Grieving Prayer

Into my grieving
I weave
the strength of the Father.
Into my grieving
I weave
the compassion of the Son.
Into my grieving
I weave
the comfort of the Spirit
Into my grieving
I receive
the presence of the Three in One.

Into my anger
I invite
the patience of the Father.
Into my numbness
I invite
the healing of the Son.
Into my confusion
I invite
the wisdom of the Spirit.
And we shall grieve together,
I, in community
with the Three in One.

Anonymous, quoted from Celtic Daily Prayer Book Two (pp. 1050-1051)

Meditation on Rembrandt’s Painting “Return of the Prodigal Son”

The parable of the Return of the Prodigal Son was told by Jesus as part of a series of stories in response to the religious authorities grumbling about his friendships with sinners. As recorded in Luke 15, the main truth Jesus is trying to convey in his tales of a lost coin, lost sheep and lost son is God’s unrelenting, loving pursuit of His lost children.

In this parable, both sons are lost. The younger son, looking for love, respect, independence, and the satisfaction of all his desires, collects all his inheritance and leaves. In doing so, he rejects his home and family, essentially saying to his father, “You are as good as dead to me.” The older son stays put. Less adventurous and much more dutiful, he is sober, respectable, self-righteous, and self-centered. Neither son sees his loving, forgiving, compassionate father as a “papa.” Neither son really sees him at all. Instead, they both treat him as their banker or their boss. Yet, he pursues them both, running out to meet the wayward one and leaving the party to plead with the offended one.

Henri Nouwen has written a powerful book on this parable, illustrated by Rembrandt’s painting of the same name, The Return of the Prodigal Son. With Nouwen, let’s take a long, slow, meditative look at the painting.

First, notice where your eyes are drawn. Though offset, the union of returned son and embracing father dominates the scene. Our gaze wanders away to the towering, withdrawn, judgmental figure of the elder brother, but the father’s welcome draws us back. Three other figures are visible in the background—one perhaps a seated steward (symbolic of the sinful tax collector beating his breast in repentance) and the other two quite ambiguous in gender and role.

Look at the younger son who has just returned home. His head is shaved like that of a prisoner. Does he have lice? Is this penance? His clothes are tattered and torn, his feet are calloused, one bare foot, shoes split by the long walk home. Unlike the father and brother, this broken man has no red robe of wealth and authority. However, despite great hunger, he still has not sold his short sword, perhaps a tie to his true identity and home. All this repentant sinner seems attentive to at present is leaning into his abba’s* arms. Is he pausing perhaps to listen to his dad’s heartbeat as he had when a child?

Pay attention to your need for God. How desperate are you for God’s unconditional love and acceptance? Are you able to receive that love without even a shred of belief that you earned it? In what ways are you poor and undeserving of God’s love? Can you “return” to God to tell Him about your poverty, failures, sins, addictions and needs? Can you believe that God is not ashamed of you as you are but is unconditionally embracing you? Can you accept that God has no expectations of you except that you come to Him, want to stay with Him, and to surrender to His love?

What would it be like for you to let God gaze at you this way? Imagine what it would be like to let God touch you this way. Can you let God welcome you into His loving, forgiving embrace? What do you need from God for this to happen? Ask God for what you need.

Look at the elder brother. He is richly dressed and stands taller and straighter than everyone else. His hands are crossed, his face stern, distant and disapproving. The elder brother represents the Pharisees—those who are self-sufficient and pretty sure they’ve got it right. Every Christian is tempted to be a Pharisee after the glow of “first love” gratitude to Jesus for salvation has decreased over time.

In what ways are you like the elder brother? To whom do you compare yourself to make yourself feel better? Of whom are you jealous or resentful? Who are you competing with as if a scarcity of love or respect exists? What would you need in order to hit your knees and throw yourself in loving trust, abandonment, and repentance at your Abba Father’s feet? What do you need from God in order to whole-heartedly love and welcome your brother as he is? Welcome your spouse? Your children? Ask God for what you need.

