At the close of the day, do you take the time to pause and reflect on what’s transpired? Rewind the day’s events. Were there significant moments that brought you closer to God or perhaps pushed you away? As your head hits the pillow, is your mind racing with thoughts about the next day?
Most of us desire to be better. We want to succeed and become the people God created us to be. But many of us resist the opportunity to reflect on our lives in a meaningful way. It’s as though we are scared of getting to know ourselves.
In the addictions classes I teach, I often ask the men to name what they are feeling that day—to look within themselves and identify whether there is happiness, sadness or sorrow. For most of them, this is a new experience. They have abused alcohol and drugs to numb themselves and escape their feelings. They need help exploring their inner lives. I wonder if the rest of us are much different.
To achieve significant change in our lives, we need to learn more about ourselves. This can happen through prayer and reflection as we review our day. This doesn’t need to take long; it’s like watching a movie of the day’s events in reverse. When we do this, and pause at significant moments, we can discover the areas where we have grown and where we have missed opportunities. In a prayerful manner, we then invite God to whisper his insights into our lives.
As an ancient Christian prayer tradition, the “examen” encourages us to identify moments of consolation (where we felt closest to God) and desolation (where we felt separated from him). In its simplest form, the examen consists of two questions: For what moment today am I most grateful?; For what moment today am I least grateful? The intent is for God to speak to us through these moments of deepest feelings and yearnings. Hopefully we will seek to do more of what brings us consolation, and to listen and respond to what brings us desolation. Practised regularly over a period of time, the examen can guide our lives and help us to make wise choices.
The first time I heard about this prayer method was from a spiritual director. As I discovered more about this discipline, I quickly incorporated it into my spiritual life as a way to discern what is happening in my life.
Very recently, my husband, Chris, and I began doing the examen together over supper. We are empty nesters and I wish I had known about this method when our son was still at home as it has been a great connecting point for us. As we reflect together on the consolations and desolations of our day, we gain greater insight into each other’s lives.
You can do the examen at any time of the day—after lunch, after work or before you go to bed. It can be done alone, with another person or even in a group. This prayer method can be a great tool for conflict resolution and problem-solving, such as reviewing how you responded to certain situations. It also helps us to process our thoughts and feelings as we closely examine the events of the day. As we practise the examen, we will also witness God’s hand at work in our lives.
As you reflect on the desires of your hearts, I hope that God will whisper into your spirit and remind you of the ways he is with you.
As you reflect on your day, ask the following questions:
• When did I fail today? Why?
• When did I give and receive love today?
• What habits and life patterns do I notice in my day?
• In what ways did I sense God today?
• When did I feel most alive? Most drained?
• When did I have the greatest sense of belonging? Least sense of belonging?
• When was I most creative? Least creative?
• When did I feel most fully myself? Least myself?
• When did I feel most whole? Most fragmented?
Throughout this prayer time, allow God to speak, challenge, encourage and teach you.
Major Dickens is the Co-ordinator for Mission Effectiveness, Volunteer Development and
Addictions Counsellor, Maxwell Meighen Centre, Toronto. She is also a spiritual director and a member of Spiritual Directors International