4 Ways to Combat Puppy Monkey Baby Syndrome
I was in my Sunday school class a few weeks ago discussing prayer. One of my friends shared with us how difficult it can be to keep his mind focused while he’s praying. I cracked up when he told us he could be in the middle of a prayer and randomly start thinking about a puppy-faced monkey wearing a diaper. Those in class that hadn’t seen the soft drink commercial from the Super Bowl needed some enlightenment.
I knew exactly what he was talking about and we all agreed that keeping our minds on track during prayer can be challenging sometimes. I find this to be the case more often than not. The activity and demands of everyday life creep into my thoughts while I’m trying to talk to God. I feel like the dog from the movie Up that’s in mid-sentence and abruptly shouts “Squirrel!” I’m pretty sure I don’t have ADD, but I clearly lack focus at times.
When I share these things about myself, I feel like I’m a weak-minded Christian. Maybe I don’t have enough faith. Maybe I don’t trust enough. Maybe those things are true, but most times when I write or speak about my challenges, people tell me they have the same issues. It’s like they had a secret they never shared because they thought no one else felt that way. Why do we try so hard to project this image that we always have it together … that our spiritual life is always what we want it to be? My spiritual life is rarely what I want it to be. That may be my fault, but I decided a while ago to stop pretending and share my questions, fears, and doubts. I’ve discovered that many people feel the same way. They just needed to know they weren’t alone.
In my book Life on the Porch, I write about struggling to find the “relate” in relationship with Omni-everything. As humans, we want to be able to see, touch and feel, so this faith/trust thing can be very difficult for many of us. I’ve been in the middle of a prayer and been interrupted by this “loud” thought that says “THIS IS STUPID! YOU ARE TALKING TO NO ONE!” I don’t know if that’s my rational mind trying to make sense of God, or an adversary that wants to keep me from believing … or both. Regardless, I try and push through those negative thoughts and distractions, whatever they may be – fear, Satan, doubt, the Kardashians.
Praying “through” obstacles is one way to deal with Puppy Monkey Baby Syndrome (I am hereby coining the term “PMB Syndrome”). Another is to find times or places more conducive to talking with God. There may not be a perfect situation, but disconnecting from the world some makes it much easier to connect with God. Maybe you turn your phone and radio off in the car during your commute to work? How about while you’re on the treadmill, or mowing your yard? My favorite is being alone in nature. The people whose prayer lives I admire the most have figured out how to make God a normal part of their day.
Corporate prayer seems to be helpful for some people I talk with. That doesn’t mean praying specifically at board meetings in an office building – although that’s great. It means praying in a group with other believers. Sometimes it takes other people’s prayers to help your own prayer life. Several years ago when my wife and I were both battling cancer at the same time, we had many people pray for us. We also had several occasions when we were part of a large group and it was even more impactful. My mind wandered less and I seemed to “feel” God more. As much as I believe time alone is important, I don’t think we were meant for solitude – in any significant part of our lives.
I like to ask people if they prefer to pray silently or aloud. The answers are mixed, as you can imagine. I tend to think praying aloud can help fend off PMB Syndrome. In fact, I’ve prayed silently and had some terrible image or distraction pop in my head. I will audibly shout “NO!” and continue the prayer out loud. It’s as if my spoken thoughts and prayers have a better chance of keeping the clutter out.
If you’re still reading this, you’ve had some experience with PMB Syndrome. Since we can’t put our arms around the Creator of the universe, we look for other ways to nurture that relationship. Even when we feel like our prayer life is on track, we can be knocked off by thoughts that surely came from a Tim Burton movie. The key is to realize PMB Syndrome is not that unusual and we should stop beating ourselves up. Keep on keeping on.
Disconnect from the world.