Look at the father, the abba (“papa”) who is bent far over to comfort and welcome his repentant son. His right or dominant hand is soft, gentle and tender, caressing and comforting his son as a mother would. His left hand is strong and sure, placed on his son’s shoulder protectively, firmly and reassuringly like a father would. The dad’s eyes are turned completely towards his son. His entire posture shouts, “Welcome! Come into my arms! Come home to me.”

The word “prodigal” means “wasteful.” Yet, the most wasteful figure in the story is the father. Timothy Keller calls our God The Prodigal God. This dad wastes his wealth on the younger son. He wastes his love lavishly on both selfish sons, without hope of return. This father allows his sons to hurt and reject him.

What do you need in order to become like the Father—welcoming and forgiving others, even those who have harmed you or others, perhaps far more than they know or will acknowledge? What do you need from God to become like Christ—loving sinners (including those who are failures, dirty, hopeless, or “lousy”)? What do you need to be willing to be prodigal (wasteful) with your time, money and love? What do you need from God to choose to be faithful and not effective? Ask God for what you need.

*Abba, which means “Dad” or “Papa” (the affectionate, intimate term  used by an adult child for his father), is how Jesus taught us to address God the Father in the Lord’s Prayer.

Meditation on Bouguereau’s Painting “Compassion” (the Crucifixion of Christ)

In the painting Compassion by William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1825-1905), the echoes of compassion draw us in. The word “compassion” is derived from two Latin words cum (meaning “with” or “together”) and passion (meaning “suffering”). Take some time to pray with this painting. Who is suffering with whom? Who is comforting whom?

The crucified Christ is turned toward his disciple, who chooses both to carry his own cross and to turn toward Jesus in his pain. Though the disciple’s left hand holds his burden, his right arm encircles Jesus and the cross, with his right hand immersed in Christ’s flowing blood. The Savior is completely restrained, rendered helpless by the nails, yet he is still the Comforter and Source of his disciple’s strength. Despite the brutal pain portrayed here, a surprising sense of peace and timelessness permeates the scene.

A similar theme is found in lyrics from the song “How Love Wins (THIEF)” from Music Inspired by the Story: “This is how Love wins / Every single time / Climbing high upon a tree / Where someone else should die / This is how Love heals / The deepest part of you / Letting Himself bleed into / The middle of your wounds / This is what Love says / Standing at the door / You don’t have to be / Who you’ve been before.”

Consider the following questions:

1) What cross are you carrying for the sake of Christ? What cross is Jesus asking you to carry but you have not yet picked up? What do you need from Jesus in order to continue to trust God and persevere in carrying the cross you have or one he is inviting you to pick up? Ask God (Jesus, Father, Spirit) for what you need.

The crosses of Christ and his followers are not the same as suffering that comes from sin (our own or others’) or from the persistent brokenness of this world. For example, the suffering of abuse or of addiction is not necessarily a “cross,” though Jesus can still enter into this pain to accompany and comfort us. Instead, carrying a cross is voluntary. Like Jesus, we as disciples choose to carry our crosses, which directly result from submitting to the will of the Father for His sake, for our sake, and for the sake of others.

Jesus said, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the gospel will save it.” (Mark 8:34-35) To his hearers, a “cross” symbolized not just suffering but death. Jesus was saying that for his sake and our own, our self-will, self-centeredness, and self-righteousness must die.

Yet the good news of Jesus is two-fold. First, we know the final victory will be His. Every hour and day we persevere brings us closer to seeing Christ unveiled, when the fullness and warmth of His intense, radiant love will fully heal and restore us and all of Creation. Second, Jesus wants to help us NOW. He chose to join us NOW in this broken world. Love wins NOW. Christ’s compassion, His suffering with us, can revamp our pain from producing pure destruction to bringing new birth, transformation, the fruit of the Spirit, and hope.

