So, what is the Examen? In a nutshell, it is a method of prayer that you normally complete at the end of your day—it takes about ten to fifteen minutes—that involves praying about the past twenty-four hours of your life. You look with God at the pieces of your life, one by one, as though you were examining the pieces of a puzzle.
To share with you more of what this means, I’ll give you an example from my home. My kids and I like to do puzzles. Many days, after completing one puzzle, we bring another one out. On one such day, we had multiple puzzles out, and we decided it was time to clean up. So we did, carefully placing each puzzle back in its appropriate box. But as my daughter grabbed the boxes to bring them upstairs, the boxes slipped out of her hands, dumping the puzzles into a heap, the different puzzles mixing together. So Abby and I sat down and began examining the pieces together, hoping to get them sorted into their right boxes.
One by one, we would look at a puzzle piece and examine its color, shape, and size. We would ask, “Where does this belong?” It was easy to determine where some pieces belonged, but others were more difficult to figure out. We had to sit with those a bit longer and examine them more closely. Eventually, we finished the job.
This is often how I picture praying the Examen. Jesus is sitting down next to me, and together we are picking up the pieces of the past twenty-four hours of my life and examining them. We are looking at everything that occurred in those twenty-four hours. With the Holy Spirit’s help, I can review those hours and see where I can give thanks and name God’s presence. At the same time, with the Holy Spirit’s help, I can see where I struggled to name God or did not act as I wanted. Together, Jesus and I are asking, “Does this belong? Does this help me grow closer in my relationship with God?” Then, after we look at the pieces of my day, I look to my next twenty-four hours and ask for God’s help with it.
Typically, there are five steps to the Examen. The organized planner that I am really likes that there are five steps—that when I complete one, I can move on to the next, and then the next, and then the next until my prayer is complete. And while there are five simple steps to the Examen, what occurs in this small prayer is quite powerful. It is not simply a process of running through a memorized prayer, spouting off words without much thought or purpose. Rather, it is a prayer of intentional reflection on your day that literally involves bringing your entire life before God and praying about it.