We’ve been examined by others and evaluating results nearly our whole lives. Remember that spelling test in Kindergarten? Even before you can remember, doctors gave you close examinations to ensure you were growing and thriving. And ever since, you have taken exams throughout school and in your professional career. While not perfect, the exam is a tool we use to measure growth.
The spiritual discipline of examen is an aid for you to not only measure your own spiritual growth, but also to be more in tune with how God is working in the world around you. It is a practice that trains us to notice when and where God shows up in the mundanity of our daily life. Take a look at your calendar and notice how many days are filled with white space. If your calendar is like mine, there are very few (or no) days like that. How can we be sure we are in tune with how God is working around us if we barely have time to take a breath and remember that God is closer to us than the air we breathe?
Examen is a simple practice of taking time each day to reflect on a series of questions to help us recognize what is bringing life and what is bringing anxiety. We must be intentional in order to accurately weigh the beauty of life and find appropriate gratitude.
To practice examen simply ask yourself a series of questions and give yourself enough time to ponder your responses.
Some examen questions could be:
- What moment of the day has made me the most grateful? Which moment today do I wish I could have skipped?
- What part of the day made me the most excited about life? What part of the day felt burdensome to me?
- When did I feel the most love being shared during the day? When did anger and hate creep into the day?
- When did I feel the most connected to God today? When did God feel far from me?
- What fruit of the Spirit showed up in my life today? When did I miss seeing that fruit?
While it is possible to engage in this discipline each day in mere thought, journaling your responses might prove helpful for a couple of reasons. Journaling forces you to form your thoughts completely and may help keep your mind from wandering. Even more importantly, this discipline becomes more powerful when you are able to look back over months and years to see how your noticing of God is evolving over time. Having a journal enables you to go back over the last week/month/year/decade to consider what themes are emerging in your life. The journal may also become a great resource for your prayer life.
In order to help still you before God, you might light a candle to ask that God will show you the truth as you let examen bring light to your life. And even though God will help you see your life more accurately and with greater gratitude through this practice, be aware that if you are naturally given to sadness, pessimism, or depression you may tend to focus more on the negative aspects of your day. If this is the case for you, make sure you spend a good amount of time searching out the good things God is doing so that you can express gratitude for those things.
Engaging in the discipline of examen should bring you closer to God, increase your awareness of his activity, and make you more grateful for the gift of your life. Start today. You won’t regret it.