How to Prayerfully Examine Your Day

Saint Ignatius of Loyola’s Daily Examen continues to be a beautiful practice within the Church’s great tradition of spiritual exercises. The reason why I do it, though? It’s practical, simple, and it works.

tcht_series_medI have a number of different prayer routines throughout the day, but when bedtime approaches, I’m pretty beat. Any prayer that’s too lengthy or structured sometimes puts me to sleep (the Rosary, for example–which I consequently try to pray earlier in the day). Any prayer that’s too free form (just me attempting to listen or talk to God) usually leads to mind-wandering, generally provoked by exhaustion. So Scripture reading followed by the Examen has become my ideal immediately-before-sleep bedtime prayer practice.

The Examen is an excellent, simply structured way to connect with God each day. Approached with an attitude of openness, it allows you to prayerfully review your day in God’s presence, expressing gratitude, recognizing your shortcomings, reflecting on your spiritual victories, and seeing how God’s will is at work in your life. Finally, it allows you to make a hopeful resolution for the day to come.

Here is the simple formula I follow for night prayer based on the Examen. I put it into a printable card format that’s nice for keeping on your nightstand or in your Bible. (Laminating it is even better!)

the EXAMEN printable

My friend, Randy Hain, also has a great post on how to pray the Examen throughout the day, which is another great idea.

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Like Going Up the Down Escalator

I have a few crisp memories of my grandparents on my mother’s side. One of them is a replaying, over-a-decade-old mental video of Grandpa trying to walk up the down escalatorescalator, when he realized that Grandma, my sister, and I had—like girls do—changed our mind at the last minute and decided to stay on the upper floor of the mall.

“John!” Grandma ‘yelled’ in her loudest inside voice, which was no louder than my quiet inside voice (which is actually probably louder). “Come back!”

Grandpa saw us at the top of the escalator, and thought he’d attempt the climb.

He made it up a couple of downward escalating stairs before he realized he was pretty much staying in the same spot on the escalator.

Frowning adorably at his defeat, he turned around and let the escalator take him down to the bottom floor, where he turned around and began the upward ascent toward his wife and little laughing granddaughters.

What Grandpa had going against him was momentum. Naturally, his body wanted him to move with the momentum of the escalator, instead of against it. When he tried to move against it, the sum result was: he didn’t really do much moving at all.

~ ~ ~

How often do you find yourself thinking, “I want to be as good at X as so-and-so is!” A friend of mine is a master sewer. She decorates her house with quaint homemade pillows, adorns her nieces and nephews with classy baby clothes, and is so crafty it hurts me to look at all of the curtains I purchased—not made—that hang from my window. I want to be as good at sewing as she is.

sewingBut the reality is, when I get a thread in one of my hands and a needle in the other, or a hand on the sewing machine dial and a foot on the pedal, the sum result is a clump of disastrous multi-colored knots. That is, if I get that far. It is more likely that I’d quit after I spent my week’s fortune on the materials, but before I started any actual sewing.

Certain crafts make it clearly evident to me that I am moving against the momentum of my gifts and talents. The secret to being successful at the things you do, to be the best fill-in-the-blank (writer, dancer, listener, counselor, teacher, sewer…) is to move in the direction of the already-evident momentum in your life. I came to the realization some years ago that my momentum has me moving most easily in the direction of writing and speaking. Not only do I have the most success when I move in the direction of my momentum, but I also have the most fun.

God has given you unique gifts and talents, and when you use them and hone the skills that make you the best at whatever those gifts and talents are, you’re happy—no surprise to God, of course. He’s the one who makes the momentum you sense like a big “hint, hint” for you.

How do you know which gifts and talents to pursue? Well, what do you find yourself doing most often? What brings you joy? What do other people tell you that you are especially good at?

Don’t try to be someone else or to be the best sewer when you’re a writer (unless you’re great at both, and then maybe I do wish I were you…). When you get tangled up in all of that, you’ll only frustrate yourself trying to go up a down escalator.