2) In what other ways are you suffering right now? Physical pain, disability or loss? Emotional pain—unmet expectations, fear, anxiety, confusion, despair, depression, discouragement, grief, or regret? Spiritual pain—doubt of God’s reality, power, knowledge or personal love for you, a sense of God’s absence or silence? What do you need to welcome Jesus into that suffering? He is “God with us.” What is God wanting to heal or relieve now? Ask God for what you need.

3) In what ways is God inviting you to show compassion to others? In what ways is God inviting you to receive compassion from others, from yourself, from God? Respond directly to God with these answers.

Consider listening to “Praying Through Your Pain” sermon by Jimmy Davis. This is an excellent message on Psalm 43, suffering, and prayer (in particular, the PAPA prayer).

What is Supervision?

Most spiritual directors adhere to a Code of Ethics, which is entirely voluntary and not regulated by the state. One of the ways we hold ourselves accountable to God and our directees is by receiving regular supervision.

Supervision can be provided by an trained supervisor or by a peer group of other spiritual directors. Spiritual directors take to supervision  a question or concern related to a specific spiritual direction session or to their practice of spiritual direction in general. Because our Code of Ethics also requires strict confidentiality for directees, no names or clear identifying characteristics of directees are shared in supervision sessions.

Generally, the following types of situations are taken to supervision:

1) The spiritual director is concerned that he is somehow “hooked” emotionally   either by the directee or by a topic that arose in a session. Spiritual directors must be able to respond in freedom to the Spirit of God, not be working out their own issues at the expense of the directee. Therefore, he decides to consider this concern in supervision.

2) The spiritual director feels something in the session may be an invitation from God for her. However, she needs to stay focused on the directee’s relationship with God during the session and save a more thoughtful  exploration of her own life with God for supervision.

3) The spiritual director is blown away by the power, love, and grace of God active in a spiritual direction session. Because of confidentiality constraints, he has no one with whom to share this testimony to God’s goodness. However, he can take this story to supervision to be celebrated and savored together.

4) The spiritual director needs technical help or just desires to keep improving her spiritual direction skills. Unsure how to handle a referral to a counselor or how to report a potential case of abuse, she can consult a supervisor or peer supervision group.

Because I have found supervision to be extremely helpful, I make use of both a trained supervisor and a peer supervision group. Since completing my year-long training as a supervisor through Together in the Mystery, I am available to provide supervision to spiritual directors, both in groups and individually.

Visio Divina (Praying with Images)

Visio divina is praying with images such as paintings, photographs, drawings, icons, or sculptures. A picture may indeed be “worth a thousand words.” God has often used visual images to communicate truth. Both Old Testament prophets and New Testament apostles had visions and dreams. The psalmists  harvested metaphors from what they had observed in nature. Yahweh commanded the Israelites to carve and weave images of cherubim for the cover of the ark of atonement and for the tabernacle curtains.

Though early Christians prohibited graven images of God the Father, they painted and carved Old Testament stories and representations of God the Son, particularly in the catacombs. After Christianity was legalized, Christian art became useful for teaching an illiterate population. Stained glass windows, mosaics, carvings and even the architecture of cathedrals proclaimed the biblical story and aided in worship.

In the Bible, poetry, music, dance, story-telling, and art are all used in worship because all touch and transform the deep, inarticulate places in human hearts. Visio divina encourages a return to one of these earlier forms of learning and worship. In addition, visio divina may be a corrective to the influence of our culture’s increasingly shallow, fast-paced visual orientation.

Pausing to see more deeply, with the eyes of our hearts, trains us to be more attentive to the presence and work of God below the surface of our lives. We begin to block out distractions and sharpen the focus of all our senses toward God and His work—in Creation, in others, in events, and in ourselves.

