Editor’s note: We continue 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. We’ll look at a different step each week.
3. Review the day.
In the Examen prayer, the third step is this: Review the day. I carefully look back on the day just completed, being guided by the Holy Spirit.
This review aspect of the prayer is commonsense and effective.
“I carefully look back on the day just completed . . .”: I’m not reviewing a week or month but only the day just finished. Thus, I set limits around my prayer, focusing on my immediate past. I look back over a day’s time, which means I can use my day planner or calendar, or even my social media posts and text messages, to prompt clearer memories. Also, I can easily remember various aspects of my experience, such as my emotions or the way my body reacted to a situation or conversation.
“ . . . being guided by the Holy Spirit.” This prayer is not a mere personal assessment-and-judgment session based on my biases. Without the Holy Spirit, I might simply look at what I did or did not “accomplish” that day. Or I’ll gloss over matters that God would like me to notice and pray about. Or I’ll be too hard on myself, applying a perfectionist’s view to my every word and deed.
What I love about this part of the Examen is that it uses the raw material of my life to generate honest, relevant conversation with the God who loves me and my daily details. I don’t need a Bible or prayer book. I can do this kind of review anytime and anywhere. If I’ve had a rather intense day, I might do this prayer at noon as well as in the evening, so that the Holy Spirit can help me pray over the problems that came up during the morning or the wave of sorrow or anger that hit me in the afternoon.
Reviewing the day also teaches me to notice what I do, how I feel, how I react to various situations, and what patterns of thought or action I have developed. Have I had waves of sadness hit me a lot lately? Why has this pattern developed? Can I find the root of it—such as a shift in relationship I have not yet fully processed? Do I need to make time to bring that specific sadness to God—at a time and in a place where I can cry for an hour if need be?
Review is yet another way to pay attention, and paying attention helps me truly dwell in the life God has given me. Paying attention is a way of being mindful, present, open to God. Paying attention through the review step of the Examen trains me to gently gather all the bits of my day and lovingly turn them over in my mind and heart, giving them the thought and care they need—and allowing them to teach me about myself and my life in Christ.