Prayer of Examen
My 6 year old, Calvin, was stalling at bed time. But instead of the typical: “I’m thirsty,” or “Can you snuggle one more minute?” or “Hey Mom, I have a question for you...” do you know what he said? He said:
“Mom, what was the best part of your day and how did you see God in it?”
WHAT? What am I supposed to do in that situation? There is probably some good parenting way to handle the question without caving into a delayed bedtime. But I don’t know what that is, and to be honest, I don’t know if I would have done it anyway. Instead, I gave him a way too long explanation of how God blew me away with His goodness that day. I may have bored him, but I was excited to share so I did.
Lately, I have been practicing the Prayer of Examen with my kids. Clearly Calvin has been catching on. The Prayer of Examen is an Ignatian Spiritual Discipline that involves reflecting on your day and God’s involvement and action in it. It challenges us to stay alert to the presence of God in every moment. If you grew up in the church and went to summer camp or were involved in youth group, you are probably familiar with the concept of sharing “highs and lows.” That’s really all this is.
The Prayer of Examen is a great thing to do at the dinner table or at bed time. I love the idea of doing this as a family at dinner. Realistically though, sometimes I’m just hoping to get through dinner without losing my mind because one or all of my kids suddenly refuse to eat anything of nutritional value. On those days, I try to do this individually with my kids at bed time. It’s not ideal because the practice of doing an Examen as a family helps our kids learn to listen and care for each other, but at least they are thinking about it and we are creating a habit of talking about how God is present in our day.
Here are a few things to remember:
This is not the time to critique or instruct kids. This is a time of vulnerable sharing for family members. You want it to be a safe place for your child to share, so make sure you keep an open heart and an open mind.
Make sure not to interrupt. This is a fantastic way for siblings to practice listening to each other respectfully and encourage each other. Easier said than done, but it will get easier with practice
Here are a few ways to try a Prayer of Examen:
Example 1: Highs and Lows
Start with a simple prayer: “Thank you God for being part of our day. Help us to remember all the ways we saw you at work today.”
Go around the table and everyone can share one high and one low from their day.
Close by praying a short prayer over those highs and lows, “God thank you for being in every good and every bad moment of our day….”
Example 2: Gratitude and Kindness
Start with the same simple prayer as example 1.
Go around the table and ask “What happened today that you are most thankful for?”
Ask, “What happened today that you are not happy about?”
Ask, “How were you kind to a friend today?”
Consider asking, “How were you not kind today?”
Close by praying over what was shared and thank God for being present and teaching us to love.
A few tips:
Change up the wording if you need to. You may need to use more concrete questions like, “What toy did you share today?” “Was there something you took from a friend?”
Remember that it is okay to talk about the good and the bad parts of our day. It’s good practice to be confessing to one another, talking about bad or unkind moments isn’t meant to make kids feel bad or shameful. Young kids especially will probably take this really literally and share openly, remember this is not the time for correction or discipline, this is a time for open communication. It’s hard! Navigate this in a way that is best for your individual family.
Example 3: Reflecting on Events
This may be harder for some kids. But if you have kids who love to share and talk, this is a great more open-ended option.
Start with the same simple prayer as example 1
Go around the table and ask everyone to share about their day: what they did, who they interacted with, what they learned, where they were, etc.
When they are done sharing ask, “How did you feel God’s presence during the day?”
Follow up with, “Was there a time that you struggled to feel God’s presence today?”
Close by praying over what was shared.