How to Stop Distracting Thoughts with the Prayer of Recollection

One bright morning, I laced up my shoes and went for a walk in the hopes of escaping our noisy household. I meandered up the hill into a neighborhood, past houses with million-dollar views of our San Diego beaches. I passed by fragrant natal plum bushes, clusters of succulents lining the sidewalks, and palm trees reaching into the sky.

But it wasn’t a quiet walk, I soon realized. The crows were cawing, the seagulls were squabbling, and packs of wild green parrots were screeching as they traveled from tree to tree. All of this cacophony was in addition to the usual sounds of planes roaring overhead from the airport nearby.

I’ve noticed that this outside noise mirrors my internal noise. When I’m left alone in a quiet house, when I intentionally make space to hear what the Holy Spirit might be saying to me, I am confronted by a deluge of distracting thoughts drowning out any divine words.

Whenever I invite silence and solitude into my life, I become aware of the squirrel-like nature of my brain: constantly moving, tail twitching, chasing after every acorn. Still, I persist in pursuing an open, listening posture in prayer because I want a two-sided relationship with God.

It is a small comfort to know I am not alone in this struggle. St. Teresa of Avila, a Carmelite nun who lived in the 1500’s and wrote much about spiritual growth, was familiar with the problem of a wandering mind during prayer. She knows the impossibility of speaking with God “while thinking of a thousand other vanities”*

Teresa’s solution is to practice the prayer of recollection.

The Prayer of Recollection

Recollection is a slowing of our thoughts and a withdrawal of our senses from exterior things in order to turn our mind’s eye toward God. We remember, or “recollect” our souls back to their true home in God’s presence.

And echoing 1 Corinthians 3:16, Teresa reminds us that God’s presence dwells within us. God is closer to us than the breath in our lungs, and maintaining this awareness can reorient us back to God no matter what we are doing—whether we are sitting in silence or running errands.

Last year during Lent, I committed to spending 15 minutes every day in silent, listening prayer. Every time my mind would wander, I would pray my own little prayer of recollection, borrowed from the first two lines of a poem by Methodist Minister Ted Loder: “O God, gather me now to be with you.” **

There is no formulaic prayer of recollection, but I found myself praying these two lines too often to count during my listening prayer time, because, as Adele Ahlberg Calhoun notes:

“The way to a heart at rest in God comes through confessing and abandoning our limited, preoccupied heart.” ***

Indeed, Calhoun advises us to invite Jesus to examine our distracted thoughts along with us and ask Him what He might have to say about that particular distraction. And then we can practice leaving that distraction at His feet.

This is a helpful practice when we are making space for silence and solitude. But the prayer of recollection is also available to us at any moment of our busy days. More and more I find myself wanting—needing—a heart at rest in God…

…to unhurry my heart

…to shed the shoulds of the world

…to resist the rush

…to rightly order my desires

…to move from frenzied to focused

…to remember to whom I belong

In the midst of a busy fall season which will soon be followed by all the hustle and bustle of the holidays, we can quiet and still our souls in a prayer of recollection, remembering the root of our identity in God and resting in His constant presence.

how to stop distracting thoughts with the prayer of recollection

The Fruit of the Prayer of Recollection

Imagine how living with an increased awareness of God’s presence within us would change the way we live.

It would embolden us to live like Jesus.

It would open our eyes to the image of God in others.

It would heighten our awareness to God’s movement in our lives.

It would reorient our desires to find our delight in God.

It would remind us of our very belovedness in God’s eyes.

Borrow These Prayers of Recollection

There is no standard script for prayers of recollection. But I’ve compiled some possibilities to take with you throughout your day:

“Be at rest once more, O my soul, for the Lord has been good to you.” (Psalm 116:7)

Lord, awaken in me an awareness of your love, that I may be filled with you (from Ephesians 3:16-19)

Gather my scattered thoughts that my soul may rejoice in your love. (from Psalm 106:47)

O Blessed Jesus, give me stillness of soul in you. Let your mighty calmness reign in me. (St. John of the Cross)

O God, gather me now to be with you, as you are with me. (Ted Loder)

Jesus, I come home to you now, eager to lay my burdens at your feet that I may have rest. (from Matthew 11:28)

free phone wallpapers with prayers of recollection

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*from Tools Matter for Practicing the Spiritual Life by Mary Margaret Funk, p. 117.
**from Guerrilas of Grace, first found in Invitation to Solitude and Silence by Ruth Haley Barton.
***from The Spiritual Disciplines Handbook by Adele Ahlberg Calhoun, p. 282.

(Feature Photo by Kairat Murataliev on Unsplash)

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Sarah K. Butterfield is an author, speaker, and ministry leader who has a heart for empowering women to grow in their faith and be intentional with their time. She and her husband and two boys live in San Diego, where she writes about pursuing a deeper relationship with God in the midst of motherhood.

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