The Daily Examen (or simply “Examen”) is a specific prayer technique for reflecting on the events of daily life in order to foster an awareness of God’s active presence in our lives. It is also known as the Examen of Consciousness and the Review of the Day.
This prayer was taught by St. Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits), in the 16th century as a way to encourage prayerful reflection that cultivates spiritual insight and direction for our lives on a daily basis.
It is not simply an intellectual, emotional, or introspective exercise; it cannot be reduced to recalling memories. In other words, the Daily Examen is not solely a human effort. It is a gift of grace received from God.
Though there are variations, the Daily Examen consists of five prayer prompts centered around the following gifts: Gratitude; Petition; Review; Forgiveness; and Renewal.
Why should Christians practice the Daily Examen?
At its core, the Examen teaches us how to hear God’s voice in our lives by: (a) Learning to actively search for and ultimately encounter God in all things, at all times; and (b) Living a life of “praying without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18) - by engaging in frequent prayerful reflection, over time our daily lives begin to grow to become one continuous act of prayer and worship.
The Examen serves as a daily reminder to examine if we are actually surrendering our full selves to Christ on a day to day basis. We probe the extent of our surrender by asking questions such as How am I engaging with God in all that I do? Am I seeking Him throughout the day, or is He an afterthought? Do my actions actually reflect a genuine commitment to loving and obeying God?
The Examen helps us to see that our days are the arena in which we choose (or choose not to) encounter and respond to God - in our work, leisure, relationships, and thoughts. By regularly taking the time to stop all that we are doing and reflect on our day, we cultivate a heightened sense of awareness and sensitivity to all of the ways God is at work in our lives.
Over time, this practice evolves into more of a general disposition than a habit of discipline, empowering us to more accurately and spontaneously discern the will of God and respond accordingly.
The Examen also helps us build trust in the Lord as we constantly reflect on His Word, works, and character as evidenced by our lives. If we only seek God earnestly in times of crisis without actually taking the time to seek His will every day, then we can likely expect to encounter confusion, frustration, and difficulty in discerning His voice in those challenging moments. Alternatively, the Examen teaches us how to grow in our relationship with the Lord and learn to recognize His voice by seeking Him daily.
How should we practice the Daily Examen?
Practice it daily. The Jesuits generally practice the Examen two times per day for about 15 minutes: afternoon and early evening. For those less familiar with the prayer, it may be more effective to start by practicing it just once per day.
Build in transition time before starting. Take the necessary time before beginning to pause, slow down, and remove yourself from any distractions. Invite the Holy Spirit into your prayer.
Follow the prompts. Though there are variations, the Daily Examen consists of five prayer prompts centered around the following: Gratitude; Petition; Review; Forgiveness; and Renewal. Another variation by Fr. Mark E. Thibodeaux, SJ, integrated below, relies on a “5-Rs” mnemonic outline to help remember each prompt. (Check out the “Resources” section for additional instructions and recommendations for practicing the Daily Examen).
Prompt #1 (Gratitude): Relish the moments that went well and all of the gifts I have today by beginning with a spirit of thankfulness.
Prompt #2 (Petition): Request the Spirit to lead me through my review of the day, granting me the gift of discernment.
Prompt #3 (Review): Review the day, recognizing where God was present and if I responded or failed to respond to Him in those moments.
Prompt #4 (Forgiveness): Repent of any mistakes or failures, asking for forgiveness and healing.
Prompt #5 (Renewal): Resolve, in concrete ways, to live tomorrow well by looking ahead and asking the Spirit for the help and guidance needed in the immediate future.
Build in transition time before closing. St. Ignatius of Loyola recommends ending the Daily Examen with a conversation with Jesus in the spirit of gratitude, remembering that our lives are gifts, and are adorned with gifts from God. It is also common practice to close the Daily Examen prayer with a more structured prayer (e.g., “Our Father”).
Obstacles to practicing the Daily Examen and how to respond to them
Finding the right setting. Pay attention to your posture and environment - are they enabling you to pray without distraction, or do they oftentimes get in the way? The spirit and the body go hand in hand - whatever helps us concentrate in the physical sense will aid us in the spiritual as well. For some, this prayer works best as a writing exercise while for others it takes the form of silent prayer. Be creative.
Difficulty responding to the prompts. Start the Examen with the order provided above. However, the Examen is not a formula - remember, we are not in control. This is a Spirit-led exercise. Therefore, keep an open mind as to which of the prompts will be emphasized during your prayer and do not feel the need to have to get through all five each time you pray the Examen. Focus on specific gifts (e.g., gratitude, sorrow).
Distractions. Be specific in your review of the day. This helps avoid falling into distractions. Look concretely at all of the moments of your day, in chronological order.
Unhealthy introspection. Rely on the Fruits of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23) for discernment to help prevent from falling into unhealthy forms of introspection. These fruits show us where God is working in our lives (Matthew 7:16-18). St. Ignatius of Loyola instructs us to view our faults peacefully, bring them to God with trust, and find renewed strength in His love (Phil. 4:6-7,13).
Frustration in discerning God’s voice. There are times and seasons in our lives during which God’s voice is seemingly impossible to hear. Timothy M. Gallagher encourages us that we are not alone and that many have walked this path before us: “if you experience difficult moments when you feel totally separated from God, take off your shoes - you are standing on holy ground.” Persistently seeking God during these times of struggle brings us the gifts of spiritual growth and increased strength. If in doubt, remember that even just the act of stopping your day to simply give thanks to the Lord is worthwhile in itself (1 Thess. 5:18, Eph. 5:20). Pray to the Lord to “help me to know my day as you know it and to see what You see” (1 Cor. 2:10-16) and to fight against the temptation of self-sufficiency (“Lead Thou Me On”).
Struggling to practice daily. The Examen presupposes a growing relationship with the Lord and a certain maturity in a person’s prayer life. For those who may be struggling in these areas, pray to God for the “grace of desire.” This love and desire for God prepares our hearts to enter into the Examen and receive Him, but it must first be received from the Spirit. Without it, the Examen becomes merely an empty discipline without the guidance and power of the Holy Spirit. Pray for this grace and trust that God will give it to you (Matthew 7:7).
When to close the prayer. Pray until you encounter God and find the satisfaction in Him that brings rest, peace, and a fulfillment that is absent of anxiety. If this does not happen right away, do not give up - continue to seek the Lord and trust that He will meet you in your prayer. Use the 15 minutes recommendation as a guide but not a rule - be open to go longer or shorter on any given day.