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.
I love this analogy as I am a jigsaw puzzle fan. So often I am mistaken about where a puzzle piece belongs but upon completing more of the puzzle, I see where it should go. By praying the Examen prayer, I am led to reconsider my days experiences in a new light that fits them all into God’s whole path for me. I also do the Examen at the beginning of each day to anticipate and prepare for His wonders to be revealed.
Thank you – lovely image, really helpful and encouraging.
I really like this analogy, it helps picture the patience I need when doing my Examen. Sometimes the day is so full of little things that I’m not even sure what to focus on & get overwhelmed. Now I realize I just need to pick up a piece and keep doing so and turn it over to God to help. Thank you for such a helpful reflection ♡
Again Becky, you help me with my next step. I’ve been using the Examen awhile but have wanted to do it “right.” My focus was on finishing sorting all the pieces!
But sometimes the varied pieces take a longer time to sort through. Some might even need setting aside until God sheds more light on them. There is no right or wrong way to the Examen; my task is to faithfully show up with the past day and let God sort it all out. I can just picture you and your daughter working together and saying, “Look at this one…” Thank you.
Thanks Becky! I always make a point to my retreatants that while there are 5 steps, some days you may just be drawn to some event that jumps out/grabs you/puzzles you or affirms you. Stay with this event as long as you can – I may be God at work!
Thank you for your reflection on the Examen. I have been trying to get a few folks from church to try this out, most seem hesitant but perhaps I am not explaining it well. This piece, just like finding that last puzzle piece, really helps. Blessing.