“You will seek Me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.”
“I am with you always…”
“You thrill me, Lord, with all you have done for me.”
Quick! If I ask you to recount your day yesterday, will you be able to share it with me? If so, that’s impressive. But if you’re like many of us, the days fly by in a blur of activity and commitments. We are hurrying on to the next thing on the list, often with the sincere desire to live “all-in for God.”
I wonder if perhaps we are missing the beauty of the presence of God and what He is up to because we don’t pay attention and savor the events, relationships, and emotions that are present in an ordinary day.
Some years ago, I was introduced to the Examen, a prayer practice of St. Ignatius that has been around for over 500 years. The Examen offers me a way to simply reflect with God on the events of my day. I look to find God and God’s graces. I remember that all that I am and have are gifts from God. I reflect on my own feelings and attitudes, practice gratitude, and ask and offer forgiveness for difficult and painful moments. Having reflected on this past day, I then attend to the day yet to come, asking God to show me the potential challenges and opportunities of what He has in store for me tomorrow.
For me, to be able to sift through the good, the bad, and the ugly of my day with God seems authentic. It’s a safe place for me to be honest with God in light of what happened today. Over time, I’ve noticed both a deepening joy in my relationship with God and clarity about my own attitudes and actions that are not pleasing to Him. I’ve probably celebrated more and also asked for forgiveness more often in the last few years than in decades before! I am simply more aware of God’s goodness and my own transforming brokenness. I feel more honest and free in my faith, and am deepening in my understanding of living life as God’s beloved. The Examen has been an encouragement to my faith.
As I practice the Examen in my own life, I do notice that there is a tension that is present. The tension between the disparity of the brokenness of our culture, the presence of evil in the world, and the choice I have to look at my own transforming life and how I choose to live it. How does it look to follow Christ in my corner of the world?
The Examen provides me an opportunity to live honestly from my soul, to live with God as I live out what poet Mary Oliver calls my “one wild and precious life.”
- Would you give the Examen a try? Some practice it daily, others weekly. It’s so much more than listing the activities of the day. It is a prayer, done intentionally, and with God. It may take 10 minutes or so. Below you’ll find a general flow of the prayer.
- Remember, you’re reflecting on today’s events with God, bringing your nitty-gritty to God, and God to your nitty-gritty. (Mark Thibodeaux)
Ask for the Spirit I pray that the Spirit might lead me to see my day through God’s eyes. “The Spirit of truth will guide you…to all truth.” John 16:13. God’s perspective on my day may be a bit different from mine. There may be things to celebrate that I don’t notice. I’m liable to take credit for my own accomplishments, hide in denial of my failures, engage in self-pity, or sink into shame. I ask to find God in my day and see myself from God’s perspective as His beloved. I ask that the Spirit guide my thoughts, memories, and emotions.
Give thanks. I begin by offering God thanks for something that I’m grateful for today. I allow my mind to wander through the day as I reflect on the ways God has graced me on this particular day. I allow big things and small things to arise—everything from the gift of my faith to the gift of my marriage, connection with a friend, a tasty meal, the gift of my dogs, the gift of work today.
“Gratitude is the key to our spiritual life- the key that unlocks the door, and the key in which the music is played. It is the context of prayer and the secret that explains everything,” says author Jim Manney. Gratitude is among the highest of virtues. We live and move and have our being because they are gifts from God. All is gift. In our culture, we often think of ingratitude as merely poor manners, but really it’s a heart issue. To be truly grateful is to acknowledge that God is God and I am not. The Examen helps develop within us the habit of gratitude by focusing our attention on the daily, specific gifts God has given us. It becomes a way of life.
Review the Day I go through the day in sequence- beginning with how I felt upon waking. Then I examine how the day flowed; places, people, the work I did. I am attentive to feelings that arise as I play the movie of the day. Intense emotions, positive and negative, may be something to process with the Holy Spirit.
Did I affirm and encourage or perhaps offend someone with my words today? What was behind the words I spoke? Love? Envy? Fear? Anger?
Are there relationships that come to mind in the day’s events? Someone to be particularly grateful for? Is there distance, or an offense needing mending?
From the perspective of my gifting or talents -how was I able to use them today? What was that experience?
In review of the day, I want to be aware of my response to God. God is active in all that happens in my day. How did I notice and participate in that today?
Ask for pardon for my faults. I ask God for the grace to look at what might be off-center in my life that surfaced today. If I have sinned, I ask God to forgive me and set me straight again. I ask for the next steps God might have me take in light of my sin. If I simply made a mistake today, I ask for healing of any harm that might have been done. I ask for help to see it through God’s eyes. I also ask for wisdom to discern how l might better handle such moments in the future.
Pray about the next day. I ask God to direct me as I plan for tomorrow, the things I’ll be doing, the people I’ll see, and the decisions I’ll be making. I ask for help with any moments I foresee that might be difficult. I especially pray for help with situations or people that I have previously struggled with. I entrust these to God’s loving care.
To help remember the five steps, author Mark Thibodeaux likes to use a 5-Rs mnemonic:
- Request the Spirit to lead me through my review of the day.
- Relish the moments.
- Review the day.
- Repent as the Spirit leads.
- Resolve, in concrete ways, to live tomorrow well.
Through the Examen may you recognize and celebrate God’s presence, comfort and gifts in your everyday life. May it give you insight into your own unique gifting for the world.
Excerpts from Reimagining the Ignatian Examen by Mark Thibodeaux, SJ, and a simple life-changing prayer by Jim Manney