Originally given to the Church by Ignatius of Loyola in 1548, the Examen is a simple method of prayer is still used by millions of Christians around the world as a powerful way to connect with God. Through a few small steps, we can invite the Holy Spirit to search our inmost thoughts and speak the peace of Christ into our souls.
The Prayer of Examen
This prayer is simple enough to pray anywhere, but you may find it more rewarding to pray in a location where you can be alone and quiet. Silence may be a helpful tool to quiet your mind and focus your thoughts on God. Sit comfortably, with your body upright, and hands rested in your lap as a sign of your openness to hear the voice of the Holy Spirit. Try praying it once a day, whenever you can find the best time for uninterrupted, quiet reflection. Some people prefer the early morning hours, others prefer the quiet of bedtime, find what works for you.
When you are ready to begin, close your eyes, breathe deeply, and proceed quietly through each of these five steps.
Step 1: Presence
Take a moment to become aware of God’s presence with you. No matter how distracted or distressed you may seem, you are never separated from the presence of God. Use this time to “center down,” or to calm the anxious thoughts of your day and simply relax in the presence of God. Breathe deeply. If you are having trouble quieting your thoughts, try repeating a simple phrase in your mind, like “Come, Lord Jesus” (Rev 22:20), or “Be still, and know that I am God” (Ps 46:10).
Avoid the temptation to rush through this step. It’s okay if you spend your entire time trying to become still. This is an important and peace-giving discipline in itself, so try not to move on to the second step until your heart is truly at rest.
Step 2: Gratitude
Our busyness often fools us into thinking we have “earned” all that we have. Gratitude helps us see the truth: that our lives are a gracious gift of God. Remember the blessings God has graciously given you. Picture them in your mind, and give God thanks for them. As you thank God for relationships, picture their faces and let them bring you joy. Thank God for His provision, your “daily bread,” and your health.
Gratitude is a powerful prayer, despite whatever our current emotional state may be. Before you continue on with the next step, allow these prayers of thanksgiving to help calm your fears and frustrations.
Step 3: Review
Now take a moment and look back over the past twenty-four hours of your life. Think of all that has happened in the previous day; conversations, thoughts, actions, reactions. Ask God to reveal your “anxious thoughts” (Ps. 139:23). As you remember your day, pay close attention to your emotions. Where did you experience joy, peace, or love? Where did you experience pain, anxiety, worry, stress, or anger? Notice anything that is particularly strong, or anything that you would like to keep hidden in the shadows.
As you pray, take note of these emotions but try not to interpret or justify them. Allow God to simply meet you in the midst of your life, and to walk through these memories with you as a friend. Allow His love to speak peace to your soul.
Step 4: Listen
Now, remembering some of these things you have noticed in your day, simply ask God, “What are you trying to tell me?” Then take a moment and listen. Note what you hear in the silence; perhaps a thought, word, scripture, or image. It may help to write your thoughts in a journal. Be still and listen for the voice of the Holy Spirit.
Throughout the silence, know that you are completely loved and accepted through the love of Jesus.
Step 5: Ask
Turn your attention to the future, and ask God to help you walk forward in a different way. Ask for His grace to heal the broken places in your soul. Ask Him to provide a way forward, a simple step or change you can make to live a life of peace and rest. Take a moment to write down your “takeaway” from this time of prayer. What needs to change in your life to help make tomorrow different than today? Ask God for His grace, which is powerful enough to make such a change, and can transform your life into the image of Jesus.