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.
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.).
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.