Our inability to self reflect is a huge obstacle to Growing Up. What do I mean by self reflect? It means simply the ability to remember what went wrong and what went right in our day. When did God show up? When did I feel his presence? When did I feel distant from God? When did I really screw up? Who did I hurt? Who hurt me?
We may prefer to walk through life in a state of obliviousness in hopes that we don’t have to get too serious. If we could just ignore the peaks and valleys of our days then things will seem to balance out in the long run. We don’t have to be too hard on ourselves and we don’t have to consider all the ways God has blessed us just in case he wants to hold us accountable for the things we failed to do.
But self deception and falseness before God is no way to Grow Up. Think about it. God already knows your days, he already knows your heart and your frustrations and joys; wouldn’t it be appropriate to lay yourself open to him with pure transparency. With increased openness, we see where we need more of God in our life, we see the areas where we are prone to mess up, and we build up our gratefulness muscles. God would much rather deal with us when we are authentic with him than when we are feeling self important, prideful, and acting like a know it all.
Moses at the burning bush, Peter on the shore with the resurrected Jesus, David in Psalm 51 are all examples of God meeting individuals at the point of authenticity and honesty so that he can mold them and prepare them for what he has in store for them.
What is a good way of practicing this self reflection? Throughout the centuries, Christians have used the Prayer of Examen to not only reflect on where our hearts and minds might be but also how God might be moving in our lives and what he may be trying to accomplish. I often practice the Examen when I end my day but you can do it at the beginning of the day or anytime, really. What questions should we be asking?
I like the simplicity of Cindy’s Bunch’s approach in her book, Be Kind to Yourself. She says to ask two questions: What’s bugging you? What’s bringing you joy?
I would like to add two more questions to her suggestions for a fuller Prayer of Examen: Where is God working? Am I helping or hurting God’s work by my actions and attitude?
Maybe right now we can practice this together as part of a prayer time or a chance to journal –
What’s bugging you? – How are you irritated with others or yourself. What do you wish was improved?
What’s bringing you joy? – Is there something to be grateful for? Have you practiced thankfulness? Do you have your spiritual antennas up for the beauty and grace around you?
Where is God working? – Are there small or big miracles around you? Have you felt his presence in your life? Where do you feel convicted or inspired?
Are you helping or hurting God’s work with your actions and attitude? – Do you need to express sorrow for your sin and ask for forgiveness? Do you need to stop doing something? Are your emotions and realities of your heart distant from God?
All of the events of the last year have left many people with an urge to practice soul searching. The Prayer of Examen gives us a chance to structure that reflection toward a path of maturity and growth. Try it and watch how God works with you at the point of honesty, gratefulness, and transparency.