REPLAY: First, replay your day in as much detail as possible. Don’t just skim through it’s headline moments—the obvious events that are featured in your calendar. Try to recall the mundane in-between interactions, fleeting attitudes, and casual conversations that filled the cracks of your day, asking, Where was God when that happened? Where was God in that person’s behavior? and even, Where was God in that moment of pain? One Jesuit compares this process to “rummaging for God . . . going through a drawer full of stuff, feeling around, looking for something that you are sure must be there.” Rummaging is harder than you might think. In fact, I find it almost impossible to recall the details of most days unless I work through them chronologically. But as you do this, you will quickly discover that while the devil is in the details, so, too, are the angels. On an average day, there’s much for which to repent, but even more for which to rejoice.
REJOICE: As you rummage through the drawer of your day, you will discover currency, forgotten jewelry, precious photographs, dull nuggets of gold. Night after night, you will marvel at the furtive ways God has blessed you, the frequency of his whispers, the consistency of his presence, the lightness of his touch. Perhaps you will recall the joy of bumping into a friend unexpectedly in the street, the ridiculous video that made you laugh, the unexpected hug from your teenage son, the cup of fresh coffee in an earthenware mug, the lyric that moved you, the drumming of rain against the window while you worked indoors in your socks, the cloud formations and the rays of light that followed the storm, and now the quietness of this night, the stars above, and the exquisite prospect of your own warm bed. But God is not just in the nice stuff. He is also with us in “the darkest valley,” in our seasons of doubt, and even in our sin. In my own life, I may not be able to see why God hasn’t healed Sammy’s chronic illness (and I don’t think he’s about to tell me), but I can certainly see where he is at work within it and through it. Generally, I find it more useful, therefore, to pray Where? rather than Why? prayers. Where were you, Lord, in our medical appointment today? Where are you now in our weariness and disappointment? David G. Benner puts it like this: “Unwelcome circumstances . . . are not gifts. But they may contain a gift.” The prayer of Examen enables us to receive and unwrap those gifts.
REPENT: As you replay your day in detail, rejoicing in the evidence of God’s blessings, you will also, inevitably, be reminded of actions, words, thoughts, and attitudes that were wrong. In the stillness of prayer, the Holy Spirit will often highlight occasions when you were selfish, lustful, deceitful, pompous, hurtful, or unkind. Things that may have been relatively easy to justify or ignore in the swirl of the moment become so much harder to excuse under the direct gaze of God. Whenever our dirty little secrets, which flourish like fungi in the darkness, are exposed to the surgical brilliance of his light, we can try to conceal them, like Adam and Eve, who “hid from the LORD God among the trees of the garden”; or we can pretend they’re not there, like the Pharisee praying, “God, I thank you that I am not like other people”; or we can hold up our hands and confess them like the tax collector, crying out, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” Truly, says Jesus, “this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God.” You probably take a regular bath or shower to remove the dirt from your body. In the same way, you are invited to come to God regularly, praying, “Cleanse me . . . and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.” Without this discipline, you will begin to stink! Behaviors that would once have seemed shameful or even shocking will become tolerated, accommodated, and eventually normalized as your conscience is numbed. But by confessing your sins regularly, your life will smell sweet! You will be healthy and holy—a little bit more like Jesus each day.
REBOOT: Having replayed the day in detail, rejoicing and repenting along the way, we turn our attention to the challenges of tomorrow, asking for God’s strength to live a little more for his glory. The apostle Paul says that we are “transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory,” but how does this actually take place? Is it just a mystery? An automatic thing that happens regardless of the choices we make? Sadly, we’ve all met enough cantankerous old Christians to realize that there’s nothing inevitable about sanctification. I believe that it is received incrementally day by day, choice by choice, as we train our brains to “rejoice always” and incline our hearts again and again away from the shadows and toward the light.
Whether you typically enjoy your devotional time in the morning or at night, I encourage you to give the Daily Examen a try. Ending your days replaying, rejoicing, repenting and rebooting with your Heavenly Father is a practice that could truly change your life.
Greig, Pete. How to Pray: A Simple Guide for Normal People