How Do You End Your Day?
How do you end your day? Are you a creature of habit that always does the same things every night? Is your bedtime routine spontaneous and erratic? I usually brush my teeth and wash my face, read a Psalm and then go downstairs and fall asleep on the couch next to Logan. He’s a night owl and stays up hours after me, but we like to at least be with each other, so he’ll wake me up at midnight or 1:00 and we’ll go up to bed together. (It’s kind of a weird system, but it’s what we do!)
Anyway, recently our pastor mentioned The Daily Examen in one of his sermons and it struck me as being such a simple yet potentially life-changing bedtime routine. Centuries ago, a man named Ignatius of Loyola developed a way to end your day by prayerfully examining your day in the presence of God and then looking over the coming day. Jesuit Priests (and others) still practice The Examen and this is how they instruct others to do so ::
1. Become aware of God’s presence. Look back on the events of the day in the company of the Holy Spirit. The day may seem confusing to you—a blur, a jumble, a muddle. Ask God to bring clarity and understanding.
2. Review the day with gratitude. Gratitude is the foundation of our relationship with God. Walk through your day in the presence of God and note its joys and delights. Focus on the day’s gifts. Look at the work you did, the people you interacted with. What did you receive from these people? What did you give them? Pay attention to small things—the food you ate, the sights you saw, and other seemingly small pleasures. God is in the details.
3. Pay attention to your emotions. One of St. Ignatius’s great insights was that we detect the presence of the Spirit of God in the movements of our emotions. Reflect on the feelings you experienced during the day. Boredom? Elation? Resentment? Compassion? Anger? Confidence? What is God saying through these feelings?
God will most likely show you some ways that you fell short. Make note of these sins and faults. But look deeply for other implications. Does a feeling of frustration perhaps mean that God wants you consider a new direction in some area of your work? Are you concerned about a friend? Perhaps you should reach out to her in some way.
4. Choose one feature of the day and pray from it. Ask the Holy Spirit to direct you to something during the day that God thinks is particularly important. It may involve a feeling—positive or negative. It may be a significant encounter with another person or a vivid moment of pleasure or peace. Or it may be something that seems rather insignificant. Look at it. Pray about it. Allow the prayer to arise spontaneously from your heart—whether intercession, praise, repentance, or gratitude.
5. Look toward tomorrow. Ask God to give you light for tomorrow’s challenges. Pay attention to the feelings that surface as you survey what’s coming up. Are you doubtful? Cheerful? Apprehensive? Full of delighted anticipation? Allow these feelings to turn into prayer. Seek God’s guidance. Ask him for help and understanding. Pray for hope.
St. Ignatius encouraged people to talk to Jesus like a friend. End the Daily Examen with a conversation with Jesus. Ask forgiveness for your sins. Ask for his protection and help. Ask for his wisdom about the questions you have and the problems you face. Do all this in the spirit of gratitude. Your life is a gift, and it is adorned with gifts from God.
I can see why it’s still being practiced, hundreds of years later. It’s simple and doable, yet would be so good for centering your heart and mind on the Lord as you drift off to sleep. What a good practice!
Have you ever practiced The Examen? Have you ever done anything like it? What’s your bedtime routine like? Do you pray or read the Bible? How has this affected you?
(Photo by Quin Stevenson)