where we struggle and fight to focus on mere minutes or even seconds of attention to Him can be more meritorious than an hour of tranquil unafflicted devotion.