The method of visio divina, in brief:

Surrender to God. Set aside about 15-20 minutes of quiet, uninterrupted time and start by inviting God’s Spirit to speak to you. Setting an alarm may help you “ignore” time constraints.

Meditate on the image. Notice what is dominant, possibly the first thing that catches your eye. Keep your eyes there. What do you notice? What moves you? Ponder your emotional response. Then allow your eyes to wander around the image. Notice color, shape, contrast, overall impressions. Be gentle and open, both with yourself and the image.

Pray about your meditation. Talk to God directly and take time to listen. How does the Spirit connect this image to your life? To God and His Word? As you gaze on this image, is God in some way gazing at you? Are you moved to amazement, silence, rest, repentance, gratefulness, action, confession, adoration, or dance? What invitations might God have for you? Consider journaling your prayer response.

Surrender again to God and rest with thankfulness in His loving presence with you.

The Initial Interview

unsplash-logoChaz McGregor

First, I recommend contacting and interviewing at least two, hopefully three, different spiritual directors. Pray throughout the process. Ask God to lead you to the best spiritual director for you at this time.

Keep in mind that spiritual direction involves a lot of freedom. Spiritual directors are trusting God to lead you to them and from them in keeping with God’s timing and desire for you as a unique individual. Spiritual direction is a tool in God’s hand–a tool God may pick up or put down on your behalf at various times in your life. Be free to let God lead. The initial interview will help you discern whether or not and with whom God wants to use this tool on your behalf at this time.

By convention among spiritual directors, initial interviews are free. Generally, the initial session lasts about 1 to 1 1/2 hours and involves a lot of relaxed talking back and forth.

This conversation is your opportunity to ask all kinds of questions of the spiritual director—Where did you train? What is your own faith like? How did you get into this? What is your prayer life like? What is direction going to be like generally? What do you believe about….?

Usually, directors will also be asking questions like—What are you looking for in direction? What would you like to share about your life right now?  The first session is really the only time spiritual directors talk much bout themselves at all. From then on the focus of conversation would be on you and God.

Every director has their own fee suggestions. Ask the spiritual director about recommended fees (often a suggested donation scale) during this interview.

You don’t need any specific resources to start spiritual direction. The spiritual director may make suggestions periodically of books, and I occasionally loan books out to directees also. However, you would not need to come with anything but your desire to know God more.

Preparing for a spiritual direction session, including the initial interview, can be done in any number of ways. Prayerfully reflect on recent life experiences, particularly those experiences which seem to stand out in some way (whether pleasant or unpleasant). The following questions may also be helpful:

  • Where have you felt aware of God’s presence and activity in your experience?
  • Are there any places needing discernment?
  • Are there any places of stuck-ness or holding back?
  • Are there any places where God feels absent?
  • Have you had any experiences of prayer that you would like to revisit with a spiritual director?
  • How might you express your deepest longing for God and your deepest desires for life these days?
  • What questions emerge from your day to day journey with God?

There is no part of your life that is irrelevant for work with a spiritual director, but you are “in the driver’s seat” about where the conversation goes and what you tell the director.

Confidentiality is always extremely important in the Code of Ethics of spiritual directors, so you can be assured that the director will keep everything discussed completely private. The only exception to confidentiality would be if the spiritual director believes you to be in danger of harming yourself or another, or if a child or elder has been abused (in keep with the reporting laws of your state).  Even the names of directees is confidential information not to be shared by the spiritual director with anyone else. However, you are free to share the name of your spiritual director or whatever happens in the sessions with whomever you desire.

After completing your initial interviews, pause and pray, waiting for God to confirm which spiritual director is a good fit for you at this time. Then contact that spiritual director to set up your first session if the director also senses God leading you two together.

What is Spiritual Direction?

“So, what is spiritual direction?”

At times, the easiest way to answer this question is to say what spiritual direction is not. A spiritual director is not a counselor or psychotherapist, not a life coach or personal trainer, not an accountability or prayer partner, not a pastor, and not the same for every person. Spiritual direction is not pushy, and not even very directive!

