T.S. Tuesday: The "Examen"ed Life

“Only by acceptance of the past, can you alter it.” T.S. Eliot

To alter the past, you must accept it. To accept the past, you must acknowledge it. The good parts and the bad parts. The big, blaring mistakes, and the small shifts in thought and attitude that moved you away from love and connection and God’s will throughout the day.

A couple of years ago, I took a spiritual disciplines class at my church that transformed my view of self-examination from a fixation on of all my failings to a deeply meaningful and redemptive conversation with the One who knows me best. It was at this class that I learned about the prayer of examen—a practice started by St. Ignatius, founder of the Jesuits, which is still transformative today.

Through the prayer of examen, I learn to pay attention to my day. I become more aware of where God is already moving and where God is leading. What he is leading me toward. Areas that he is pressing in and challenging my selfishness.

Someone once asked me, “How can you give God your heart, soul, mind, and strength if you don’t know your heart, mind, soul, and strength?”

This is an invitation for God (the one who knows and loves me best) to help me know me.

Here are the basics of the Prayer of Examen taken from IgnatianSpirituality.com. This website has a lot of helpful resources on prayer, self-reflection, and learning to pay attention to the powerful presence of God throughout your day. I also recommend the book, Sacred Rhythms, by Ruth Haley Barton, if you want to dive deeper into the spiritual disciplines.

I hope you learn something about yourself and how God is moving today.

How Can I Pray?

1. Become aware of God’s presence. Look back on the events of the day in the company of the Holy Spirit. The day may seem confusing to you—a blur, a jumble, a muddle. Ask God to bring clarity and understanding.

2. Review the day with gratitude. Gratitude is the foundation of our relationship with God. Walk through your day in the presence of God and note its joys and delights. Focus on the day’s gifts. Look at the work you did, the people you interacted with. What did you receive from these people? What did you give them? Pay attention to small things—the food you ate, the sights you saw, and other seemingly small pleasures. God is in the details.

3. Pay attention to your emotions. One of St. Ignatius’s great insights was that we detect the presence of the Spirit of God in the movements of our emotions. Reflect on the feelings you experienced during the day. Boredom? Elation? Resentment? Compassion? Anger? Confidence? What is God saying through these feelings?

God will most likely show you some ways that you fell short. Make note of these sins and faults. But look deeply for other implications. Does a feeling of frustration perhaps mean that God wants you consider a new direction in some area of your work? Are you concerned about a friend? Perhaps you should reach out to her in some way.

4. Choose one feature of the day and pray from it. Ask the Holy Spirit to direct you to something during the day that God thinks is particularly important. It may involve a feeling—positive or negative. It may be a significant encounter with another person or a vivid moment of pleasure or peace. Or it may be something that seems rather insignificant. Look at it. Pray about it. Allow the prayer to arise spontaneously from your heart—whether intercession, praise, repentance, or gratitude.

5. Look toward tomorrow. Ask God to give you light for tomorrow’s challenges. Pay attention to the feelings that surface as you survey what’s coming up. Are you doubtful? Cheerful? Apprehensive? Full of delighted anticipation? Allow these feelings to turn into prayer. Seek God’s guidance. Ask him for help and understanding. Pray for hope.

St. Ignatius encouraged people to talk to Jesus like a friend. End the Daily Examen with a conversation with Jesus. Ask forgiveness for your sins. Ask for his protection and help. Ask for his wisdom about the questions you have and the problems you face. Do all this in the spirit of gratitude. Your life is a gift, and it is adorned with gifts from God. End the Daily Examen with the Our Father.

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