By Lynne Baab —
A year is ending. A new year begins tomorrow. Newspapers and magazines are full of ideas for New Year’s resolutions, and how to keep them.
I wish more people wrote and talked about how to look back on the past year in a way that is fruitful and helpful. As a way to do that, I want to propose a prayer of examen for the whole year.
Examen is an ancient prayer form that focuses on identifying where God was present and where we resisted God. The prayer has four movements, which I’ll describe below. In many monastic settings, monks and nuns prayed the prayer of examen every night, looking back over the day.
The person who taught me examen called it “a gentle, unforced noticing.” I’m going to suggest numerous questions to reflect on. Please engage with these questions in an gentle, unforced way. Let the questions help you see God’s hand in your life and your response to God.
- Examen of Consciousness. Begin by thinking back over your year. What good things happened? Where did you see God’s hand in the good things? What aspects of the good things were clearly gifts from God?
What hard things happened? In what ways did God help you in the hard things? What good outcomes can you identify from the hard things?
Think back on the early months of the year. What were you praying for in those months? What answers did you see later in the year?
Use the fruit of the Spirit from Galatians 5:22-23 to look back at the year. In what moments did you experience love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness or self-control in yourself or in those who you love?
- Response to the Examen of Consciousness. In whatever way works for you, spend some time responding to God’s presence in your life in 2017. You may want to thank God verbally for the ways God was present in the year. You may want to imagine yourself turning to Jesus and smiling at him. You may want to sing a song or hymn.
- Examen of Conscience. Listen to your conscience to help identify the ways you resisted God this past year. Do you have clear instances when you know God was calling you to do something and you didn’t do it? Can you see times when you did something you know didn’t please God?
Go back to the fruit of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness or self-control – and ponder instances when the Holy Spirit may have been nudging you in the direction of one of those fruits, and you chose to do things your way.
Imagine that Jesus was walking beside you all year. What moments during the year would you have felt embarrassed or ashamed to have Jesus close by?
- Response to the Examen of Conscience. In whatever feels comfortable to you, bring those moments of resistance to God. You may want to ask God for forgiveness for the times you did not respond in obedience or love. You may want to read one of the penitential psalms as a way to bring these thoughts to God. Try Psalm 32, 51 or 130. You may want to say to yourself: “Whenever we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us” (based on 1 John 1:9).
Examen is a lovely prayer to do on our own or with others. If you have a spiritual partner – a friend, spouse, prayer partner – or a small group with whom you share honestly, consider working through the questions above with that person or group.
We rob ourselves of joy and peace when we forget to look back at the past and identify the places God was present. We rob ourselves of joy and peace when we neglect to confess our shortcomings and bask in God’s forgiveness of all our sins.