The benefit in knowing where we are at and where we are headed is that you have a good idea of what you should be doing right now. If you can only bench 125 pounds, you’re not going to attempt to bench 200 pounds or think that you should be benching 200 pounds. If you’re in 7th grade, you’re not going to be studying Trigonometry when you haven’t learned basic Algebra yet. You can imagine how defeating that would be.
These examples are true also in our journey of discipleship with Jesus Christ. We know that we want to be holy. We know that we want to grow in discipline, in purity, in prayer and devotion, in generosity, etc. The best way for us to understand what we should be doing or working on is to reflect upon where we are at. The challenge is: how do we measure where we are at in generosity, or purity, or prayer? If we’re actively working on one of these areas, how do we know if we are getting better at them? How do we know what we should be focusing on?
This is the beauty and the genius of a very popular “exercise” given to us by St. Ignatius of Loyola called the Examen Prayer. In fact, the Examen is not just a prayer that is recited or a daily assessment that is taken. Instead, it is like bringing in the best “coach” possible to give you specific direction and feedback on how things are going and what you need to work on next. Even more, it is a chance for God to reveal His love story to you and to share with you the ways that He has been calling you to Himself. In doing so, we become more aware of our failures and need to continue to grow each and every day.
We’ll eventually have more ways to teach you about the Examen, but here is a quick summary of how you can pray the Examen.
Step One – Gratitude
Spend some time reflecting on your day and expressing gratitude to God for the many gifts He has given you.
Step Two – Petition
Aware that all good things come from God, ask God to bless this time of prayer and make it good.
Step Three – Review
Once again reflect on your entire day. Ask God to reveal to you times throughout your day that you felt close to Him and you experienced peace, joy, etc. How did you respond or what did you do during those times? Then, reflect on times where you felt more distant from God, where you felt anxious, afraid, lonely, or angry. What caused those feelings to happen and how did you respond?
Step Four – Forgiveness
Take some time to ask God for forgiveness for the times today that you did not live or respond as you should. Acknowledge your need for God’s grace in your life.
Step Five – Renewal
In this final step, take time to look ahead to tomorrow and ask God now for the grace that is needed to do His will in all things tomorrow. Consider parts of your day tomorrow that will be more challenging. How can you strive to live differently tomorrow? What is God asking you to focus on?
If done right, the Examen gives God the opportunity to “coach” you in the spiritual life. I encourage you to pray the Examen each day (shouldn’t take more than 5-10 minutes). It is a beautiful way to grow in confidence of where you are, what you need to focus on, and be confident that God’s grace is helping to move you down the path of holiness.
Want Some Help Praying the Examen?
Discerning Hearts does an excellent job leading one through this prayer in the video below.
Eric Gallagher is the founder of ComeFollow.Me. He hails from Sioux Falls, South Dakota with his wife and four children. Eric has a deep love for helping others grow in their spiritual life and teaching them about prayer and discernment. He has worked full-time in church ministry since 2003. Eric also holds a Masters of Theology from the Augustine Institute.