As you go about your days, the Examen Prayer is a practical way to stay focused on God, what he wants you to do, and how well you are doing it. You’ll get an honest look at your relationship with God as you strive to know him, to love him, and to serve him.
The Examen Prayer is an integral part of the Spiritual Exercises created by St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits. It is way to reflect on your life once or several times each day, seeing what God has done in your experiences, and what you can do better using God’s gifts he’s given you.
While the Examen has some of the same elements as an Examination of Conscience, it is much broader in its practical and spiritual dimensions.
Reflecting on God’s Movement in Our Lives
The Examen is a spiritual exercise, focused on God’s movement in your life and our response to it. This act of reflecting on your previous day or even prior several hours, can be a useful tool in assessing how you have been faithful to living a Gospel life and how you have remained focused on fulfilling your God-given life purpose in all areas of our life.
The personal and social spheres of your life affect and are influenced by your spiritual life, and vice versa. The Examen can also be a window into how you are doing in these areas that influence you on a daily basis and how you serve God.
Regardless of your religious denomination, the Spiritual Exercises can be a practical way to discern and navigate the ebb and flow of our spiritual lives, what Ignatius calls “consolation” and “desolation”. While periods of spiritual consolation and desolation can lead us to or away from God, they coexist and can affect our thoughts and emotions.
When we are in periods of consolation, which could be hours, days or longer, there is a spiritual closeness to God. We feel deep in our soul we are at peace with God. We have an increase in our faith. In a parallel way, we experience greater self-confidence and positivity in our lives.
In desolation, there is a darkness in our lives. It’s as though God’s grace has been removed from us. We have trouble being with God in prayer, continuing whatever routines we may have to be with him. Again, in a parallel way, we experience a negativity, feelings bordering on despair.
A Simple but Meaningful Five-Step Process
The Examen is a five-step process you can use to steer your way through all the spheres of your life. It is most beneficial as a daily practice, but can be as long as you want, given what’s going on in your life.
First, seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit and his help to remain focused. Seek the illumination of your heart, mind, and soul that only the Spirit can bring, connecting you with the wisdom of the Father. Rely upon the Spirit to guide you past distracting thoughts and feelings as you seek understanding of God’s plan and his sustaining provisions.
Second, give thanks to God for what he has done in your life the previous day, hours, or even minutes. Since God works all things for good in all who believe, you should thank him for your blessings and your troubles, as both lead to spiritual growth. Consider thanking him by saying “This is the day you have made, almighty God, may I rejoice and be glad in it, no matter what happens.”
Telling Positive and Negative Revelations
Third, take a leisurely walk through the previous day or hours to come face to face with the people, places, experiences, and dreams, to uncover the thoughts and feelings that have graced your soul. Pay attention to each positive or negative revelation as a reflection of what is going on in every area of your life, especially in your relationship with God.
Fourth, humbly open your heart seeking God’s pardon for any remembered sinful and negative thought, feeling, or action that emerged during the Examen. Express heartfelt sorrow for your lapses, but recognize you cannot change the past. Remember, God’s need for justice was satisfied on the Cross, giving you hope as you look forward.
Fifth, and most importantly, the Examen allows you to look forward toward whatever the Lord plans for your days and hours ahead, with a firm purpose to amend your ways with his grace. This exercise also gives you an opportunity to identify thoughts and feelings that surface as you anticipate the people, places, and experiences, and deal with them with the Lord’s help.
To jump start or conclude your Examen, have at the ready quotes, affirmations, scriptures, and prayers with which you are comfortable, to be positive as you offer praise, thanksgiving, petition, or intercession. Approach your Examen open to whatever the Holy Spirit expresses in your heart, mind, body, and soul.
In God’s Words
“So, God said to him, ‘Since you have asked for this and not for long life or wealth for yourself, nor have asked for the death of your enemies but for discernment in administering justice, I will do what you have asked. I will give you a wise and discerning heart, so that there will never have been anyone like you, nor will there ever be.’” (1 Kings 3:11-12)
“Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test?” (2 Corinthians 13:5)
“Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5:18)
“This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him.” (1 John 5:14-15)
In the Words of Others
“Mental prayer in my opinion is nothing else than an intimate sharing between friends; it means taking time frequently to be alone with him who we know loves us. The important thing is not to think much but to love much and so do that which best stirs you to love. Love is not great delight but desire to please God in everything.” St. Theresa of Avila
“About four days a week, I do pretty good at having a morning prayer time. But even at that, it's a rambling sort of thing. What I have learned to do better is to try to keep my mind turned toward God and ear inclined toward God throughout the day, and I think I'm doing better at that, but I've got a long way to go.” Max Lucado
“For me, prayer is not so much me setting out a shopping list of requests for God to consider as it is a way of 'keeping company with God.’” Philip Yancey
In Your Words
Compare the elements in your prayer life with the process Ignatius suggests for the Examen. What would you reinforce or change? Consider how you could create a form of the Examen that would make sense for your daily schedule.
Reflect on the roles desolation and consolation manifest themselves in your spiritual life, and how these fluctuations in your spirit affect other spheres of your life.
Meditate on 1 Kings 3:11-12 and how discernment could part a part in your daily Examen. What role would the Holy Spirit play in your daily prayer as you review what has taken place and what you should be doing going forward?
When you recall the occurrences in your day, do you consider the negative as well as the positive? Do you consider the negatives, perhaps mistakes being made, as things for which to be thankful for as learning experiences?