So, what is spiritual direction? Spiritual direction is an ancient Christian practice that is very effective for spiritual growth. Generally, the director and directee meet monthly for about an hour. According to the Mennonite Spiritual Directors Association, “Fundamentally a ministry of prayer, spiritual direction is a one-with-one relationship in which directors accompany others on their journey to mature faith in Christ.” Key words here are “prayer,” “relationship,” “accompany,” and “Christ.” Spiritual direction is helping another person fulfill their desire to really know our triune God. All else is “loss” in comparison to “knowing Christ” (Phil 3:8).

According to the Evangelical Spiritual Directors Association: “Spiritual direction is a safe place to explore your questions and concerns about your life with God. A Christian spiritual director is a trained listener who will accompany you as you share about your spiritual journey, helping you notice God’s presence and activity along the way, as well as your personal reactions and responses. Hospitable, confidential, and grounded in biblical truth, spiritual direction is a ministry that helps you grow in prayer and live into your calling as a follower of Christ.” Key words here are “trained listener,” “your life with God,” “notice” and “hospitable.” Good spiritual directors are not trying to instill their own theology but to create a hospitable listening space in which God patiently, lovingly, persistently forms you to be all He specifically and carefully designed you to be (Ps 139).

God is always communicating with us. The spiritual director helps the directee hear, see, feel and recognize our self-revealing God. As we see how God is already active in our lives, our relationship with Him deepens; we see all of life more clearly; and we get glimpses of how to follow Him and how to allow Him to love us. The personal relationship with Jesus of which we have heard so much and the abiding and passionate love for God we have always desired finally come to life.

For Christian spiritual directors, Jesus is central to all of life. This unchanging foundation will come out as they do spiritual direction, particularly in faith that God is self-giving, good, holy, unchanging, and untiringly communicating with the directee. However, there is much freedom in direction because there is much, much trust in God alone as the Director. This freedom shows up in multiple ways. For example, directees may be offered options of ways to pray, but directors do not “check up” to see if they did it.

Spiritual directors trust that directees will continue to move toward God (as much as they are able, often in fits and starts) as God is speaking and inviting them. It is not a director’s job to make that happen, just to accompany, support and cheer the process. However, it is a spiritual director’s job to be a careful and care-full listener and to pray often for their directees.

So, who would benefit from going to a spiritual director? Oh, that answer is much easier…Anyone who wants to grow in relationship with God! Spiritual direction is particularly helpful at times of transition, for discernment and decision-making. However, meeting with a spiritual director is also an opportunity to see God at work, reflect on life experiences, understand oneself better, explore hopes and dreams, and especially to offer time and hold open space to hear God’s voice.

Pastors, priests, and ministers often benefit from spiritual direction because they are so prone to busyness, resulting in spiritual exhaustion and neglect of their prayer life. Spiritual direction provides them a safe, confidential place to ask God questions and a pause for listening to God’s answers. However, new believers and seekers also encounter God again and again as they turn their minds and hearts to find Him. Our God desires to be found.

Starting spiritual direction can be a frightening endeavor, as can any decision to really know God. A lot of courage is required to intentionally invite God to enter and indwell us—mind, heart, spirit, and body. We experience an unsettled feeling, wondering what in the world this holy yet forgiving, unmanageable yet attentive, huge but tender, unfathomable yet fatherly God has in mind for us. However, in taking the risk to know God better, we learn new ways to “Be still and know that I am God” (Ps 46:10) and to join with the Apostle Paul in declaring, “For me, to live is Christ” (Phil 1:21). We experience afresh God as our refuge and strength and the lover of our souls.

So, what is spiritual direction? Perhaps the best answer to this question is found by responding to the invitation Jesus so often gives us, to “come and see.”

