Those who like to cook while watching TV, or respond to e-mails while taking phone calls, might have been surprised by the results of a study on multi-tasking released earlier this year. The two major findings from the University of Utah study could be summed up as follows: 1. People aren’t really very good at doing two or more tasks at once, and 2. Somewhat paradoxically, those who chronically multi-task (and consider themselves adept at juggling assignments) are actually the most distracted overall (Nancy Shute, “If You Think You’re Good at Multi-tasking, You Probably Aren’t,” npr.org, January 24, 2013).
Most of us wouldn’t think of prayer as a “task” like driving or washing dishes—yet it’s still a discipline, an activity that must be managed against other constraints on our time. For those who consider quiet communion with God as one of their top priorities, insights into the pitfalls of multi-tasking might offer some lessons.
Doesn’t the multi-tasking study point to the conclusion that, for whatever portion of the day we choose to devote to it, prayer deserves our complete attention? Distracted prayer isn’t likely to be very effective, just as distracted driving isn’t likely to be very safe. And when our attention is flipping back and forth between prayer and other demands (or even entertainment), we’re probably not hearing God’s direction as clearly as we could be.
It’s natural for each of us to want to pray deeply, honestly, and undistractedly because we reflect God, who is divine Principle. In fact, prayer itself involves affirming the presence and activity of Principle in our own thinking. In prayer, we insist that we’re not subject to a chaotic material scene but governed by divine laws of goodness, and that as we perceive this goodness more clearly in our thoughts, we’ll see it more clearly in our experience through relationships strengthened, safety upheld, supply found. Why shouldn’t we feel drawn to give this kind of prayerful affirmation our full attention?
It's natural to want to pray deeply, honestly, and undistractedly.
Much has been written about how Jesus devoted himself to prayer, often going off alone to commune with God (see for example: Luke 5:16, Mark 6:46). Jesus could have chosen a constant multi-tasking approach to his ministry—there was no shortage of people clamoring for him to heal them and preach to them—but instead he devoted long stretches of time to nourishing his connection with his Father. Jesus demonstrated that when it’s not held hostage to other demands on our time, consecrated prayer allows us to do the most effective healing work imaginable.
Mary Baker Eddy underscores this sentiment with a reminder that “to understand God is the work of eternity, and demands absolute consecration of thought, energy, and desire” (Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, p. 3). Our daily routines, rather than being hurried and pressured with competing obligations and distractions, can reflect a measure of the balance that’s inescapably part of our spiritual makeup.