Examen is the discipline of discerning the voice of God within the data and activity – moments, feelings, thoughts, interactions, etc – of our day. The daily examen was developed by St. Ignatius in the 16th century. While thrilled for the work they were doing, Ignatius became worried that the missionaries under his care weren’t discerning the movement of God in their lives. He developed the examen to help his missionaries notice God and attend to the moments they missed as they went about their daily lives and work.
Missionaries and priests spreading the Gospel probably experienced God’s grandeur and glory as life after life changed before their eyes. However, Ignatius’ examen not only reminded them that they still needed to tend to the depths of their own souls but that tending the depths also involved peering more closely into the quiet, small, ordinary moments throughout the day or week. If 16th century missionaries and priests had a hard time noticing the movement of God in their lives, those of us who live within the constant buzz of the 21st century don’t stand a chance without intentionality. Examen is an invitation to sit before God and offer our day – both the grand moments and the mundane moments – back to him so that he can alert us to the work he wants to do to redeem every second of it to conform us to the image of Christ.
The daily examen is essentially an “examination” of the data – actions, interactions, thoughts, emotions – of the day or week. There are a few practical steps for stepping into examen as an individual, couple, or family.
Step 1 | Presence: Enter into God’s presence praying that he would bring to mind what he wants you to notice from the day/week.
Step 2 | Notice: Select or craft 2-3 questions to help you notice. Here are some examples below…
- When did I feel most connected to God today/this week?
- When did I feel least connected to God today/this week?
- When was I loved or served well by others today/this week?
- When did I love or serve others well today/this week?
- When did I exhibit love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, or self-control?
- When did I miss the opportunity to exhibit love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, or self-control?
- For what am I most grateful today? Excited? Hopeful?
- For what am I least grateful? Frustrated? Disappointed?
Step 3 | Examen: Prayerfully tend to the moments you’ve noticed. Offer these moments to God. What is God saying to you from within these moments? What invitations reside within these moments? What is God inviting you to start, stop, or continue as a result of your experience?
To get started, find a quiet place and carve out 20 minutes to practice examen. Note: Ignatius created the examen as a daily tool but you can do the examen weekly, monthly, or annually. Remember that the lower the frequency of practice, the higher the amount of time that should be budgeted.