My Story

Born in Africa to long-term missionaries, I was raised to serve God. Back in the States at age nine, I walked the long aisle forward to forgiveness in Jesus Christ to strains of “Just As I Am.” As a teen, I remained faithful to God by staying active in youth group, witnessing to my school friends, and carefully avoiding alcohol and sex. Unfortunately, I also became judgmental of those who did not.

However, by the end of college, loneliness, failures, and the stresses of young marriage had convinced me to the core that I was no better than anyone else. I wanted more of God in my life, and I wanted to live more of my life for God.

My husband and I became steadfastly committed to a local church, to our four daughters, and to each other. Both physicians, we served God in the United States, Zambia, and Honduras. Through thick and thin, hardship and joy, premie nursery, broken bones, blood clots, grief, and busy middle-class American lives, we read our Bibles, attended prayer and sharing groups, and taught Sunday school and youth group.

Generally, I was joyful and grateful for family, church, and friends, for gradual growth in the Lord, for God meeting all my needs in Christ Jesus (Phil 4:19). But sometimes I still wondered, “Am I obeying the first and greatest commandment as God intended? Do I really love God? Do I really love others? And exactly how should I be serving Him?”

When our youngest daughter left home for college, I found myself unexpectedly lost. For twenty-five years, I had worked very part-time as a doctor and very full-time as a mom. Now I was forced to “retire” from parenting–the job I had loved and the one in which I was fully vested. In the ensuing months I quizzed God, “Who am I now? What next? What more?”

Eventually, though unsure of the end goal, I enrolled as a Biblical Studies major at nearby Evangelical Theological Seminary. Of one thing I was sure: ministry, which I thought meant being a pastor, was not my goal. The life of preaching every Sunday and tending a flock of unruly congregants was not my calling. However, gradually, from interacting with my professors and fellow students, I came to understand that ministry was much more than pastoring. My professors ministered to us students in the midst of teaching; and fellow students were already ministering— as chaplains, InterVarsity staff, social workers and counselors.

In many ways, I discovered I also had been ministering all along—to our daughters, the youth group, our church body, my husband, our houseguests, my patients, my friends, and even to God. After all, ministry is service and servanthood. Furthermore, all work done “as for the Lord and not for men…is serving the Lord Christ” (Col 3:23-24). Yet God had another, quite unexpected ministry ahead for me—spiritual direction.

I had heard of spiritual direction but felt hesitant and even leery of this unfamiliar practice. Then I met the spiritual formation professors at seminary and got a glimpse of how God was using spiritual direction to infuse new life and facilitate spiritual growth in His beloved children. Two years of spiritual direction training at Kairos School of Spiritual Formation combined with continued theological training at Evangelical Seminary to form me into a new kind of minister–a spiritual director.

As a spiritual director, I teach people how to pray, how to hear and see God’s activity in their lives, how to interact with God’s Word with both heart and mind, and how to love God and others by intimately knowing Him and His love for them.

Through meeting regularly with my own spiritual director, I am slowly learning to live more consciously in the presence of our triune God so that my hands and my voice become more completely God’s. I am slowly learning to surrender more courageously to God’s love and to love God back more fully. God is answering some of my questions, but I am slowly learning to live in the dark, trusting God with what He does not answer. And I am slowly learning to seek and know God, not just what God gives and does.

Thanks be to God that I am learning (however slowly) through the gift of spiritual direction!

Prayer of Examen

The Method:

1.  Surrender anew to the loving presence of God here and now.

2.  Take a gentle look with God at each part of your past day—all your thoughts, feelings and actions.

• Where did you move toward God or respond to God with a “Yes”?
• Where did you move away from God or respond to God with a “No”?

3.  Ask God, with gratitude, to bless you with more opportunities to receive Him and His gifts and to move toward Him tomorrow.

Ask God to forgive you for moving away from Him and to help you respond to Him with renewed love and faithfulness tomorrow.

