What fast will I choose for the season of Lent?
Lent invites you to scan your life for what you tend to use to insulate yourself from difficult feelings (things like anxiety, weariness, need). Likely this thing is not “bad” or “wrong” in itself, but you know that it’s what you reach for at times to protect you from facing the state of your heart and looking to God to meet your needs in a lasting way. Could you willingly commit to go without that cushion for the 40 days of Lent, expecting to learn more deeply how to feast on God?
Learn to pay attention to your heart with a daily practice of
The Examen is a prayer practice established by Ignatius of Loyola in the 16th century. Through the observation of his own life and that of many others, Ignatius became aware that God designed human beings to encounter God through our emotional responses to life’s daily experiences. Through a simple guided prayer (centered on the reflection questions below and filled out further down), we can learn to recognize the presence and activity of God in and around us continually.
When today did I feel closest to God and God’s love?
When today did I feel most distant from God and God’s love?
Whom will I pray for through Lent?
As we seek to be people of influence, we want to intentionally pray for others to know more of God and God’s love. For this Lent season, consider picking 1-2 people that you will pray for daily.
The Examen can take many forms. A simple structure to follow would include these 4 steps:
1. Ask God to see your day as God does.
You want to take this walk back through your day with God and in the light of God’s love and good desire for you.
2. Pray in gratitude for anything you are thankful for in the day.
Gratitude – honest, not forced – sets the tone on remembering God’s goodness to you in all times.
3. Review your day.
You might look back over your schedule or watch your day back in your mind as a movie, keeping the Examen’s central questions with you.
- When today did I feel closest to God and God’s love?
Such times are often marked by faith, hope, joy, and freedom. It’s important to note that these are not always “happy”moments. Moments of loss or of conviction, for example, can also lead to a greater sense of connection to God.
- When today did I feel most distant from God and God’s love?
Such times are often marked by anxiety, doubt, discouragement, spiritual lethargy (no desire or energy to reach out for God), and occasionally by excessive pride.
Look for the Holy Spirit to point out the movements of your heart to you. This is a time to observe and to appreciate the gift of your heart, how it alerts you to nearness and farness from an experience of God. This is not a time to judge yourself for doing “right” or “wrong” in the day.
4. A look ahead at tomorrow
As you consider the day ahead, is there anything you noticed about where you felt connected to/disconnected from God and God’s purposes today that you want to ask God to help you apply? End your time in prayer.
A Simple, Life-Changing Prayer by Jim Manney is a short but illuminating book on the Examen for those who would like more instruction and inspiration.
“Reimagining the Examen” is an app that cycles through a variety of ways to ask the central reflection questions of the Examen (new one each day). If you find the above questions not connecting with you or need some variety to enliven your practice as Lent goes on, the app would be a great option.
Thoughts on things like When/Where/With Whom...
As with all spiritual practice (and any habit for that matter!), establishing a workable pattern is central to really applying it.
When: Once you become familiar with the pattern of the Examen, most people pray it through in about 15-20 minutes, though you’re welcome to go faster or slower! Many people end their day with the Examen. It makes for a nice review to cap off the day. Depending on the flow of your day, that could mean doing it over dinner or just before bed. Others find doing the Examen first thing in the morning (looking back over yesterday) is preferable. Find the time most suited to your rhythms.
Where: Anywhere that is conducive to reflection for you works! Again, for the establishment of habit, it can be helpful to do the Examen in the same place most days. Association can be a friend! For most this will be a favorite chair in a quiet place, but some will find it helpful to pray while walking.
With Whom: The Examen can be a communal practice. While many will likely pray alone, it is also a great option to “pray while talking” as a family, with a spouse, with housemates, etc.