An Examen in Times of Pain

An Examen in Times of Pain - text over photo by Kindel Media via Pexels - grieving man with candle in foreground

The daily Examen is intended to help us notice where God is in our lives. We do this by examining the details of the day just past with attention to what we are grateful for, what we regret, and what we hope for the future. It’s simple enough until the pain of illness, grief, or trauma makes it seem impossible. This is a version of the Examen for those times.

Place ourselves in the presence of God. One way to do this, especially when we are feeling our worst, is to imagine ourselves at the foot of the Cross. Some of the saints have rejoiced at the opportunity to share the sufferings of Christ. For those of us who have not had the benefit of such graces, it may be enough to be with the mother and closest associates of Jesus and share their grief as they witness his suffering. We are not alone—and Good Friday is not the end of the story.

Ask for the light of the Spirit. When we’re in pain, short prayer is easier than long prayer. Our words can be as simple as, “Come, Holy Spirit.”

Give thanks. It isn’t easy to list what we’re grateful for when our pain crowds out all other feelings. Perhaps we need to think small: thank God for bright sunshine, a bird singing, or any small kindness that someone has done. When I came down with COVID in December, 2022, I thanked God for the recently developed antiviral medication that healed me; if I had contracted the virus even a year earlier, I would have died!

Be sorry. Our suffering is not punishment for past sins, contrary to a common superstition. But none of us is perfect; we all have our failings and omissions, even when we’re sick or grieving. Have I been too preoccupied with my own pain to have compassion for others? Did I brush off someone who wanted to help? Have I been angry with God? Have I refused to pray?

Look forward to the future with hope. “Hope in the Lord,” or, “Don’t give up hope,” and similar expressions are unhelpful abstractions at times of suffering. A better practice is to look ahead, one day at a time, and reflect on how today’s Examen can inform the way we live tomorrow. What graces did I experience today? I can continue to savor each of those graces, aware that they reflect opportunities for the future. I can pray in simple words with an uplifted heart when I don’t have the energy for my usual routine. I can try to receive unwanted advice graciously. I can accept help more gratefully. Above all, I can pray for the grace to notice.

Photo by Kindel Media via Pexels.

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Barbara Lee
Barbara Lee is a practicing spiritual director who lives in New York City. She is a retired attorney, a former U.S. magistrate judge, and a long-serving member of the Ignatian Volunteer Corps. She is the author of God Isn’t Finished with Me Yet: Discovering the Spiritual Graces of Later Life, Answering God's Call, and Praying Through Pain.

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