St. Catherine of Siena says that if you are what you should be, you will set the world ablaze. Of course, the ultimate of “what you should be” is a saint, but I think her statement applies to the gifts and talents to. Blessed Mother Teresa was the best caregiver of orphans and the poor, and she set the world ablaze. She moved in the direction of her God-given momentum.

Try it. Find excellence in multiplying the talents God gave you. Go up the up escalator.

How to Get Out of a Spiritual Slump

If only our spiritual lives were always as animated and forward moving as we’d like them to be. But most of us find ourselves repetitively moving in and out of spiritual slumps, riding tcht_series_medthe highs and lows of following Christ amidst the trials of the present world.

So how do we get out of those trying spiritual ruts? Here’s a quick list of hacks to get your spiritual life moving again:

  1. Pray. Prayer is, of course, the first and best answer to just about every problem we have – first and foremost the spiritual ones. Pray to God to help you out of your spiritual slump, to increase fervor and persistence in your spiritual life, His grace working along with your cooperation. Start your day or prayer times with simple, pleading words such as “Lord, change me” or to mimic St. Peter, “Lord, save me.” Jesus loves to shake people out of their spiritual ruts and normal grooves. He does this all throughout the Scriptures; remember the woman caught in adultery? I’m thinking she had a pretty different spiritual life after allowing Christ to turn her in another direction. Jesus has no less desire to come into our spiritual lives and do some tune-up work, too.
  1. Seek guidance. Don’t feel like you have to tackle a phase of spiritual dryness alone. Seek counsel from a spiritual director, a priest at your parish, a trusted and wise friend, or even from a good spiritual book (for example, Dan Burke’s Navigating the Interior Life). Fr. Jacques Philippe’s beautiful book, Thirsting for Prayer, has lifted me out of many a prayer slump.
  1. Act. This is such an important step in climbing out of a spiritual rut and, sadly, a step that is so often forgotten or not given priority. If you want to move forward in your spiritual life, praying about it, talking about it, and planning to grow all have their proper roles in the process, but you must actually do something! Choose a devotional and commit to it. Don’t start next week or at the beginning of the month; start now. If you are going to read Scripture more, set a reminder to pick up your Bible first thing when you wake up in the morning. Want to take advantage of the Hour of Mercy? Pray the Divine Mercy chaplet today in the 3 p.m. hour. If you are going to practice charity so you can see Christ more easily in others, do a work of mercy right now. Instruct the ignorant, counsel the doubtful, admonish a sinner, bear a wrong patiently, forgive willingly, comfort the afflicted, or pray for the living and the dead today. Then repeat. But, whatever you do, don’t overdo it. If you make too many spiritual commitments at the onset of your journey toward improvement, you’ll likely follow through with very few (if any) of them. Start small and focus on moving forward in baby steps, rather than giant leaps.
  1. Change things up. When it comes to physical fitness, doing the same form of man on mountainexercise every day can eventually put you at a physical standstill. The same thing happens in our spiritual lives. So mix things up a bit. For example, go outside to pray in nature or go out of your way to pray in the adoration chapel if those aren’t traditional prayer spots for you. Count your blessings at the beginning of your prayer time, as opposed to skipping straight to petitioning God for your needs.
  1. Have patience and trust. Look for lessons in the “dark night” or spiritual dryness that you are experiencing. How is God trying to work through this difficulty rather than solely in spite of it? Many were surprised to learn after her death that Mother Teresa experienced years of spiritual dryness…and yet look at the great devotion she had in the midst her own “dark night”! Have patience that God is working in your life, and trust Him. Do not lose faith, even amidst confusion, trusting that faith in Jesus is even more important than understanding His methods.

St. Ignatius of Loyola wrote, “In times of dryness and desolation we must be patient . . . putting our trust in the goodness of God. We must animate ourselves by the thought that God is always with us, that He only allows this trial for our greater good, and that we have not necessarily lost His grace because we have lost the taste and feeling of it.” So pray, ask for help, do something (even something different than you’re used to), and never lose hope that God is always with you, in times of spiritual fruitfulness and in those slumps, too.

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