He who goes about to reform the world must begin with himself, or he loses his labor. -St. Ignatius of Loyola
Something that has been paradigm shifting for me has been the Examen prayer. As a husband, father and non-profit worker, the Examen has been impactful for me, for self-awareness as well as for my spiritual development in Christ-centered discernment. I’ve found that it’s a useful tool to see where God is at work, and is calling me to Himself throughout the day. Along with this prayer (that I’ll share below), there is language (terms) that Ignatius introduces us to, called: “consolations and desolations.” Generally put, a desolation is the experience of situations or circumstances that distract or pull us away from the Lord. Consolations are those experiences that draw us closer to the Lord.
Now, consolation doesn’t necessarily mean it is a manifestly pleasant circumstance, and desolation doesn’t mean that it is bad situation. Negative things can happen in our lives, which actually help us draw closer to the Lord and help us to experience more of His love (that would actually make it a consolation). Likewise, seemingly positive things can happen in our lives, and at first they may seem like good things, but latently we may recognize that they steal our affections from the Lord and distract us from what matters most (that would make it a desolation). It is really about the attention and focus of our hearts through those experiences. That is one of the reasons that it has been paradigm shifting for me: that every interaction and situation can be a part of experiencing more of the Lord. Every moment can lead to transformation. It takes His grace to see those moments when He is inviting us to draw near to Him, and this is a great exercise to cultivate that.
The steps for the Examen Prayer, as I explain them, are:
Invite the Lord’s Presence & Ask for Perspective
Quiet yourself, give thanks for the day, and invite Holy Spirit to speak. Ask the Lord for grace to see how He is working in your life.
Review the Day
Carefully look back on the day. Recall the events and details, conversations and feelings. What did you experience in your body? What did you give a lot of thought to? What did you experience emotionally?
Reflect on the Day: Consolations and Desolations
Ask the questions of consolation and desolation.
Consolation: “What has led me closer to the Lord?”
Desolation: “What has distracted me or pulled me away from the Lord?”
Look Forward to Tomorrow
Ask the question, “Where do I need God’s grace in the day to come?” Pray to receive that grace, and thank the Lord for His abiding presence in your life.