Editor’s note: We conclude our series exploring each of the steps of the Examen. We’re using the Examen version from Jim Manney’s book, A Simple, Life-Changing Prayer. Find the full series here.
5. Look toward the day to come.
I am a Type A planner. So, of course, when I was pregnant with my first son, I had everything planned out by his due date. I had my maternity plans settled at work, the room was ready to go, and the car seat was already in the car. Then, however, the due date came…and went. I went to the doctor, wondering how far we would let this pregnancy thing go. After all, I was ready for it to happen now. The doctor laughed and said, “We can do what we can, but let’s give it a week. Then, if he’s still not ready, I’ll induce you.” We scheduled the induction for the following Saturday morning.
I left the office a little uncertain as to what to do now. I was already on maternity leave, and my house was in order. It was an interesting place to be in for a planner; babies come when they want, and I couldn’t plan for when that would be. So, I sat until I couldn’t anymore, and then I cleaned. I have a clear memory of being on my hands and knees scrubbing the grout on the kitchen floor (which I’m pretty sure I have not done since). I organized and reorganized the nursery and my closet. And after hours of work, it was still only about 5 p.m. on the first day, and he still wasn’t here. It was quite an exercise in patience.
As the week went on, I began to settle into the time I had. I moved a little slower through each day, noticing a little more of my surroundings. I started to look with anticipation toward each new set of 24 hours, wondering what they would look like and where God would be moving through them.
The last step in the Examen process is to look toward the next day. For me, that is sometimes a challenge. If I am looking toward the year ahead, I want to make a 12-month plan. If I am looking toward the start of Lent, I want to have down what I will be doing all 40 days. And, as was the case with my son, if I am looking toward a big change in my life, I want to look to all the effects that change will bring once it happens.
That is not what the Examen asks, however. Instead, the prayer asks us to look toward the day ahead. Just the next 24 hours. It invites us to think about what we are excited for and what we are nervous about. It invites us to think about where we will see God and where God might be more difficult for us to see. And it invites us to prepare for the unexpected—and that might just be the hardest part. Where can we find God when the baby is overdue? Where can we find God when we lose a loved one? Where can we find God when illness comes unexpectedly? Where can we look for God in those moments of good and terrifying surprise?
The day I was finally induced to have my oldest son, there was a slight complication. His heart rate dramatically dropped every time I had a contraction. Without telling me exactly what was going on, the nurses and doctors monitored the situation, still allowing me to avoid a C-section. I was vaguely aware that they had called the NICU team to stand outside the door “just in case.” When my son finally entered the world, I heard both the doctor and the nurse sigh in relief and say, “Oh, thank God. I thought that cord was around his neck.”
He was fine, but his birth, like all births, was filled with the unexpected. The time I was given to wait for his arrival was a gift. It gave me the opportunity to look toward each 24 hours and say, “God, be with me.”
Coming from a different cultural perspective I thought your story Gretchen Crowder showed a level of material privilege enjoyed by relatively few in my culture. You talk about leaving a job on maternity leave, having your own kitchen, the nursery, the waiting paediatric cardiology team : all elements that distracted the reader from your spiritual exegesis because it placed you in a certain setting. It seems apparent from your background that you are a spiritual advisor who is able to reach a much wider group than the white privileged minority.
Very interesting. I’ve been practising this step as a vague resolve to change myself in the light of my failings. This looking forward to the next 24 hours is a different approach which puts a different slant on it. I guess I could think of some events I have planned and think about how I’d like to handle them, and how I could introduce some more awareness of God, more stillness in my day.
Patience is bliss. Reward comes to those who patiently wait.
Looking forward to the following day is my last thought before I close my eyes.
Is this the secret of my God-given gift of enthusiasm fo life?
Thank you for sharing, Gretchen.
“God be with me” When we are going through hard times might not see or feel the presence of God. This has been my experience since I’ve been dealing with health difficulties. My friend a Salesian priest told me in such times to do and examen at the end of the day. With time I started to notice that even if I couldn’t feel the presence of God through hard times was actually there all the time holding me. I couldn’t see him because I was so immersed in the pain frustration that had difficulties bring with them that I couldn’t see God’s hand working for the people around me.
What a great focus Gretchen. I have previously not spent too much time with the ‘tomorrow’ element of the Examen. ‘Looking forward’ is a much better title for me. Thanks