I teach wilderness skills and frequently I teach what we call “lost proofing.” We teach techniques to help people stay constantly aware of where they are so that they don’t get hopelessly lost. We need similar tools for our daily spiritual life. One classic tool hone our spiritual awareness of where we are is the Examen, a practice developed by the Monk, St. Ignatius of Loyola. This nearly 500 year old prayer tradition has been an invaluable practice to many people and a core practice to Jesuit priests. There are only five simple steps that should take you maybe 10-15 minutes. So here it is:
Find a spot where you are not likely to be interrupted. Sit down and settle down. Take a few deep breaths and you may want to light a candle or dim lights just to mark a transition into prayer time.
- Recall that you are in the presence of God. No matter where you are and no matter what you are doing, God is present. God’s voice speaks through the beauty of the things God has made. God brings you messages upon the lips of friends, family members, and sometimes even total strangers. God whispers quietly through the Holy Spirit within you. God is here. God is now. Remind yourself of God’s presence and passion to be in relationship with you.
- Spend a moment looking over the activities of the day with gratitude. In your mind move through the events of the day. Recall with simple pleasure the fresh feeling of stepping out of the shower. Recall the sun or the rain touching you as you walked out into the world. Revisit concrete moments within the day paying attention to all that your senses can summon up of those moments. Think of more permanent blessings like health, family, work, the place you live, opportunities that you have been given. Consider the gifts God gave you to deal with the days challenges, such as, a moment of forgiveness, compassion, patience, joy shared, a kind word spoken. Presence all the moments clearly in your mind and offer them to God with deep gratitude.
- Ask God to send you His Holy Spirit to help you look at your actions and attitudes and motives with honesty and patience. The Holy Spirit is a gift given to teach and guide you. The Holy Spirit will deepen your knowledge of yourself and your relationship to God. Ask the Holy Spirit to do so. Ask the Holy Spirit to give you the freedom to look on your actions with grace that you might learn from them and grow more Christ-like.
- Now review your day This step is different from #2 in that you aren’t simply recalling the activities of the day, but you are giving them a review. This step is more of an analysis than an inventory. You are examining the internal movements and motivations that occurred within the activity of the day. Who did you interact with, why and how? What did you do? Why did you make those choices and in what spirit did you behave? When where you motivated out of faithful response to God? When were you driven by your own desire? Consider when and how the Word and Christ influenced the choices you made throughout the day. What other influences motivated your actions? The more you examine yourself in this manner, the more you will become aware of both your own Spirit and God’s Spirit within you. Listen for God to speak, convict, encourage, comfort and challenge you. God is daily inviting you ever closer to loving God with all your strength, heart, soul, and mind and your neighbor as yourself. This practice will hone your ability to hear and heed the call.
- The final step is a heart-to-heart talk with Jesus. Now that you have thoroughly consider the day from a faith-filled perspective, discuss your day in pray with Christ. Ask forgiveness for the wrongs that you regret. Ask for strength to change and for God to pour forth the Spirit and soften your heart. Give thanks for God’s grace throughout your day. Praise God for blessings or the moments you sense that God offered guidance or intervention. Resolve from what God has revealed to you through the Holy Spirit to move forward in whatever action is appropriate. You may want to conclude with the Lord’s Prayer.
At first you will consciously, have to work at following the five steps. After a few times you will develop your own sense of movement through the prayer model. At times you will want to linger on certain steps. Follow God’s guidance in this. Typically, the longest step should be step four, for this is the time when you meditate and reflect deeply on the day. At times though you may find yourself drawn into lengthening conversations with God. What a blessing.
This is just one of many prayer methods. I always advise when adopting a spiritual discipline to maintain it for a season. In other words, adopt a discipline for several weeks so that you can get over the clunky phase of learning the method and into experiencing the benefits. Consistency over a lengthy period of times is perhaps the most neglected key to experiencing growth from a spiritual discipline. Don’t hop from method to method. You will find yourself ever learning, yet never growing.
Blessings to you from The Practical Disciple
p.s. I have added a PDF download of the method to The Practical Disciple Resource Page. Click here to download The Examen handout.