Much of the lingo regarding spiritual formation has to do with be-ing rather than do-ing. Fundamentally I completely agree with this shift in focus. We seek to abide in Christ rather than “accomplish” for Christ.
But by nature I am a do-er. I am very accomplishment oriented. Each day I leave behind a list scrawled on paper or a Post-it in which I’ve recorded my to-do’s (and attempted to do at least some of them).
This month’s spiritual discipline of life-change adds an element of do-ing to our be-ing as we actively and intentionally join our best efforts with the Spirit’s work in our life, seeking to align our actions, character, and thoughts with the way of Christ.
One powerful way to do this is through the practice of examen.
In examen, we muster the courage take honest stock of our lives with God. Here’s how I explain examen in The Busy Mom’s Guide to Spiritual Survival (you can find more in-depth discussion of this topic in the book):
Ignatius of Loyola taught that Jesus-followers should regularly spend a focused time of prayerful reflection, taking stock of their day and evaluating how well they lived out your faith. He called this practice examen and outlined it in five basic parts:
1. Recognize that you are in the presence of God.
2. Reflect on your day with gratitude and thank God for how he blessed you, guided you, and provided for you.
3. Ask the Holy Spirit to help you as you prepare to evaluate the outer actions and inner motives of your day. Open yourself to the Holy Spirit’s leading.
4. Take time to prayerfully review your day. Start in the morning and think through the events that occurred during the day—consider your interactions with your children, spouse, and others; reflect on your inner thoughts and feelings; evaluate your use of time and your attentiveness to God. As you review your day, joyfully respond to the promptings of the Holy Spirit as God points out areas in which you fell short of how he wants you to live and to love.
5. Reconcile with God by confessing your shortcomings and receiving his forgiveness, then resolve to do better tomorrow with God’s help.
Many Christian teachers since Ignatius have recognized the importance of spiritual self-examination. John Wesley made this type of daily-living examination a central part of the Bible study meetings he led in the 1700s. During each meeting, participants honestly answered these questions: “What known sins have you committed since our last meeting? What temptations have you met with? How were you delivered? What have you thought, said, or done of which you doubt whether it be sin or not?”
Wesley asked himself these questions regularly–and answered them in front of Christian friends. Ignatius taught his brothers to practice examen for 30 minutes daily. This practice may look different for you: It may be a night-time ritual, as you review your day with your head on the pillow and your eyes closed. It might be a prayer time in the car on your way home from work. It might be a 5-minute check-in with God as you make your lunch.
Carve out 15 minutes this week (or perhaps 5 minutes here and there) to try examen. Rely on the Spirit, rest in God’s grace, and invite him to show you how you can grow.