Doing the Examen with Kids

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For around 2 years now, I’ve been using the Reimagining the Examen app before I go to sleep. It’s a modern take on the Ignatian Examen of Conscience, in which you imaginatively re-live the hours of your day with God. You ask God to shed light on those things he wants to bring to your attention, and what your response to them should be (gratitude? repentance? a request for help?) both in the moment and in how you prepare for the day to come.

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The app comes with over a dozen variations on the traditional examen, and you can either go through the previously set order or pick and choose according to how you feel that day.  Some of the examens have a musical accompaniment, and you can choose the type of music or sound as well (quiet piano, guitar, rainfall, ocean waves, etc.).Screenshot 2018-07-05 at 12.28.45 PM

Probably around a year ago, I started doing my nightly examen with my seven-year old as part of our tuck-in routine, and it quickly became one of the highlights of my day.  We don’t always do every question, but we almost always do question 2, which asks us to review the blessings of the day, both big and small. Usually her blessings are simple, joyful things like, “I got to play with my cousin today” or “I got to eat ice cream” or “My mommy is my blessing.”

She’s too young to really process some of the more high-level questions, but with a little translation and explanation, she’s able to engage on a surprisingly deep level. For example, one of the examens asks, “Where was Jesus with you today?” Her answer: “On the playground, during break time. He was watching me play.”

Several weeks ago, after a long day at the beach for the kids and their dad (I was home  working but also in the deliciously cool air conditioning), our examen topic was “Am I Free or Unfree?” This wasn’t her first time around the contemplative block, so she knows by now that “free,” in Ignatian Speak, means filled with hope, faith, and love and drawn towards God, while “unfree” means the opposite: filled with fear, mistrust, and selfishness and drawn away from God. Still, I was not expecting her response. She immediately jumped in with, “I was unfree today. Definitely.

When I asked why, she said – very emphatically – “because I was terrorized because the waves were so big and I got water in my eyes.” After I’d gently corrected her – “I think you mean terrified” – she elaborated. “Yeah, I was terrified and traumatized because the waves were so strong.”

The next step was to imagine that moment of unfreedom – in this case, fear – but this time imagining God there with you. I asked her, “Can you see God there with you? How does God being there change what you felt or experienced?”

She said, “He helps me to not be terrified and traumatized because I know that he’s with me and my Daddy’s with me too, and he’ll help me if I drown.”

“What do you think God is saying to you?” I asked.

“I think he’s saying I don’t have to be terrified and traumatized the next time but I can just have fun.”

I was blown away by the simplicity and insight of her response. I am beyond grateful for the way the examen has acclimated her to expect to encounter God every day, to hear his voice, to access and give expression to her inner life, to build her faith through direct experience. Doing the examen together has also built our relationship as we communicate about our emotions and pray together at bedtime. I wish I had known about this tool when my two older children were at this age.

If you have children of any age, I encourage you to find an examen routine that works for you. If you prefer a paper version to an app, you can try the Reimagining the Examen book or ebook or, as an alternative, try Sleeping With Bread: Holding What Gives You Life. (Read a short description of Sleeping with Bread on my Spiritual Direction Links and Resources page or read my review of the book for a more in-depth approach.

 

Header photo credit: https://www.crosswalk.com/faith/prayer/prayers/10-childrens-prayers-simple-and-easy-for-kids-to-pray.html

Tacos, Tires, a Tofu Box: A Story of God’s Providence

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A few weeks ago, my husband Ryan, our daughter Deise, and I drove up to Syracuse for a regional church conference. While there, we hung out with our good friends Kurt and Amy at their apartment complex pool. Our girls got to swim together while the adults caught up. As we left the complex, this happened:

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We were driving down a busy street in front of a large shopping complex, and an elderly gentleman pulled out without seeing us. My husband braked hard, and no one was hurt, but our car was toast. (Or rather, it was fixable, but it was so old and its mileage so high that the insurance company decided the repairs would cost more than the worth of the car.)

Here’s the crazy part. Less than half an hour ago, we’d gotten four new tires. Which were now on an undrivable car. Wanna know why we’d gotten those tires?

It happened like this: While driving up to Syracuse, we stopped to see my son, Daniel, who was at a math camp at Bard College for a few weeks. (Yes, my son is a math nerd. Since he’s returned from camp, he’s been busy trying to discover algorithms to solve Rubix cubes.) We rescued him from cafeteria food for the afternoon (“They serve tofu dogs. They’re terrible.”) and let him pick his food of choice. He picked tacos. So we drove to this little place we’d seen in town. As we entered the driveway, we heard a loud pop or crack under the car. We stopped; Ryan checked around to see what had hit us and saw nothing. We found out the taco place was closed and went elsewhere. End of story, we thought.

Except, that when we got to Syracuse, it turned out our tire was leaking. Ryan filled it with air once, but that was only a temporary solution. There happened to be a tire store close to Kurt and Amy’s house, so while we girls swam, Ryan and Kurt took our car to the tire store. The tire guys took one look at our tires and said all the treads were dangerously worn down. So Ryan got all the tires replaced, then hopped in the car to pick Deise and me up. That’s when the accident happened.

So, let’s review the sequence of events:

  1. Daniel’s taco craving leads us to a leaky tire. And the taco place isn’t even open!
  2. We replace all 4 tires, to the tune of $200.
  3. 15 minutes later, we get into a car accident. Those $200 tires are now on a worthless car. (We joke about posting the picture of our wreck on Instagram with the hashtag #look ma, new tires!)

Oh, yes, and we’re on vacation!

Not a great story, right? $200 down the toilet, plus a wrecked car, during what’s supposed to be a rejuvenating getaway.

But what if we tell the story a different way? What if Daniel’s taco craving actually ended up preventing us and the other driver from serious injuries? What if, because we had four new tires with new treads instead of four old tires with substandard treads, those new tires were able to slow down the impact of our collision enough that we all walked away, unhurt? What if God used Daniel’s hankering for Mexican and a mysteriously flat tire to look out for us all?

Now, can we prove that’s what happened? Empirically, beyond a shadow of a doubt? Of course not. It’s absolutely possible that this sequence of events was random. We could absolutely choose to lament those beautiful, shiny new tires that are going to waste on a busted car somewhere in a collision repair shop in Syracuse. But we’ve chosen to focus our attention elsewhere, to tell a story of God’s providential timing and protection.

Life of Pi author Yann Martel summed up the meaning behind his novel like this: “Life is a story; you can choose your own story; a story with God is the better story.”

Sometimes faith is not just believing in God in the abstract; it’s the story you choose to tell.

What’s your story?

sdrP.S. Here’s our “new” used car, a Toyota Scion XB. When we briefly lived in Hawaii, we had an older version of this car that the locals called a “tofu box” because, well, that’s what it looked like. This more recent model is less boxy, but the name has stuck.