Sometimes spiritual practices — the habits and activities we participate in to cultivate spiritual growth — can seem confusing, outdated, or too complex to add them into our already busy lives. And even when we commit to a spiritual practice — like praying, reading the Bible, finding rest, or silence and solitude — we can often worry if we’re doing them right. Am I going to church enough? Am I praying correctly? Is my quiet time with God good enough?
But what if we were asking ourselves the wrong questions?
What if doing spiritual practices wasn’t about getting it right, but rather, more about being available?
We don’t win or lose at spiritual practices, all we do is participate. The often-quoted wisdom of Yoda from Star Wars is wrong, “Do or do not. There is no try.”
All we can do is try.
We are not responsible for growing our souls; we are only responsible for positioning ourselves for growth.
We position ourselves to be shaped by our Heavenly Father.
We can’t force a houseplant to grow, but we can put it in the best situation for it to get the right amount of sunlight, water, and fertilizer it needs to flourish. The same is true with our spiritual growth.
God is simply asking us to show up — to take some time to focus our attention on who He is, what He is doing in our lives, and how we might be able to respond to Him in the future.
One of the most helpful exercises I have found is called the Prayer of Examen.
The Prayer of Examen might sound intimidating — probably because of its lofty Latin name and ancient church origin — but it’s really just a framework that we can use to slow down, reflect, and notice God in our everyday lives.
I have found that I especially need this prayer in my life because I can get so focused on the tasks at hand and the things I have to do, that I can easily miss God at work right in front of me. Even as someone who works in a church, I can shift into an auto-pilot mode where I am more focused on working for God, rather than working with God.
By integrating the Prayer of Examen into my life, I found that it creates space for me to put everything on pause in order to understand who I am, who God is, and consider how I am responding to God at home, at work, and in my community. It helps me become more mindful and responsive to God in the present, and expectant, hopeful, and engaged with Him in the future.
The Prayer of Examen was developed by St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits in the 16th century. His greatest desire was to develop a life that was completely focused on and devoted to God, and this Prayer of Examen was an essential part of that lifestyle. The word, Examen, is Latin for “Self-Knowledge” and the goal of this prayer is to help you see and know yourself in your current reality, understanding where you stand in proximity and response to God.
During the first part of the Examen, the examen of consciousness, we are waking up our soul to the world around us, and finding out how we can be a part of God’s transforming work. We talk to God by naming the ways He was with us throughout the day, and consider how we responded to His presence.
We ask, “what might God have been asking of me? What did I not notice in the moment, that I now see might have been a divine opportunity? How did I respond or not respond? What gifts and opportunities has God given me that I can be grateful for?”
The second part of the framework is the examen of conscience, where we reflect on the areas that need cleaning, healing, or clearing from our life. It’s not beating ourselves up for not meeting God’s expectations or our own standards. But instead, it is mindfully walking through our day, and identifying where God’s grace is poured out on us, and where we are being invited into transformation.
It’s an exercise in divine paradox of the Christian life — where we are called to be transformed, but we do not do any of the work of transformation. We just make ourselves available to be changed and hold a posture that accepts God’s love and grace, learning how we can respond to the Spirit in the future.
I would love to invite you on this journey as well. I am sure that I am not the only one who can get so lost in all the things that need to get done that I miss Jesus calling me to live and work alongside Him.
You can listen to a guided prayer audio recording here, or, if you would rather, read the written prayer below:
Assurance of Grace & Love
It can be hard to know how to bring ourselves fully to God. It can be tempting to try to say the “right things” instead of the truthful things. But God invites you to come to Him as you are.
He invites us to trust His love, mercy, tenderness, faithfulness, and care for us. As we enter into this time, consider these verses:
Psalm 51:6 says, “He delights in truth in the inmost being.”
1 John 3:1, “See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called Children of God; that is what we are.
Luke 12:6-7, “Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten in God’s sight. But even the hairs of your head are counted. Do not be afraid: you are of more value than many sparrows.”
You are loved. You are seen. You are known.
We often hold ourselves tensely, ready to do battle, ready to protect or defend ourselves. But with the Lord, we can truly rest. He is our safe place. You can trust our Heavenly Father to be your shield and defender. No one can harm you here.
In the loving presence of God, remember and reflect on your life this past day.
James 1:17 says that, “All good things come from our father in Heaven.”
Take some time to name the things you are thankful for — the things that God has provided for you.
Maybe it’s your morning coffee.
Maybe it’s the furnace in your house, or the food in your fridge.
It could be a relationship that you are grateful for.
Or the clothes on your back.
Maybe it’s just the simple fact that you have another day ahead, filled with possibilities and opportunities to see and receive God in a new way.
Examen of Consciousness
Ask yourself, in the past day, were there times that you recognized God’s presence?
When did you feel distressed? Misunderstood? Alone? Talk to God about those moments. He was there with you.
When did you feel hopeful? Encouraged? Loved? In those moments, God was there.
Over the past day, did you cry out to the Lord? In Joy? In Sorrow? How did He respond? Did you notice it? Are you still waiting for a response? In all those moments, God was and is with you.
What narratives are you believing? About yourself? About others? About your calling? Are they True? Are they helpful? Are they the things God would say to you?
God is still speaking. He is speaking to you.
Examen of Conscious
Were there times this past week when God called to you, and you turned away?
Are there areas in your life that need cleaning, healing, or clearing from life?
Take some time in silence to confess these things to God.
John 15 says, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch of mine that doesn’t produce fruit, and He prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more.
Remember that God prunes branches that do not produce fruit, and those that do. In this season, God is pruning you — the good and the bad, to transform you into His likeness. All He asks is for you to abide with and in Him.
Remember that God is merciful, gracious, and loving, and that forgiveness is already yours. You can look to the future and step into God’s calling all over again.
Looking to the Future
How do you expect to see God in the week to come? How might you respond differently than last week? What are you longing for from God? Take some time to listen to God, and consider what might lay ahead this week.
Where is He calling to you?
Where are you calling out for Him?
As we close, let’s say the ancient Prayer of Ignatius together:
“Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty, my memory, understanding, and my entire will. All I have and call my own. Whatever I have or hold, you have given me. I return it all to you and surrender it wholly to be governed by your will. Give me only your love and your grace and I am rich enough to ask for nothing more.”
Interested in more resources to help posture your heart for deeper spiritual growth?
Book: Sacred Rhythms by Ruth Haley Barton- Ruth Haley Barton is an author, spiritual director, and pastor and her book on spiritual practices is a great exploration on 8 different disciplines, rhythms, and routines that you can implement in your life to draw you closer to Christ. She writes and entire chapter on the Examen, and gives a great breakdown on both why and how we can use it in our spiritual walk with Christ.
YouVersion Reading Plan: Practicing The Examen– Here’s an Examen that lives on the Bible App. If you want to start a streak or keep a streak alive, the Daily Examen is a great addition to your devotional routine.
Also read, from our own blog, Why And How Should We Pray