4. Yield yourself again to the loving, ongoing, transforming presence of God in your life.

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Examining Examen More Closely

1. Intent:

The prayer of examen allows us to become more aware of God’s presence and action in us and in the world around us.

God is always present and active in us as believers by the indwelling Holy Spirit. And God is always active in the world—in love, pursuing and inviting the world to be reconciled to Himself through Jesus Christ. Practiced over weeks to months, the prayer of examen allows us to see more clearly God’s presence and action and to participate with God more fully and freely.

Our part in any prayer practice is to provide a structure and place in our hearts, minds, wills, spirits and bodies for God to be and to act. God alone transforms. Prayer is our cooperation with the amazing, powerful work of God in the world.

2. Explanation:

What does it mean to “move toward God” or “say ‘Yes’ to God”? God is the source of all life; all love (as described in 1 Cor 13:4-8 and Rom 12:9-21); all truth; all gifts of the Spirit (as listed in 1 Cor 12:8-10 and Rom 12:6-8) and all the fruit of the Spirit (as listed in Gal 5:22-23). Where did you cooperate with God to express or increase what He gave you (life, love, truth, gifts or fruit of the Spirit)? Be grateful for what God has done through you and in you.

What does it mean to “move away from God” or “say ‘No’ to God”? We all sin daily, whether by refusing, disobeying, or ignoring God in what we do or do not do. Examining our motives and attitudes, not just our actions, is important here. The goal is not condemnation but a gentle return to God to accept His forgiveness through Christ and to cooperate anew with God’s transforming touch. Be grateful for God’s forgiveness and your own spiritual growth, no matter how stuttering and seemingly slow.

3. Mechanics:

Examen is generally practiced twice daily for about 20 minutes at noon and bedtime. However, just a 5-10 minute prayer of examen every evening can result in increased awareness of God in everyday life.

As with physical exercise, new spiritual practices are best begun in small but consistent ways. We do not start by running marathons every week but by walking around the block every night.

 

Determine a specified length of time to pray the examen. If you want to develop a habit of examen, practice this prayer for at least 10 weeks. Just to start seeing God somewhat more clearly in daily life, try 4 weeks. The longer you practice examen, the more clearly you will see your own patterns of response or refusal to God and the trends of God’s actions in the world.

For some, journaling or recording a few words during the prayer of examen may be helpful for focus and recall. Setting your Bible or journal in a prominent place each morning may help you remember to practice examen that evening.

4. Failure:

You will fail. Accept it. You are a human, and God knows that. In fact, God made you human—imperfect, not a god. And Scripture tells us (Jn 3:16) God loves us as we  are—imperfect humans. You will not practice the prayer of examen perfectly, even after a lifetime of doing it.

When you fail at examen, just start again. God delights every time we turn and return to him. The Bible records God’s mercy triumphing over God’s judgment. Remember the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32). Remember God’s curses extending to 3-4 generations and his blessings to 1000 generations (Deut 5:9-10). Remember the free gift of salvation and new life through Jesus Christ (Eph 2:8-9). Mercy triumphs over judgment.

The two most unfortunate approaches to examen are 1) not to start at all out of fear of failure; or 2) to practice the examen with perfect form but without an open, surrendered heart towards God.

5. Families

This prayer form is easily adaptable to use with children and in families. Every evening at supper, go around the table and hear from each person the answer to one of the following questions:

  • “For what were you most grateful today?”

  • “Where did you see the most beauty [joy, love, hope, faith, truth, or compassion] today?”
  • “Where did you feel most connected to God today?”
  • “Where did you feel most loved or loving today?”Next, consider hearing from each person around the table the answer to one of the following questions:
  • “For what were you least grateful today?”
  • “Where did you see the least beauty [joy, love, hope, faith, truth, or compassion]today?”
  • “Where did you feel least connected to God today?”
  • “Where did you feel the least loved or loving today?”

