A recent speaker at my local church talked about the importance of thankful reflection. He presented a practice called The Examen — a prayer aimed at looking back over a specific time period. It was a powerful experience, but I have to be honest.
I didn’t really think it was something I’d factor into my daily life.
While I always start my day with a time of Bible reading and prayer, I’ve never really gotten into a practice of reflection or meditation. I’ve tried it in short snippets before, but I guess I haven’t really ever given it a fair shake besides that.
About a week after that church gathering, I decided to try it out. A friend of mine had sent me an email with a link to an audio guide for The Examen, and I decided to try it out.
Right now I’m in the early stages. Building new rhythms and habits is always difficult, but I’m inclined to see this through. Why? Let me tell you…
Do you ever feel that when you get to the end of a work day your body is just tense all over? I feel that way sometimes. Or maybe there’s a family situation that’s weighing on me. Or a friend that I haven’t reached out to. Or a section of my book that I’ve been putting off writing. Or that chapter that I haven’t read yet, but was supposed to. Or that deadline for that movie review that’s looming closer. Or that house project that could be done but doesn’t have to but if I don’t do it I’ll feel ashamed. Or…
…you get the picture.
We all let life weigh us down from time to time. On the day I started doing The Examen, it didn’t help that the sky was overcast and it was one of those cold rains. Just a crummy weather day. So I wasn’t in the greatest headspace.
But then I just began to breathe. In and out. And it felt so good.
Before I go any further, let me just say that this post isn’t really about The Examen. That’s just the avenue that I’ve found for myself into this powerful practice of reflection. There may be some other entryway that you find.
But whatever works for you, I think it’s worthwhile to find some space in your day for intentional reflection. If for no other reason than to give yourself a few moments to just breathe and let some of that tension slip away.
One of my favorite parts of The Examen is a point where you begin looking back on your day in gratitude. Before you start analyzing and figuring out how you can be better, you simply thank God for the ways in which He was gracious, or for the moments that brought great joy in your day.
It reminded me of one of the most viscerally spiritual moments I’ve ever encountered in my life.
My wife and I went to Puerto Rico for our honeymoon, and while we were there, we travelled to El Yunque National Rainforest. It was one of our favorite parts of the entire week.
We went with a tour guide who took us throughout the rainforest with a few other couples. One of the places we visited was called La Mina Falls. You hear it as you’re walking up the trail, but nothing can quite prepare you for its beauty.
There, nestled amid the rainforest, is this tranquil pond that is constantly refilled by a bustling waterfall flowing from highland streams. It is beautiful. Along the edge of the pond are large rocks that you can sit on. Sarah and I sat there for a while before we both went out to swim under the falls. The water from La Mina was so cold and pure. It took your breath away for just a moment. Then, as you continued to stand there, it felt more and more refreshing.
There are probably some great lessons right there, but that wasn’t the moment that stands out to me.
No, that moment came after I swam back to the rocks. There were probably about 30 other people milling about and swimming beneath La Mina. Sarah stayed in the water while I got up on a large rock to dry off. I sat there quietly, reflecting on our honeymoon, our wedding day, and the life that stretched out before us.
Right after you get married, there is this unique mixture of emotions. There is, of course, the pure and unfiltered joy of the love you share and the fact that you get to share your life with your best friend in the entire world. But there is also an undeniable sense of the magnitude of what has just happened. Your life has changed. It isn’t a bad feeling. I wouldn’t even call it nervousness or fear. It’s simply the recognition that something huge has happened from which the remainder of your life will forever be affected.
I was thinking about this as I was looking down at the rocks. Those craggy outcroppings jutting into the flowing water. Then I heard an undeniable voice. Not audible, but it was undeniable nonetheless. The message was clear.
That’s when I looked up to see the waterfall. The beautiful mist. The majestic power. And the rhythmic splendor. And I saw my wife — MY WIFE — swimming beneath it.
I was overcome with so much gratitude. And I was assured of the fact that I would be okay. We would be okay.
Sometimes we’re sitting beside a waterfall, but we’re choosing instead to look at the rocks. I’ve found that taking even just a few minutes at the end of my day to reflect in gratitude has helped me to remember the waterfall beside me and look up from the rocks beneath me.
I often speak to myself in really poor ways. I beat myself up over perceived shortcomings, and I never give myself much grace for mistakes. I sometimes have unrealistic goals, and I rarely give myself credit for successes.
What I’ve found in doing The Examen is that having that time of gratitude opens up an opportunity for honest reflection. When I’ve been grateful for God’s grace in my life or I’ve given myself credit for a success in the day, I’m able to pinpoint areas for improvement with more clarity and understanding.
I’m happy with myself for starting this journey. That’s not something I’m used to saying.
Will I be perfect? No, of course not. But I’m intrigued by finding ways to view my life with greater levels of honesty.
I’m just at the beginning of this journey. Like I said before, it’s difficult to build new routines and habits. But the growth that has come from just this short time makes me think that this is a worthwhile pursuit.
The next week at church, there was an opportunity to speak up in front of the entire gathering about our experience with The Examen. I didn’t speak up then. I’ve always expressed myself better through writing than through speaking. So that’s what this post is about. I hope it’s been an encouragement to you, and I hope you find joy and peace at the end of each day.
Blessings on your journey.