Healing a Distracted Heart

Many years ago, I went through a time of depression and distraction in which chronic pain, health struggles, and pressures at work ganged up on me. I was burned out. I decided I needed a complete break for a few days, so I checked into a retreat center run by a group of Franciscan nuns. The retreat was silent except for mealtime. After a couple of days of self-absorbed despair and aimless inner probing, I sat one lunchtime with one of the elderly nuns. We struck up a conversation. At one point she asked: “Are you here for a time of recollection?”

I thought for a moment, and then said slowly, but with growing conviction: “Hmm. Yes—exactly. That’s just what I’m here for.”  I had come to the center feeling utterly distracted—mentally and spiritually spent—with periodic moments of profound longing for God. In a wonderful gift, my lunchmate articulated what I then began to beg God for—God’s healing activity in which I would experience a deep sense of integration. A desire began to take shape in my heart for “re-collection”—essentially, through the healing work of contemplative prayer—to take place in my inner world. In a sense, the nun had been my spiritual director, but God was my re-collector, my unifier, my integrator. Although it took some months after my conversation with the nun to feel a lasting sense of progress, I at least knew my disease—distraction—and I knew my goal for healing—recollection.

I learned to find this place of recollection on the path of contemplative prayer. I learned to find it in the gift and task of loving God with all my heart. In the months and years following, I returned to that retreat center and to others many times to grow in this discipline, to grow in loving God. But increasingly, it has become a discipline that I practice all the time, not just in a quiet location or during a peaceful time. Recollection has produced a wonderful work of healing in my heart.

Join the Conversation

Have you ever felt a sense of distraction that won’t allow peace in your heart?

How have you moved toward a place of recollection?

Don Simpson:
Don Simpson is a certified spiritual director in Colorado Springs and is senior editor at NavPress. He is coauthor with Dallas Willard of Revolution of Character (NavPress, 2005). He also participated in launching Discipleship Journal and The Small Group Letter, and was cofounder of Helmers & Howard, Publishers.
  • Karen

    I’m feeling in the same place in my life, lots of despair due to medical problems and the heavens are quiet. However, I don’t understand what is meant by recollection. Could you please specifically define what is meant by that. Thank you.

    • Don Simpson

      Hi Karen,
      Recollection in the sense I’m using the word is contemplative prayer, a tranquility of mind, an attention to the presence of God. It is a withdrawal from usual routines (for me, my regular home and work life) in order to attend to the things of God. It is a pursuit of solitude and silence. That’s what I found so refreshing at the retreat center.
      Yours,
      Don

      • Karen

        Don, Thank you for clarifying. That sounds like something I really need to incorporate into my life. I feel a distance from God and have been wanting to change that but haven’t been sure how to do so. This is a place to start. Thank you for sharing that.

  • Suzanne

    9 months ago I started on a spiritual journey somewhat out of the blue. A sudden experience that created a longing that I could not explain. Almost immediately with the longing for a closer relationship with God came the longing for soliture and silence and contemplative prayer. Silence and soliture were something that I was afraid of before and never thought I needed.

    Since then I realize that I need silence and soliture – but I have a hard time quieting my mind enough to meet God in that silence. There is a very deep seated and profound longing for God and His healing power – but I struggle with getting there. I keep picking up books on contemplative prayer even though I know the answer and how-to is found deep within.

    You wrote: “Although it took some months after my conversation with the nun to feel a lasting sense of progress, I at least knew my disease—distraction—and I knew my goal for healing—recollection.”

    Thank you for sharing that – it gave me hope that I will also find this place of recollection that I long for more and more each day.