Living as Contemplative Leaders in Action: Our Family Examen

St. Ignatius believed the Examen was a gift from God. This 500-year-old prayer tool is available to all of us- religious and lay, young and old, male and female. In our family, we have even created our own version of the Examen, making this gift from God accessible to all of us.

Each night before the kids go to bed we pray together as a family. We have our prayer routine in place- the six of us gather in our boy’s bedroom, the boys all in their beds, our daughter on the rug, my husband in the chair, and I sit on our middle son’s bed. My husband says our rote prayer, which has been adapted from this book. Next, I offer a review of the day to help our younger two remember what happened and we all think about our day. Then, we take turns thanking God for our favorite parts of the day, naming what we did well, and once they are in second grade, what we can do better. After each person is finished another family member will offer a prayer.

For example, our bedtime family prayer looks something like this:

  1. My husband says our rote bedtime prayer.
  2. I offer a broad review of the day to help us remember what happened.  
  3.  We take turns praying. “Thank you, God, my favorite part of the day was P.E. and playing outside. I did well on my math test today. I can do better at not complaining about dinner.”
  4. After this prayer, another member of the family offers a prayer. “Thank you, God, for letting (name) enjoy P.E. and playing outside, and thank you for letting him do well on his math test. Please help him do a better job of not complaining about dinner tomorrow.”
  5. We continue this until everyone has had a turn.

Most nights, our prayer ritual goes as well as we can expect with four little ones. Some nights, though, someone won’t listen, or someone will say something silly to cause everyone to giggle. On these less-than-ideal nights, I often wonder why we even bother trying to pray as a family. Maybe this has happened in your family, too? But, in God’s great timing, these harder nights are usually followed by a moment of joy. 

The following night, someone may be visibly excited to thank God for their favorite part of the day, telling us about gymnastics or what happened at recess.  Or they may beam with pride from getting a perfect score on a hard test and thank God for doing well and getting an A. Sometimes we can even see the sorrow in their faces when they pray to do a better job of listening at school, knowing they really want to do better. 

It wasn’t until recently in my own prayer time, though, that I humbly realized our kids can excitedly thank God, beam with pride, and truly want to do better because my husband and I have modeled this prayer for them time and time again. Just as I was taught about the Examen and shown how to pray this prayer in college, and on several retreats since, we are teaching them and modeling for them how to reflectively pray about their day. Our kids know they can bring all the different parts of their day to God in prayer because we are teaching them God is with them in their daily lives.

Our kids know they can excitedly thank God for their favorite part of the day being their chosen sport, piano, or playing with friends because they have seen my husband and me excitedly thank God for good conversation with friends, playing rugby, or going to the park as a family. They can beam with pride as they thank God for doing well on a test, learning the rest of the song, or winning the game because they have seen my husband and me proudly thank God for doing well on a big project at work or successfully cooking something new for dinner. Our kids can truly want to do a better job of listening to their teacher or being more respectful to us because they have seen us pray to do better at staying off our phones, folding the giant pile of laundry, or being more patient with them. 

The Examen truly is a gift from God. It helps us to see our day as God sees it and it helps us reflect with God on all the moments of our day, not just the ones we feel are “good” enough for God. The Examen helps me remember that even when I mess up, or experience a moment of desolation, that God still loves me and offers me mercy. The Examen has also helped me be more aware of and appreciate the moments of consolation and joy in my everyday life. The practice of reflecting on my day and seeing the day as God sees, with gratitude, has helped me notice and savor the moments of joy, goodness, and kindness I see in myself and in my family.

 

Go Deeper:

 

With experience in youth ministry, campus ministry, faith formation, and as a high school theology teacher, Charlotte has worked in numerous parishes and schools along the Gulf Coast and in the Diocese of Rockford. She holds a B.A. in Theology and Master of Pastoral Studies from Spring Hill College. Charlotte and her husband live in New Orleans with their four young children, where she enjoys Ignatian Spirituality, reading, listening to live music, and bike riding with her family.

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