THE SHACK movie is in the theaters right now. A usual reaction to watching it or reading the book is, “Oh, I wish I could talk to Papa God like that! I wish I could have that kind of close relationship!” Well, we are focusing on our spiritual life and growth during the Lenten season, and nothing grows our relationship with God more than prayer. A powerful way to pray on any day, but perhaps especially during Lent, is by praying the Examen. More than 400 years ago, St. Ignatius Loyola developed a few steps to prayer that focus on God’s very real presence, and this has become a powerful help to many followers of Jesus. The Examen is a technique of prayerful reflection on the events of the day in order to sense and acknowledge God’s presence and to discern His direction for us. Perhaps you could add new life to your prayer life and experience the reality of conversation with God by trying this version of St. Ignatius’s prayer. It actually is an attitude more than a method. It has 5 steps, and takes about 15-20 minutes.
1. Ask God for light. You need clarity. Ask the Holy Spirit to help you look back over the events of your day through His eyes. Picture His arm around your shoulder looking at what has been. The day may seem all messed up and crazy to you. It may seem as if there was no purpose or direction. Ask God to give you understanding where it is lacking.
2. Go over your day with gratitude. The day you have just lived is a gift from God. Be grateful for it. Gratitude is one of the major attitude blocks in our foundational relationship with God. Walk through your day in the presence of God, and be thankful for the joys and individual moments. Focus on the gifts of the day. Look at the work you did, the ones with whom you interacted . . . in your family, at work, in the neighborhood. What did you receive from them? What did you give them? The small things really matter. Think about the food you ate, the sights you saw, and the small pleasures. As Papa said, “If anything matters, everything matters.” God is in the details.
3. Now review the day, paying attention to your emotions. Reflect on the feelings you experienced during the day. Boredom? Excitement? Resentment? Compassion? Anger? Confidence? What is God saying through these feelings? God will most likely lovingly show you some ways that you fell short. Make note of these sins and faults. But look and listen for other things He might be saying. Does a feeling of frustration perhaps mean that God wants you to consider a new direction in some area of your work? Are you concerned about a friend? Perhaps you should reach out to her or him in some way. Let the Holy Spirit guide you through your emotional responses.
4. Choose one feature of the day and center your prayers around it. Ask the Holy Spirit to bring to your mind something from the day that God thinks was particularly significant. It may be positive or negative. Perhaps it is an interaction with another person, or an experience of pleasure, pain, or peace. It may be something that in the moment seems insignificant. Whatever it is, study it. Pray about it. Let your heart express the genuine spontaneous praise, repentance, thanksgiving, or intercession it feels. Your Father is anxious to hear.
5. Look forward to the day to come. Ask God to show you where you are going to particularly need Him. Request light and understanding for the challenges you will face. Pay attention to the feelings and thoughts that come up as you go over your schedule. Do you experience doubt? Anxety? Anticipation? Are you doubtful? Apprehensive? Excited? Overwhelmed? Allow your feelings to become prayers. Have a real conversation with God. Ask for guidance and understanding. Ask Him for capabilities equal to the task. Ask Jesus to make your heart overflow with hope.
St. Ignatius encouraged people to talk to Jesus like a friend. That’s a basic message of THE SHACK, striking a cord in thousands of hearts. The Daily Examen takes you there. St. Ignatius suggested that we have a concluding conversation with Jesus. Ask forgiveness for any sins. Tell Him how you are counting on His protection and help. Thank Him for the wisdom you know He will give to answer the questions you have and to deal with the problems you face. Let Him know you look forward to talking again soon.
These conversations with God will transform your life, for as Papa says, “You may not realize this, but I am especially fond of you.”