The Practice of Evening Examen
There are plenty of times in my morning devotions when I will feel the guilt of yesterday’s transgressions. If I’m honest, it can become a rote feeling of confession because it is already so far removed from the acts themselves. The next morning is a great time to reflect, but I continue to wonder if there is a better way for me to deal with my daily sins.
Actually, I already know the answer. One of the keys to my doctoral studies was a deep exposure to Ignatian spirituality. I find the desert fathers fascinating and the mystics inspiring. St. Ignatius is the father of the “examen.” In its most simple form, this practice, when done in the evenings, can be broken down to simple questions relating to your times of closeness and distance from God.
I find this practice most useful when I include recognition of my sins of the day and the seeking of forgiveness. It is a journey to my inmost sincerity and leads to powerful moments of honesty with God in conversation. It is important for my soul to experience this confession and contrition without giving my sins time to generate their excuses in my sleep and come prepared for battle in the morning.
When I do wait and skip the evening examen, I notice how easy it is to simply write off my transgressions. “That was yesterday and all I need to do is be better in my actions today. God knows this is my promise.” Sentiments like that avoid taking responsibility for our deeds and laugh off the need to deal with them. To simply conclude within myself that “I know I was wrong but God gets me and knows I’ll try harder today” do not satisfy my true inner longings to be closer to God. It makes no sense for me to say to God that I know he will be alright if I simply try to do better the next time.
This leads to a pattern of acceptance of the things my innermost Christian self knows to be wrong. It removes the need for the practice of searching one’s soul deeply as Scriptures implore us to do. It causes us to dodge the one feeling of dread that is most unpleasant yet necessary: guilt.
Confession is never easy. Remorse is something we learn early in life to be a horrifying experience. We quickly teach ourselves to justify our comings and goings that do not please God and grow a layer of callousness over our hearts. This callous shields us from the pain of guilt and remorse. If we do not have a raw experience with those feelings, bypassing them becomes something we pride ourselves for having achieved it. If I don’t feel guilty about yesterday’s sins, then all is well in my soul. This is not only possible, but when it becomes the rhythm of your spiritual life, growth is stymied. It resembles the parable of the sower where the seeds fell among the thorns (Mt. 13:7). But in this case, we invite the thorns to rise up and apply steady chokeholds on our spirits.
People who truly want to grow in their faith should consider an evening examen. Its purpose is not to make you remorseful or to fill you with regret over your times of neglecting the closeness of God. But it does give you an instant look into what has transpired on that particular day. Celebrate where you lived in the nearness of God. Recognize the times you chose not to. Honestly confess the moments you screwed up. And experience the pure joy of God’s forgiveness.
Here are some questions that might help you get started. Ask these before you close down your heart and mind for the evening.
• When today did I feel close to God?
• When today did I ignore God’s presence?
• What actions or sins did I commit today that were not pleasing to God?
• Lord, hear my prayer as I confess today’s shortcomings.
• How do I feel now that I have experienced God’s forgiveness?
Try this tonight. My guess is that it will feel awkward the first few times. Your questions may be different than what I’ve expressed. Good. You need to make this your own practice. My hunch is that you will find yourself sleeping better and will have a more freeing experience in your next morning’s quiet time.
Your intentionality in this practice should result in spiritual growth. That is what you want in life, right?