The Jesuits have played a major role in my post-high school education. One of the gifts of my time at both Marquette and Gonzaga was learning Ignatian Spirituality. The ability to find God in all things: in nature, in art and music, in other people, has helped to solidify my belief in God and discover how He is at work in my life.
At the heart of Ignatian Spirituality is the daily Examen. The Examen allows us to reflect on the past day in an effort to find God’s presence in our life, seek opportunities to grow through our mistakes, and listen for His guidance for the potential challenges and opportunities of tomorrow. The Examen can be so powerful that Jesuits actually pray it twice a day (at mid-day and night). That way, if they have a rough morning, they can correct and have a better afternoon.
How Do You Do the Examen?
St. Ignatius of Loyola provides a simple five-step routine for our daily examen. When praying the Examen, you should have a conversation with God and pay special attention to your emotions. One of St. Ignatius’s great insights was how our experienced emotions can help us to detect the presence of the Spirit of God. As I reflect on the day, I pay close attention to the feelings I experienced in relation to events during the day (both good and bad).
Presence of God
I begin by finding a place with limited distractions. I ask for the guidance of the Holy Spirit as I prepare to look back on my day – to help show the blessings of the day and to reveal the moments were I have fallen short of who God has created me to be. Some days can feel like a blur of activity. On these occasions I ask God to provide clarity and understanding.
Recall and celebrate the blessings
Gratitude is the foundation of our relationship with God. Start by walking through your day noting your joys and delights. Look at the work you did, the people you interacted with: what did you receive from these people? What did you give them? Pay attention to small things—the sights you saw and other seemingly small pleasures. God is in the details. Remember to pay attention to your emotions. Take a moment to pray in thanksgiving for all of these blessings, especially by name!
Review and recognize failures
Next, I look at the moments in my day when I did not act so well. I start by asking God to fill me with his Spirit to humbly lead me through this difficult soul-searching. I look back at my day and ask the Lord to point out to me the moments when I have failed in big ways or small. The trick is to reflect on these mistakes in a light of improvement, not self-pity. I want to be the best version of myself, as a spouse, a parent, a friend, or a co-worker. This allows me to identify and pray for opportunities for self-growth and improvement.
Ask for forgiveness and healing
If I have sinned, I ask God to forgive me and empower me to do better (often scheduling when I will go to confession next). If I have simply made a mistake, I ask for healing of any harm that I might have caused. I ask for wisdom to discern how l might better handle such tricky moments in the future. Sometimes this can feel overwhelming, especially if I have had a difficult day. On these days, I often need to just focus on one or two important events or feelings from the day and focus my prayer on those moments.
Pray about the next day
Finally, I ask God to show me how tomorrow might go. I imagine the things I will be doing, the people I will see, and the decisions I will need to make. I ask for help and guidance with any moments I foresee that might be difficult. I especially ask for help in moments that tripped me up today – that I might be better tomorrow. If there are others I want to lift up in prayer, I do this to round out my conversation with Christ.
Remember to pray the Examen in a spirit of gratitude. Your life has meaning: you have incredible God-given gifts and talents and God has an amazing plan that entails using those gifts and talents.