If you’re a Christian, and if you are at all like me, you can get bogged down in repentance—meaning, when you start confessing sin and recognizing failures, you go into despair.
I have been doing something a little different lately. It’s making a difference. It’s called Examen.
At the end of the day—or sometimes in the mornings—I look back at the previous 24 hours. I ask myself several questions. One is, where did my heart and deeds fall short of God’s glory? The other is, where did I see God in my day or my deeds? I do this while asking for God’s Spirit to lead my heart, and I do it with a thankful spirit. I search for his movement in my life.
First, where did I fall short? When did I fail to walk in love? When was I blind or too busy to help? When did I speak when I should have listened or listened when I should have spoken? Was I angry or short-fused, neglectful or uncaring? I KNOW I miss things all the time, but I can’t see what I can’t see. This is where I trust God to show me what I need to know. I don’t dig for dirt. I ask God for forgiveness and the power and ability to change. I perform this “looking” objectively. I try not to feel despair. I examine it like I might look at a piece of art–checking out the lines and contours of the sculpture looking for things that need to be chipped away. Next, I thank God for helping me see, and I choose to hope in his unfailing love to help me in the future. I ask for needed power, as well as an ability to see potential sin traps before I act. I don’t do it desperately, but in great hope with thanksgiving. Even the inclination to do this is proof he’s at work.
(It’s really important to KNOW that God loves you and is for you as you do this. He’s not an old curmudgeon in the sky waiting to whollop you. He’s an intimate ally united with you by his Spirit so that you are enabled to walk in the Spirit.) (Romans 8)
The second thing I do is look back at where I saw God or how I acted rightly with his power. I do this objectively, too, and with thanksgiving. Ah, yes, I was kind to a stranger. I prayed for the woman in line at the grocery store who looked harried and upset and helped with her groceries. I made a nice meal for my family, or I held my tongue when someone was cruel or unkind to me. I experienced God, enjoyed and worshipped him when I saw a bevy of cardinals on the way to work and when I heard the sound of an owl and the shriek of a hawk as he soared over the house. Then I give thanks. “Thank you for helping me see your presence in my life and for helping me act more Christ-like from my heart.” I am often surprised at how many moments he was there–like all day!!
Why is this important? I can get engrossed in my sin and fail to see God’s faithfulness along the way. By doing this, I can applaud his work in me–which is just another grace to me, after all. (I’m often surprised when something absolutely loving, non-judgmental, and kind comes from my heart and mouth.)
Of course, confessing and giving thanks throughout the day is a glorious and faithful way to walk. I do that, too. What I find is that by doing this summary at the end of the day, I am more intentional during the next day to look for his movement and presence, and I’m more cognizant of opportunities to act Christ-like, and avoid temptation and sin as it comes at me.
There is something about summing up the day that is different and more hopeful than going through the day fumbling between sin and repentance. I’m not quite certain what qualitative difference there is, but I feel it.
Also, by ending the day looking at the positive movement of God in my life, I end the day more aware of God’s faithful presence and my progress in the gospel. It sets me up to look for him the next day, and by golly, I see him at work in my life, once again. There is great wisdom in ending the day thanking God for what he has done, is doing, and will continue to do on our behalf. It just makes me downright happy!!