6. Final words:

This prayer form may not be for you—now or ever. If it is, start today…and start again tomorrow…and the next day. If it is not, pray in another way today…and tomorrow…and the next day. If you are not sure if examen is for you, either pray about it or experiment with it. Either way, you are interacting with God. And you will always be transformed by interacting with the living God!

Prayer Journaling

Why journal?

Isn’t journaling just for those who are good with words and writing? Actually, journaling is for anyone who can write anything, even a couple words.

Journaling slows us down. Like building a dam across a rapidly flowing stream, journaling stops the cascade of our experiences long enough for us to see and examine them.

Journaling helps us be honest with ourselves–to truthfully and carefully observe and question ourselves.

Journaling helps us recognize our emotions. In order to describe our emotions, we need to first identify them.

Expressing our helpful emotions (compassion, awe, gratitude) to God can augment and expand them. Expressing our unhelpful emotions (resentment, jealousy, hurt) to God may dampen or drain their energy and expose them to the Spirit’s healing.

Emotions are very, very valuable. First, emotions are indicators (barometers) of what is happening inside us. Second, passions and emotions are the powerhouse of our actions. Without passion and emotion, we are depressed, apathetic, dull, unmoving and unmotivated. God is the source of all our godly desires and passions, such as our desire to know God and our passion to serve the poor or defend the oppressed.

Awareness of emotions, desires and passions helps us harness and channel them for God.If we are unaware of our emotions, they are likely to rule us in hidden, undesirable ways. Why not look at our emotions with God and allow Him both to shape them and to tap into that power within us?

Journaling helps us problem-solve and live more intentionally. We want to live examined lives, to act instead of reacting. Journaling gives us an opportunity to live thoughtfully instead of accidentally.

Journaling helps us to better see, hear, and understand God. God speaks through Scripture; through others; through art, music and poetry; through Creation; and through all that is happening in our lives. No part of our lives is irrelevant for journaling. Journaling about God’s activities in our lives develops a clearer picture of God.

 Journaling records history. By noticing and recalling God’s actions in our lives, gratefulness may increase. By reviewing our journals periodically, we can see trends or patterns and we can better remember what we have learned from God and about God. Scripture is a journal of God’s actions in history and an interpretation of those actions.

Journaling savors God’s work. Remembering and savoring can be an act of worship, which is one reason God established annual festivals for His people.

How do I journal? There is no “right” way!

Freely express yourself. Forget correct grammar. Try to consciously notice and record both your feelings and thoughts.

Use words, phrases or sentences; poetry or prose; photos, doodles, drawings or magazine cut-outs. Copy down Scripture verses, quotes, or stories. Record your prayers and conversations with God.

Review your entries periodically. Mine them for spiritual gold. Look for trends and patterns. Be grateful for what God has done in your life.

If you’re not sure what to “talk about” in your journal, you may want to consider  one or more of the following questions:

  • What is your image of God? Has it changed over time? If so, how?
  • To Whom do you pray (which Person of the Trinity)? Has that changed?
  • How are you aware of God during the day? Where did you notice God today?Yesterday?
  • Have you had any dreams lately that seem to have spiritual significance? If so, record them and pray with them. What does God seem to be saying to you?
  • How do you make decisions? What have been the results of past decisions? How did/do you sense God’s leading?
  • What is your calling in life? Has your understanding of your calling changed over time? If so, how?
  • What is your prayer life like? What do you want for your prayer life?
  • How might you be stuck or holding back from God?
  • What scripture passages or quotes have been particularly meaningful to you and why?
  • What questions do you have for God?
  • What do you want from God?
  • What does God want to heal in you and your life? 
  • What has God been showing you? Teaching you? 
  • How is God inviting you to grow?

Journaling daily will help you both process and remember. We have an enemy who will attempt to snatch away what God is trying to do for our sake. Jotting down what was noticed or heard from God, especially right after spiritual direction sessions, helps safeguard and “keep” what God is doing in our hearts, minds, and lives.