This guest post is written by Lance Bolay. Lance has worked with me at the Connect Minister at the Belton Church of Christ. In the year I’ve worked with Lance, he has become a good friend and a source of wisdom. Lance completed his certificate in Spiritual Direction this past summer and my church is benefiting from his ministry in Spiritual Direction.
What is “the Examen?”
My family incorporated the Examen into our nightly routine about a year ago. The Examen is a simple process of discovering the way of fullness versus the way of emptiness. It consists of asking two simple questions: “For what am I most thankful today?” and “For what am I least thankful today?”
Where did it come from?
The Examen comes from Ignatius. The young Ignatius (1491-1556) was a self-indulgent Spanish soldier from Loyola who eventually traded the way of the sword for the way of the cross and a life of nobility for a life of poverty. Ignatius was wounded in battle. During the long process of healing, Ignatius began to notice within himself that the thoughts, motives, imaginations and dreams that had fueled his early life actually seemed to drain him of faith, hope and love—the three core virtues of human vitality and fullness (1 Cor. 13). This he referred to as desolation. Alternatively, when he read and meditated on the way of Jesus and the lives of the saints he found himself filled with faith, hope and love. This he referred to as consolation. This experience of self-examination, the Examen, was at the heart of Ignatius’ conversion, the point at which he became a radical follower of Jesus.
So what does this look like in your family?
After brushing their teeth and putting on their nightclothes our seven-year-old son and four-year-old daughter crawl into our bed (actually, most of the time it’s more like jumping into bed like a couple of wild monkeys). After settling down, either my wife or I will ask the first question, “What was your favorite part of today (ex: what made you feel good and happy)?” followed by the second question, “What was your least favorite part of the day (ex: what made you sad, mad, or scared)?” Sometimes we follow up with questions like “when did you see love today and when did you show love today?” But the first two questions are the core of the Examen. Recently, we began journaling our answers so we can have something to reflect on as our kids grow older but also for the purpose of discerning patterns and habits in our lives that either fill us or empty us of faith, hope and love.
How has this helped you and your family in your faith development?
Most of the responses are simple and mundane. But it is precisely here where we find God. This practice helps my family check our fuel gauge and nurture both a deeper self-awareness and a greater awareness of God. Furthermore, God sometimes penetrates and transforms the hearts of parents through the honest answers of our children. This occurred most powerfully one evening when my four-year old daughter confessed that her desolation was when Daddy failed to play with her that day after promising he would. Being a dad who keeps his word cultivates faith, hope and love in my little girl! I would have missed this had I not asked the question. Practicing the Examen as a family makes us aware of God’s movement in our lives.
YOUR TURN: What questions about the Examen would you ask? What significant routine have you established with your children to build faith?