I've learned something else about prayer. It's not like I didn't know this before, but I never wrote it down.
There is a tremendous amount of noise in my brain. Mostly demands of "shoulds" and important things I have to remember. Everywhere I look, the house and yard cry out for attention. There is always something lacking, something my eye tells me is out of symmetry. It needs cleaning, rearranging, weeding, cutting, feeding (pets), watering, vacuuming - you name it. Then, overlay that with thoughts of work, money, worry, health (there lots more "shoulds" THERE) - and my brain is a screaming cacophony - "how dare you sit down when THIS and THIS, ad infinitum, needs to be done??" Then there is fear, dread, anger, sadness - once again, you name it. A little frosting on the cake? Thoughts of my job, what I have to do there as well.....
Given all this, I cannot pray. Think about what prayer means - it means talking to and listening to God - who speaks silently and for the most part, to an attentive rather than a totally distracted, heart/brain.
I have to silence the brain.
This is the hardest thing for me to do. And keep it silenced and concentrated on the Lord, prayer.
It's not so much silencing as saying to all the demands and thoughts, "you can wait -be still for now." When I do this, or attempt to, there are rebellious "but's" that try to shout out and destroy any chance of quiet.
It is almost a physical effort, a la the cartoons where the character shakes his head vigorously to clear it, with the accompanying cartoon noise.
So what have I learned? That I must put aside, with great effort, the concerns, thoughts, responsibilities that crowd my brain. With an almost physical gesture, I must make a conscious decision to quiet the din in preparation for prayer.
Many times I've prayed over the din - but I never hear anything when I do that.
Also, I let my mind wander. Once I get it quiet, my thoughts try to sneak around, eventually to wake up the voices I just silenced.
So - Step 1 - Tell my brain to shut up. Make my self quiet.
Step 2 - Don't leave the brain alone. Concentrate on God. If I sit in my quiet backyard, I see evidence of God and His beauty all around me - that helps.
Step 3 - Try to be in a place that is conducive to concentration with minimal distractions.
To most people, I'm sure this is elementary, but for me, it has been a problem all my life. I find it ever so difficult to calm my mind and prepare to talk to God.