By Libby Rutherford
Examen is an ancient practice developed by St. Ignatius of Loyola, an early church reformer from Spain.
Ignatius believed that God is active in all the corners of our lives. Ignatius developed this prayer as he was recuperating from a serious injury. He would be still with God through the moments of his day.
It is a way to prayerfully reflect on the events of your day (or year), to discover God’s presence. It is a way detect God even in the smallest details of your life. Sometimes we miss that. We look for him in the grand moments, but we don’t look for him in our everyday moments. Examen helps us to listen well. This doesn’t mean an audible voice, but to detect God’s presence in our life.
It will help you be more aware of what God is doing in your life and within your spirit. This can lead to better discernment. It can lead to making better choices as you follow God’s leading. It can lead to healing, especially if you start to notice practices or patterns in your life that aren’t good for you. We can ask for God’s leading in understanding the root of those patterns or practices. It can help you process sometimes very difficult emotions with God. It gives you an increase in peace and an increased sense of confidence as you go through your day with God. It helps you to trust him better.
Before You Begin the Examen
- Find a quiet, comfortable place to reflect.
- A journal is helpful to record thoughts/answers to the questions.
- Once you have completed the worship section, you may wish to turn off your device or put it on airplane mode for less distraction.
- Enjoy this time of reflection with God.
1. Prepare Your Heart through Worship
Here are some suggested verses and songs. Feel free to choose scripture and/or songs that encourage, inspire, or lift you up.
- Psalm 27:3: Though an army may encamp against me, My heart shall not fear; Though war may rise against me, In this I will be confident. Song: Surrounded
- Romans 8:37: Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. Listen to the song: Warriors
- Psalm 118:28: You are my God and I will praise You; You are my God, I will exalt You. Listen to the song: My God and King
2. Do Lectio Divina
Lectio divina, which means “divine reading. It is the quiet and thoughtful reading of the Bible and prayer. It helps us open ourselves to God and discover what he wants to say to us. It helps us to listen deeply with the ears of our heart.
To do Lectio:
- Invite the Holy Spirit to lead you in this time of reflection and contemplation of His word.
- Read Galatians 5:22-25 aloud.
- Read the passage again silently and consider what word or phrase the Holy Spirit may be highlighting to you personally. Record your thoughts.
- Reflect on this personally highlighted portion again and ask how God might be calling you to respond to His word. Record your thoughts.
- Read the entire passage a final time and return to a place of rest in God.
3. Spend Time in Prayer
Spend some time in prayer, praising God for who he is and thanking him for the many blessings of the past year.
Steps to Examen Prayer
Step 1: Gratitude
In this step, spend time reflecting on and recalling the bits of your day for which you are grateful to God—both those bits that were welcomed and those that were unwelcome. By doing this you are bathed in God’s love for you and your love for him.
Step 2: Grace
For this step, ask God for the grace to really look on your day and yourself with total clarity and honesty. Take a God’s eye view of your life. When we pray, we tend to pray from our perspective. If we are praying for healing, we just want what is ailing us to go away. So, we ask for outcomes based on our view of the world. Getting at God’s eye view opens up your vistas. We want the grace to look on our day as God sees it, as best we can. The apostle Paul said that this is having the mind of Christ. When we adopt God’s view, it prevents us from being overly harsh with ourselves. Sometimes we are our own worst critics. Sometimes we might be fearful of what we are praying for. This step of asking God for honesty and clarity helps you enter into the fear and pray from that. Sometimes we are a little bit lazy, or there are things that we would rather not review. This step gives me the courage to do that.
Step 3: Reviewing Your Day with Jesus
Step three is the center of the examen prayer. This is where the power of examen is. Reviewing your day with Jesus is like sitting in a movie theatre and watching your day with him and paying attention to your spirit. What is going on in your spirit? What feelings are coming up? Sometimes as Christians we tend to ignore our feelings, we want to stay more in our head. God made our feelings. And our feelings can be an indication of what is going on in our spirit that we need to dig a little deeper into.
Note regarding the review:
• Notice your strong emotions: they may be good or negative.
• Notice when you feel closest to God or when you feel really distant from him.
Choose one or two of the most prominent things and pray from those emotions. Some people have such anxiety that they might not choose the most prominent emotion. Dismiss that from your mind. Whatever you pray from is good. Whatever you pray from God will use to help renew you for tomorrow. Just pray from those one or two things that bubble up in your spirit. Ask the Lord what he wants you to know about it. What he wants you to do. Who he wants you to be. Ask questions. Listen. And give it some time.
Step 4: Forgiveness
Sometimes when we review our day things bubble up and we might feel convicted. Step four is an opportunity to ask God for his forgiveness and healing. Sometimes when you go through an examen you might feel distant from God. That is called spiritual desolation. Sometimes spiritual desolation can be caused by our sin, which often obscures our view of God. Ask God for forgiveness and the grace to turn away from that sin. Sometimes we might recognize a sinful pattern in our lives. Ask God what lies beneath that pattern. Maybe you are hearing the voice of a very critical parent. By offering this up to God there may be a healing moment in it. If you have a memory of something traumatic or hurtful for you, ask the Holy Spirit to enter into that moment. Ask the Holy Spirit what he wants you to know about that moment. It is an invitation for healing. Forgiveness and healing are very closely connected.
A little bit of a caution: Examen is not an exercise for beating yourself up. Martin Luther wrote lists and lists of all his sins. He went to his supervisory priest who advised Luther to read the Bible. When he did, Luther discovered the passages about grace. If you are not prompted to ask for forgiveness, that’s okay. Maybe there was a moment of pure joy or love that you felt. Savor that moment. You have complete freedom in how the Spirit leads you. The voices of condemnation, or “should have,” “would have,” or “could have” are not God’s voice.
Step 5: Renewal and Transformation
In this last step, you use the examen to move ahead. What do you want God to transform and renew? Maybe it’s courage. Maybe it’s wisdom. Maybe you are prompted to pray for someone. Whatever it is, seek God’s grace to show you what renewal and transformation look like.
We only achieve true renewal through God’s grace. Sometimes we try to achieve renewal with quick fixes. We may pray the prayers of “bail me out God” or “fix this” and then move on in our life. Sometimes we pray for the spectacular, e.g. a healing to be done before our eyes. Or the miraculous. Sometimes God works like this, but more often God works slowly through renewal and transformation.
The beauty of examen as a regular prayer practice is that it helps you to notice the slow movement of God in your life through the ordinary. We see his fingerprints through the ordinary. Maybe you noticed some anger that popped up. The question might be, “Where is that anger coming from? What is the source of that anger? God might have shown you a harsh voice—it may have come from your past. Maybe from a parent or teacher. Maybe you are feeling a prompt to really understand it. Maybe that harsh voice was saying something that was not true about you, but you took it on as if it was true. Maybe God is asking you to renounce that lie. Renounce believing that lie. Maybe God is prompting you to forgive that person. Forgiveness is not saying what that person did to you was okay, it releases you from whatever it is that ties you to that person. Whatever it is—that is the start of transformation and renewal.
As part of our rhythm of life, each team member ends the year by doing a personal examen of the past year. This helps us as we look to entering the next year with new growth and discernment.
“Soulful listening requires us to stop daily,
purposefully observe our lives, consider what is
happening to us, and name those things that are
dying, persisting, changing, fermenting, or
bursting forth with new life.”
—Jean Stairs, Listening for the Soul