When significant relationships come to an end, whether due to geographic distance, drifting apart, or brokenness through conflict, we have the task of integrating that relationship into our memories and identities. As Christians, we are formed to be people who exist in loving community, always reconciling mercifully with one another, but at times human limits prevent this from being possible. As we seek to make sense of where God is in broken relationships, an Examen of the relationship can help.
The Ignatian Examen is designed to help one to see where God has been in one’s everyday life and to help us to notice patterns, and so to discern how to act in the future. While a more typical practice is to pray the Examen daily, it can also be used to pray over a longer period of time—for example, the past year—or a specific aspect of one’s life.
In praying an Examen of a specific relationship, we can start by placing ourselves in God’s loving presence. Perhaps you want to imagine Jesus gazing at you with love or sitting nearby like a trusted friend, or you might imagine the warmth of the Spirit infusing the whole of your being, like a light shining gently on all. God holds all of our lives in love and invites us to hold it in love too.
Next, allow memories of the relationship to surface, and notice the variety of feelings that accompany those memories. Where was the joy and the love? Where was there sadness or disappointment? How did the relationship allow you to grow or to flourish? When did the relationship move you away from God’s deepest desires for you? How did the end of the relationship give rise to one or more of these responses in you?
Then pray with one of these feelings or memories that seems especially significant, and invite God to help you to see or learn something about that moment or relationship. After sharing with God our own thoughts and feelings, we listen for God’s response.
Last, end the Examen with considering how God wants you to respond. Perhaps a bitter ending to a relationship is offset by memories of positive and loving interactions that can allow a more balanced approach to the other person. Perhaps you can consider where God created new growth and brought you to greater maturity through the relationship or its end. Perhaps God is inviting you into a different way to live in the context of your current relationships.
Finally, we can end with a prayer of blessing for the other person and ask that God’s love shine upon him or her.
Although this excellent article seems to be focused on broken relationships where one party intentionally breaks off what was once a close relationship, I find it speaking to me after losing my wife of 52 years to illness after a tremendous struggle with outstanding care where we both thought she would make it. I can see God’s love through my children and grandchildren’s concern for me, as well as the care and concerns of friends and other relatives. Yet still I grieve. Perhaps the Examen gives me a positive way to channel my grief. Thanks.
Thank you for your thoughtful article, Marina. When my marriage of 29 years ended in divorce 2 years ago I was devastated. But I was fortunate to find solace in my faith. I had not thought to pray an examen of our relationship but have found myself praying for healing for both of us on each occasion a painful memory flashes back with a visceral force. And I have asked in prayer to remember more joyful times and given thanks for these. I understand that sorrow is ‘the other face of joy’ and I can be grateful for what has been. I will always love my ex-husband and so I can pray daily for God’s blessings on him. I am still grieving for what has gone and the loss of the future I had always dreamed of. I’m not sure if I’m brave enough to examen the whole relationship, but I will try your ideas next time a flashback strikes. Thank you. And I offer my heartfelt sympathy to all those going through the pain of divorce x
Thank you for sharing of your situation. I like and understand your insight about sorrow as the other face of joy. Peace be with you.
I have had the pain, disappointment and loss at the ending of a very dear relationship in my life. If I may say, I am grateful for the pain because through it I have learned that the gift of the presence of that person in my life reflected in some way God’s love through his love for me. St. Paul says we comfort where we have been comforted. Through prayer, some healing and forgiveness, I sometimes think that God is using my pain to help me help others who are in pain while at the same time drawing me closer to Himself.
Thank you for sharing about the gifts in your difficult experience. Blessings.
This is a very interesting question you raise. In my life I have experienced a couple of circumstances similar to what you have mentioned- and as we know, no two situations are exactly the same, Yer in these two circumstances the eventual outcome was the same at the most important spiritual and emotional level: Love and goodness remained even after after many years and in each case I had the privilege of finally being given insight by these individuals. Each was revealed in different ways and yet a clear sense oh ‘graced healing’ occurred between us. I have found that TIME and a forgiving and hopeful heart and ‘letting go’ and letting God’ brought me ‘Ignatian detachment’ (balance) so that I could move on -and did. of The circumstances related to women friends early in my life – here for a time and then – “poof”-gone. Came to find out years later from each that family abuse was present but invisible to me. Each thanked me for being a good person at a difficult tIme in their lives. Acceptance of Mystery and Time are so very important. Thanks for this insightful post.
Thank you. This post is very helpful to me. Blessings.
Seems this should be a habit or examen in the relationship. You need ti decelop an examen relationshio app.
Yes this is me.
Growing through divorce.
Ty for these encouraging words.
As a whole seems impossible to be happy.
But in parts has some goodness as you have described.
Allowing for thankful moments to be kept as precious memories.
Jesus is walking with me and working for me are the comforting thought that give me the strength to endure.
May peace and hope be with you, Lori.
Holding our lives in love as God does frees us to love others whom He also loves, despite the circumstance, doesn’t it? In broken and ended relationships we need to feel safe and not cornered or judged in order to carry out the examen variation in the manner you describe, Marina.
In life we are bound to experience friction again and again, but isn’t it especially sad when we run into it at church, whether in the form of a dictatorial choir director, nasty cliques, unfriendly parishioners jealously guarding “their” parish status quo? All the more reason to persevere in gathering as a community, ever praying for our redemption as we open ourselves to the graces available through the Sacraments.
I really enjoyed this post and read it in conjunction with Vinita’s earlier one on forgiveness and reconciliation. The more I read the more I learn – hopefully, in practice and in prayer the more I’ll be open to hearing God’s responses. Praying for all who have experienced rejection and hurt, especially in our Christian community.
Thanks for your comment. I take to heart your point about the difficulty when church is a place that we experience those relational breaks and/or bruises. In my experience, those breaks are amongst the hardest of all, because we expect church to be a safe haven, a place of refuge, a space where we can let down our guard and bring the most intimate and core aspects of ourselves to the forefront. In the case of pastoral relationships, we may even experience those hurts or breaks as coming from God at an unconscious level. But it turns out that leaders and laypeople alike in the church are every bit as broken as everyone else.
I like your insights that in such cases, the larger community and sacraments can strengthen us. Most importantly, we learn that God is a more reliable source of Love than anyone in the church can or could be, and that from God comes that strength to forgive, personally heal, and in some cases, mend the breaks.