Last week I shared how to read and meditate on the Psalms in the cracks of our days. I particularly like this practice because it helps me stay in a rhythm of starting the day with God, but in such a way that fits my season of life a bit better than a formal quiet time. If you haven’t read that post yet, head here.
Today I’m sharing another practice that I use to book end my day called the prayer of examen. This is a newer practice for me that I’m still learning to incorporate. But I increasingly enjoy it the more I do it.
A Prayer Tailor-made for Moms
The prayer of examen means much like what its name suggests. It offers a way to “examine” how God shows up in the everyday, ordinariness of our lives. The prayer of examen provides a framework to help us reflect on the events of our day and find God’s presence and movement in the midst of it.
The prayer of examen is actually an old prayer. It originates from the work of Saint Ignatius of Loyola, a Spanish priest who lived in the early 1500s. This excerpt from The Park Forum describes it well.
“When Saint Ignatius of Loyola developed a work called The Spiritual Exercises in 1522-1524 C.E. he included a prayer to be prayed even when the necessities of life made other forms of prayer impossible.”
Just from that description, it sounds like it could be a great fit for us, right!?
How to pray the Examen
This simple prayer takes only 5 – 15 minutes depending on how much time you want to spend. You can practice it at any time of day. I prefer to pray it in the evening, shortly after my kids go to bed, while the events of the day are still fresh in my mind. I don’t like to wait too late, otherwise I tend to fall asleep. Womp! I’ve also heard that some pray it in the morning, looking back on the day before. This doesn’t work as well for me because, kids. Plus, after I sleep my foggy mom brain can’t remember what I did yesterday. Others practice it at noon. There is no one right time or one right way. Experiment with the timing and choose what seems to work best.
Examen helps you see God in your day
The trick is to find a time that is mostly free of distractions. If you can, find a relatively quiet space. As you quiet yourself, allow your thoughts to review the events of the day. As you do, see if you can identify God’s presence in the course of your day. It may be a time when you actually felt his presence. Or maybe a time where you were completely unaware of his presence, but as you reflect, you see the signs of his presence. Perhaps you see God’s mercy and love through an interaction with a friend, or with your spouse, or child. Or perhaps God showed up for you in a beautiful sunset or flower garden.
Examen cultivates gratitude
Take the time to allow yourself to re-experience the day, looking for Jesus and thanking Him for his presence. One of the things I love about this prayer is its authentic cultivation of thankfulness in my life. I have a bit of trouble with this. You might say I tend to see the glass half empty. And in motherhood, it is that much easier for me to get bogged down with how hard it is, and the opportunities I feel I’m missing out on. This prayer practice helps counteract that voice so that I can see the good and beautiful gifts of my children and my life.
Examen invites confession
Of course, as we reflect, the times we miss the mark will become evident too. While it is an opportune time to ask God for forgiveness and reflect on how we might have chosen differently, please tread graciously with yourself in this territory. As a mother of two headstrong preschoolers, I know how easily susceptible we are to outbursts of frustration and impatience. It’s all to easy to get wrapped up in too much guilt and feeling not enough. The hardest person to give grace to is me. I easily get tangled up in the false belief that God is angry or disappointed with me and then I miss the grace that God offers and the opportunity for relationship this prayer provides. We want to confess our shortcomings to God, ask for wisdom and patience, and move on without getting lost in shame.
Examen takes practice
Finally, it may be difficult some days, especially at the beginning, to recognize his presence. That’s okay and normal. It is a discipline. We have to train our eyes to see his invisible hand in our lives. The more I practice this prayer and understand God’s ways, the more I realize that God more often moves subtly behind the scenes. He doesn’t often appear as overtly as I’d prefer.
I don’t follow a formal guide, but there are several variations of how to use the prayer available. You can see a few here, here, and here. These resources will give you many more ideas and guidance for how to use the prayer in your life. Here is a simple guide to help you get started. Click on the image if you would like to download it and print it for yourself.
I find the best way to adopt spiritual practices for myself is to experiment with different types of prayers. Or sometimes I make it up all on my own. The point is to be with God, not check a box, or follow a formula. And at this season of my life I keep it pretty simple. I like to think of the prayer of examen and other spiritual practices as a framework that you can fill with your own spiritual art. However small or large, simple or elaborate an offering, it all counts.
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