Volume > Issue > Coping with Distractions

Coping with Distractions


By Henri J.M. Nouwen | December 1986
The Rev. Henri J.M. Nouwen, a spiritual writer and Contributing Editor of the NOR, is currently a priest-in-residence at Daybreak, the l’Arche community in Toronto. His latest book is Lifesigns.

Ed. Note: During the 1985-1986 academic year, Henri J.M. Nouwen was a priest-in-residence at the l’Arche community in Trosly-Breuil, France (a Catholic/ecumenical community serving disabled persons). This article is the fourth installment in a series of articles reflecting on that year. The series is adapted from his diary.


Tuesday, January 7, 1986

Back in Trosly. The most important question for me now is: how best to prepare myself for my new task next fall at Daybreak? I know the an­swer: pray and write. But to do both I need more discipline. The days pass quickly — there are al­ways people to receive, letters to write, sermons to prepare, calls to make, and celebrations to attend. But all of that can become one big distraction. My real task is the slow, hard work of expressing in the written word the fruits of my prayer.

Jean Vanier helped me today by saying that the demons can make hundreds of people send me letters to prevent me from writing what the Spirit wants me to write. If I really believe that this is the year to write, no excuse for not writing should be trusted.

It all boils down to having clear priorities and the discipline to realize them. Quiet, solitary writ­ing is not easy, but when done as a vocation it should be possible and eventually fruitful. So, with this clarity, I should stop complaining about dis­tractions, ignore the demons, and go to work!


Friday, January 10, 1986

Prayer continues to be very difficult. Yet, ev­ery morning when I walk in the garden of “La Ferme” saying the rosary and spend an hour in the oratory simply being in God’s presence, I know I am not wasting my time. Though I am terribly dis­tracted, I know God’s Spirit is at work in me. Though I have no deep religious insights or feel­ings, I am aware of a peace beyond thoughts and emotions. Though my early morning prayer seems quite unsuccessful, I always look forward to it and guard it as a special time.

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