Each year as Advent approaches, I look for new and more ways for our family to reflect and grow closer to God. We try to add prayer times and extra novenas to our normal routine.
Last Christmas, my husband gave me a book called, Six Sacred Rules for Families. Before beginning to discuss the “rules,” the book begins by discussing a method of reflective or contemplative prayer called the Examen. As a cradle Catholic, I am ashamed to say I hadn’t heard of this specific prayer prior to reading this book. I was intrigued by the simplicity of it and wanted to learn more about its history.
For many years, we have tried to focus at some point every day on asking each child what they liked about their day, what they thought could have gone better, how they worked to make themselves the best person they can be that day. We pray each morning that God will show each of us how to be the best “me” that we can be that day – how or what He wants us to do that day. In the evening we refocus and try to reflect on how God worked in our lives that day. At least, that is our goal. I wasn’t sure if the prayer in the morning and the questions in the evening were connecting with the children.
As I was planning what I was writing for this post, a friend posted about reading three questions to ask your child each night. The three questions very closely resembled the steps of the Examen.
- What is something that made you smile today?
- What is something that made you cry today?
- What is something you learned today?
Again, my mind went to the Examen and how to incorporate it into our family prayers.
I began to read more about the origins of the Examen and prayed about how to make it part of our routine, believing it to be the key to linking our morning prayers and dinner/bedtime routine together.
The Daily Examen is an Ignatian prayer developed by St. Ignatius. St. Ignatius thought the the prayer and spiritual exercises were a gift directly from God. The Examen helps us to see God’s hand in our daily lives. In researching the Examen, I found a few different methods of this prayer.
From Ignatian Spirituality, the basic approach to the Examen is in five steps:
- Become aware of God’s presence.
- Review the day with gratitude.
- Pay attention to your emotions.
- Choose one feature of the day and pray from it.
- Look toward tomorrow.
– There are a lot of free PDFs and other materials available – Examen Resources
The Laudate app for Android discusses two approaches to the Examen. The first it calls, “CPR”:
C= Claim your blessings
P= Pinpoint victories and losses
R= Renew your loving commitment to Christ
The other method is called the Analytical Method.
- Quiet your soul and enter in God’s Presence, asking Him for light to know yourself and to know Him.
- Review the major areas of God’s will in your life, examining the level of your faithfulness to what God was asking of you. Trust that the Holy Spirit will draw your attention to what He wants you to reflect on.
- Thank God for the good that, with His grace, you were able to accomplish, ask for His forgiveness for your shortcomings and sins.
- Renew your commitment to follow Him even more closely tomorrow.
Six Sacred Rules for Families also contains an approach to the Examen. It takes the reader more thoroughly through the reflective prayer time.
- Find a comfortable place where you can secure ten or fifteen quiet minutes. Have a journal handy.
- Close your eyes and relax your body.
- Invite the Holy Spirit to be with you in prayer.
- Offer God thanks for the day and anything else that immediately comes to mind.
- Ask the Holy Spirit to give you light to see how you’ve experienced God’s grace over the past day.
- Move through the day as if you were watching it on a video.
- Ask God for forgiveness for any sins and ask for grace to grow in love in the coming day.
- Close with an Our Father.
- Write about your experience of prayer.
This book also adapts the prayer for families to pray with children.
- Quiet your children before bedtime (we find it easier to have them focus when we are eating dinner).
- Ask them what made them happy over the past day.
- Ask them what made them sad over the past day.
- Ask them what they look forward to tomorrow.
- Remind them to thank God for what made them happy, ask for God’s help when they are sad, and pray for God’s presence in the coming day.
Knowing that God is always near us and that when we don’t feel Him close it is because WE have moved away, I have begun praying not for God’s presence in the coming day but for us to be more aware of God’s presence in the coming day. The Examen is one way that our family is trying to become more aware of His presence in each moment of our lives. Especially during this time of Advent when we are called to wait and prepare not only for the birth of our Savior but for His second coming, we need to take the time to reflect and become more aware of God in order to grow closer to Him.
I hope that this brief explanation helps you to find another way to pray and grow closer to God. What new traditions is your family starting this Advent season? What is your favorite family tradition?
These examples of the Examen are excerpts from:
Six Sacred Rules of Families by Tim and Sue Muldoon
Each of these references has more detail about this beautifully simple prayer.
My prayer for each of us this Advent season is that we will indeed find God as we seek Him with all our hearts and souls as the author of Deuteronomy 4:29 writes: “Yet when you seek the LORD, your God, from there, you shall indeed find him if you search after him with all your heart and soul.”