The Prayer of Examen
As part of my class reading this past week, we read close to six articles dealing with helping professions and burnout. While the statistics aren’t necessarily new, and while they are staggering, there still seems to be little attention given to the personal, physical, and emotional well-being of the pastor. More on that in the future.
According to the research in the Flourishing in Ministry study, there is a way for pastors to overcome burnout (and no, it doesn’t include praying harder or asking for supernatural strength). The recommendation for overcoming burnout, after surveying thousands of pastors, is practicing contemplative spiritual disciplines. It became clear to me that my drive for writing about the contemplative practices in this season is driven by what I believe God is doing and how God is moving. Ministry flows from who we are, and if we are not emotionally healthy, we cannot be spiritually mature, if we are not spiritually mature, we cannot expect a flourishing ministry. And I don’t believe God desires for us to over-exert ourselves for the Kingdom.
So how do we grow?
Thankfully, there has been a resurgence of contemplative spiritual practices in the Christian circles I am involved with. There is a growing desire for personal silence, rest, retreat, solitude, while also experiencing joy, excitement, lament, sorrow, and grief in community are fruits of health in the life of the believer. One of the practices I have sought recently is the prayer of examen.
The examen is a practice for discerning the voice and activity of God within the flow of the day. It is a vehicle that creates deeper awareness of God-given desires in one’s life. 
The practice of examen (also known as the ‘examination of consciousness’) is attributed to Saint Ignatius Loyola (1491 - 1556). Out of a deep concern for missionaries, Ignatius believed that vocational discernment came from an awareness of detecting God’s presence in each person. The examen provides a way of noticing where God shows up in our activities.
The examen makes us aware of both the beauty and challenging things in our relationships, profession, and life. If you are in a season of feeling distant from God or feel your soul craving God in the deepest, more elemental way, the examen may be a practice for you.
Examen questions include:
What am I most grateful for today? What moment today was the worst?
When did I give and receive love the most today? When did it least?
What was the most life-giving aspect of my day? What was the most draining?
For myself, I practice the examen at the end of the day when I am winding down from the day and crawl into bed. I begin on my back and start reviewing my day as a short video, not spending too much time on any specific moment. I remember the day: wake up, yoga, get ready for work, in the car, metro, walk, work, lunch… all the way until the moment of beginning examen. I pay attention to my body’s response to specific moments and think through the emotional reactions. What happened today that made me sad, frustrated, or joyful? What restored my soul and what drained me? I give these moments to God.
The examen is a wonderful tool for discerning the places you feel most alive, most grateful, most present to the fruit of God’s Spirit as well as the times and places you do not. [with
How to practice the examen
Get to a place in your day where you have the time and space to remember your daily encounters and activities. Then, review your day as a prayer to God. For me, it’s at the end of the day. Keep your journal nearby.
Ask yourself these questions:
Where did I give and receive love today? Where did I not?
What made me feel most alive today? What drained me?
Who are the people that acknowledge my humanity? Who attempted to damage my dignity?
What activity was the most enjoyable? Which event or action made me feel low?
Write down your response to these questions.
Ask yourself, where was God in the moments? What have you learned about yourself and your sensitivity to God’s voice and activity today?
Every so often, perhaps a few times a year, look back over the past few months and reflect on patterns and themes during examen. Do you notice certain activities where you feel most alive? Most drained? Do these moments complement your understanding of your calling? Have you begun to see how you feel in the moment rather than reflecting on how you feel afterward?
What change can you make? If you notice there is something in your life that continually drains you, disrupts the peace in your soul, what adjustments can you make in your day? What are the things that restore your humanity and dignity, what can you do to have more of these moments?
Leave your comments below as you engage in the practice of examen.