“Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me. Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your holy spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit.”
Examen is a tool that helps me notice God in my daily life. It offers me another way of hearing God speak. Often we have the idea that God meets us in our prayer time, but the rest of the day it’s on us to do the best we can. God has so much more for us! In examen, we look closely at our day and our hearts, looking for where we saw God’s graces and where we felt lack. We then respond with prayers of gratitude and the prayers that rise out of disappointment or desolation. Both are important in bringing the whole of our lives before God. The practice of examen helps us be aware of our God-given desires, noting what gives life and what drains us. Over time, examen can be a tool for discerning God’s will for us as we pay attention to our inner responses.
Being aware of his presence with me gives me access all day long to his strength when I am weak. Prayers of examen at the day’s end can help us see that God was with us in all of our experiences. That simple awareness grows over time as we learn to open ourselves to God in the safety of his love. In our prayers of examen, we find grace, not condemnation. If you choose an end of day examen, you only need to sit with God and reflect on two questions and your response to them. Here are some different ways you could ask the same two questions:
For what today was I most grateful? For what was I least grateful?
When did I feel most connected to God today? When did I feel least connected?
When did I give and receive the most love today? When did I give and receive the least?
When did I feel most alive or energized today? When did I feel drained?
What was my high point, and what was my low point?
While these are only a few of the ways we can ask these questions, the point of all of them is to help us recognize our desires, our disappointments, and find a way to see God with us in all of life. It can help us accept the sadness and pain that come, knowing God speaks through these too.
This form of prayer also helps us notice not only what goes wrong, as many of us tend to do, but also helps us to be thankful for what goes right. The practice of gratitude is the secret of a joyful life.
First Sunday of Lent/Prayers of Examen/March 1
Philippians 4:6-7 (ESV)
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
An article in the Boston Globe several years back talked about gratitude being the secret to happiness. Our family liked it so much that for several years we read it aloud at our Thanksgiving table. There is something to this, as social scientists reveal, that grateful people have much more joy and peace in their lives. Especially those that tie it to a spiritual practice. What does gratitude do for me? One of the biggest things is that it keeps me from feeling sorry for myself, which is one large obstacle to peace. The conversations we have in our heads are more important than we know. “As a man (or woman) thinks, so is he (or she.)” (Prov. 23:7) The other thing that robs us of peace is worry. How much time do we give in our heads to worrying over our problems, as if that could give us some control over them. There’s another choice. We can take our anxieties to prayer and trust God with the outcome. Both of these require humility, to recognize that we are not in control, and that we actually have much for which we can offer thanks to God.
Over time, our minds fall into deep patterns of thinking, and forming a new habit takes time as well. The good news is we can retrain our minds by the practice of gratitude. It’s called a practice for a reason. Once we establish it as a habit, we’re told God’s peace will actually guard our hearts and minds. The benefits – his joy and peace – are well worth it.
Today’s prayer practice: Gratitude journal
Have you ever tried keeping a gratitude journal? Would you want to try it for a few weeks and see if you notice anything different? Try writing down a few things you’re grateful for each day, both big and small. Noticing God in the little details of life is actually one of the most transforming things we can undertake. Thank him throughout your day. Any time you feel anxiety creeping in, return to trust and find something that you’re thankful for.