Have you ever felt like you were on autopilot? In the midst of your daily routine, you find yourself going through the motions, moving from one thing to the next without much thought or even awareness. I don’t know about you, but it often happens to me when I’m driving—especially when it's a route I take daily—or when I'm doing a repetitive, monotonous task. Now, there’s nothing wrong with routine. In fact, it gives us a sense of security. There’s something comforting about familiarity. That’s why we like sitting at the same place at the kitchen table and shopping at the same grocery store where we know where to find everything. (And, Lord, help us when they reorganize the store shelves and it takes us twice as long to finish our shopping, right?) But sometimes familiarity can lull us to sleep, so to speak—whether it’s in our daily work, our relationships, or even our spiritual lives.
Spiritually speaking, sometimes we find ourselves “sleep walking” through life, not being fully aware of what God is doing within us and around us. If we want to grow spiritually and draw closer to God, we have to "stay awake" to God’s presence, paying attention to the many ways God is moving, working, and speaking in our lives. A wonderful practice that can help us open our eyes to the specific ways God is continually expressing his love and offering his comfort and guidance is the Daily Examen.
We can thank Saint Ignatius of Loyola, who lived in the sixteenth century, for this simple and powerful prayer method. Ignatius believed that the Examen was a gift from God that should be shared as widely as possible, and he suggested that it was the most important habit a person could do each day. Perhaps that’s why Christians throughout the centuries have incorporated this prayer practice into their daily routine. I was first introduced to the Examen a few years ago and used it sporadically for a while; but since I have been practicing it regularly, I have been able to see God in my days with even more awareness and gratitude--including those times when I find myself struggling or feeling stuck.
If you Google the Examen, you will find a variety of approaches, many of which outline a simple five-step process. Here is my adaptation of that process:
It doesn't take long to move through these five steps, but if you'd like an even more streamlined version, you can simply recall something from your day that you are grateful for and something you're not so grateful for, talking to God about each. Or you could think in terms of what was life-giving and what was life-taking, or when you felt close to God and when you didn't. Whichever approach you choose, prayerfully reviewing the day in this way can help you to recognize God’s presence and activity in and around you, drawing your attention to gifts and graces that you might otherwise overlook.
The key is in noticing the details of the day, such as sights, sounds, conversations, smells, feelings, tastes, and even tactile experiences. Nothing is too small to notice—the taste of a meal, the fragrance of a flower , the song of a bird, a gentle breeze in the hot sun, the sight of a beautiful sunrise or sunset, the embrace of a loved one, a conversation with a sweet friend, a kind word from a stranger. Even noticing the unpleasant or difficult moments can lead you to a place of authenticity with the Lord, allowing you to share your truest self with God and then open yourself to receive God’s love, comfort, and grace.
With practice it becomes easier to remember the details of the day; and in time, you may begin to realize that you're more mindful of these moments as they are occurring in real time and how they are leading you either toward God or away from God. You may even begin talking with God about these inner movements as they happen, rather than waiting until you revisit them during the Examen. And that, after all, is the goal of the spiritual life—to experience God at all times, so that we have the awareness, just as Jesus prayed, that he is in us and we are in him (John 14:20).
There's no right or wrong way to practice the Examen, just as there's no right or wrong time. You might try doing the Examen at night before going to sleep, ending with what you are grateful for and savoring the sense of God’s loving presence as you drift off to sleep. Or, you might prefer to make the Examen part of your morning routine, reviewing the previous day’s events at the start of a new day. Either way, it’s a wonderful habit that can help you to “stay awake” to God’s continual presence in your life with an increasing sense of gratitude. Writing a few notes in a journal or daily planner can be a great complement to the Examen, creating a record of God's activity in your life.
For me, one of the gifts of the Examen has been a heightened sense of God’s companionship throughout the day, even in the more difficult or challenging moments. I’m also discovering that the longer I practice this simple way of paying attention to God’s presence, the easier it becomes to let go of those things that are truly inconsequential. And that’s an amazing gift in and of itself!
One night I was feeling burdened and having difficulty falling asleep. As I prayed the Examen, I found myself stuck in the disappointments of the day, unable to move on to gratitude. So I allowed myself to continue sharing those moments and my emotions resulting from them with God, just as I would with a trusted friend who was willing to listen as long as needed. It was like unstopping a clogged drain so that the water could flow freely again. Only then was I able to recall several gifts of the day—each so basic and simple and yet, as I realized while reliving them, incredibly significant. As I replayed in my mind the intricate beauty of a simple flower in a vase on my kitchen table, God spoke to me of his love and care for me—just as he cares for the lilies of the field (Matthew 6:28-29). Eventually, I was able to drift off to sleep, savoring that very simple gift with deep gratitude.
If you'd like to become more aware of God's continual presence, noticing him in the details of your life, I encourage you to try the Daily Examen. This simple practice has made a profound difference in my life, and I hope it will do the same for you. My prayer is that it would help you to remain fully awake to God, recognizing the magnitude of his loving care for you at all times—every moment of every day.
Hi, I'm Sally!
I'm passionate about connecting with God and connecting with people, offering spiritual encouragement and companionship. I'm so grateful to be on the journey with you as we walk with God together.