I grew up in the evangelical mainstream church, in the south nonetheless. I know how to speak the language, stand or sit at the right parts, and I can sing the standard praise songs from the past twenty years in my sleep. So it comes as a surprise more to me than anyone else that for the past few years, I’ve been intrigued with—and blessed by—several of the more “high church” practices.
Let’s ignore the details for now, but the easy explanation for this is that my journey from life in Texas to the Middle East to Oregon has broadened my sensibilities and opened my eyes to continually unexpected ways to connect with God and hear His voice. Initially confusing compass directions and unexpected bends in the road aside, this journey has been a surprising and beautiful one for me, and I’m grateful for the little earthquakes along the way that’ve helped shake away my cultural norms from the purer simplicity of following Jesus.
And yet on this journey, I’m slowly repacking my backpack with practices and cultural traditions that make sense for me and my current stage of life. One of those is the ancient tradition called “Daily Examen.”
Initially proposed by the Jesuit priest Ignatius Loyola (see? there’s that high church I was talking about), the idea is to stop twice a day—at noon and at the end of the day—and well? Examine. To think through your day (or the day so far), and express gratitude for how God is already revealing Himself in your life. It’s almost like praying backwards in some ways—you’re acknowledging that, yes, God has shown Himself real, present, and loving today.
Now, as a homeschooling mom of three kids who also works full-time, I’ll be first in line to say I don’t do this twice per day. Lately I’ve been practicing this once, at the end of my day (and when it’s crazy, every few days). But when I make the time for an Examen, I find myself sleeping better, resting in the grace and goodness of Christ in my life.
Here’s how it works for me:
I sit still, usually on my bed, and close my eyes. After a few minutes of letting my mind wander, I say a simple thanks to God for who He is. Not for stuff or for what He’s done for me—just for Him being God.
Then I review my day, starting from the morning (or at least, the earliest part of the day I can remember). I try my darnedest not to “choose” where to stop; I wait to see what the Holy Spirit brings to mind. Sometimes it’s obvious, sometimes it’s on the surprisingly little things where my mind wants to stop—the smell of my coffee that morning, the few minutes of quiet with my youngest before everyone else woke up, the just-right song I heard during work, the delectable cheese at lunch.
I pause, and say thanks to God for these little gifts. These are signs of His presence, no matter how small.
Then I move to a deeper reflection, focusing on how I felt during the day and my attitudes that followed—did my actions adequately display trust in God and gratitude for Christ’s daily, constant presence? When was I most aware of that presence? When did I choose to act more out of reactionary selfishness than in serving others?
I park there for a bit, as you might imagine, expressing sorrow for my less-than-savory attitudes while basking in the forgiveness I know I already have through Christ. I listen to the Holy Spirit’s voice as I ask how I could react different next time. I also thank God for those times that obviously came from Him, when I was able to display fruits of the Spirit and the peace that really does pass understanding.
I end with a final, simple thanks for the day’s endless blessings, and also for the grace that’s already waiting for me tomorrow. I acknowledge my desperate, human need to trust Him for all things, including the sleep I’m about to get, and that no matter what big or small things happen tomorrow, He’s already written them.
Fancy Latin name, simple exercise: my evening Daily Examen prayer has centered my soul in the most profound ways lately—it’s given me permission and freedom to rest in Christ’s love for me because He has already shown it extravagantly in the past 24 hours. I just need to stop and recognize it.
If you’re interested in learning more about this ancient practice, one of my friends, Katherine Pershey, recently wrote about her thoughts on the Ignatian practice of Examen. I also appreciate these resources on variations, resources, and general encouragement.
Have you ever tried a Daily Examen? What’s been your experience?