Reflection: The Prayer of Examen

Brian Sullivan   -  

As we move into the New Year, we are going to spend some time exploring how we can cultivate “Rhythms of Intentionality” that will allow us to experience God more fully in the everyday.

In their book the Intentional Life – Holly & Glenn Packiam talk about creating a “keystone habit” of stopping once a year to reflect. To “take time to stop for the purpose of moving forward

Psalm 90:12 says “teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.

In her book “Pursue the Intentional Life”, Jean Fleming wrote: God is not asking me to number my days to increase my pace but rather to examine my route, not to increase my efficiency but to see where I must make course corrections in heart, character, and actions.

St. Ignatius’ “Prayer of Examen” is a practice that is designed to help Christians prayerfully reflect on the events of each day and sense where the Lord is leading them. Many do this practice each day or week, but the prayer of Examen is also helpful to reflect on seasons or an entire year. When the Examen is used to review larger chunks of time rather than isolated moments of the day, major themes tend to emerge.

Take some time as the new year starts to reflect back on the previous year / season (adapted from the Intentional Life):

Rest – Take time to stop, be still and silent. Place yourself in God’s presence. Like Psalm 139, dwell on God’s glory, goodness and grace. Give thanks for God’s great love for you. Be reminded that you have the Holy Spirit in you and with you. Say short prayers that remind you that God loves you and ask Him to lead and guide you.

Review – Recall specific moments and your feelings at the time.

Think about how are you feeling both physically and emotionally.  What were common/frequent emotions over the year (happy, sad, anxious, content, etc.)?

What were signficant things or events that happened in the previous year? What were some high points or mountaintops? Low moments or valleys?

Ask yourself these questions: What was an average day? How did I feel in the mornings? Evenings? Throughout the day?
What issues or problems did I struggle with? What were recurring tensions, struggles?
Where did I discover gifts of joy over the past year? Where did I experience sorrow & grief?
Where or how did I give and receive love?

Rejoice – Pray for the grace to understand how God is acting in your life. Rejoicing is an “expression of gratitude”. Writing down what we are grateful for helps us delight in and savor each of God’s gifts.

Go month to month and write down significant things that had an impact on you which you are grateful for (big or small).

Often in our full lives, we rush past all the ways God is showing his love or extending kindness to us. Once you’ve made your gratefulness list, engage in prayer with God. You could begin by saying, Lord, thank you for blessing me this year and pouring out your love on me through….

Repent – Move from telling the Lord how grateful you are to acknowledging and accepting where you have fallen short. Repent and ask for forgiveness for the ways you did not cooperate with the Holy Spirit and failed to give and receive love. From the book of Common Prayer, confess: We have not loved you with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We are truly sorry and humbly repent.

Request – Look toward tomorrow. Think of how you might collaborate more effectively with God’s plan. Ask the Lord for the grace to grow and participate with the Holy Spirit’s work.

Ask: Where do you sense the Holy Spirit leading you to grow and engage in HIS work this year?

One aspect of the  gospel is that God always meets you with grace. Growth happens because of grace. Our request for growth, as it turns out, is really a request for grace. The goal of reflecting on the past year is to hold up our lives to God’s light and present our whole selves to him. Inviting God into the past year is a way to find and experience Him in all things.