Reflecting on the past month through intentional questions, flipping through the pages of my Passion Planner and journal, and setting areas of focus for the next month, has become a ritual each new month would feel incomplete without.
If you follow me on Instagram, you’re probably familiar with seeing me cross out the words ‘improve on’ and write above ‘intentionally focus on’ as I complete the monthly reflection in my passion planner. Being intentional about how I spend my time (and the language I use to reflect and set into motion things for the upcoming days, weeks and month) is a key way to ensure I don’t get lost in time; thinking I have so much of it available or feeling like there isn’t any. It’s how I ensure my priorities are set and maintained and my time divvied up to all the places that matter most.
The monthly reflection in my passion planner, while robust, doesn’t include intentional questions that invite me to really reflect specifically on my faith life; questions about if I’ve felt close or far from God, what my experiences with God and others have been like, and what I’ve noticed on my own faith journey over the past month. For these kinds of questions, the prayer of examen is a wonderful place to start.
The prayer of examen is a prayer that comes from St. Ignatius that focuses on God’s presence and activity in your everyday life. It’s a simple prayer that invites us to reflect on where we were aware of God’s presence, where we weren’t, and where we perhaps overlooked his presence in the moment but now, upon reflection, we recognize it was him. Put in its most simple form, we ‘examine’ our day for the fingerprints of God and notice our own internal and external actions that hindered or allowed us to be aware. It’s a short, easy way to reflect on your day and become more mindful about where you are experiencing grace or goodness and where there is room in your actions and life for growth.
The examen, while initially done in the afternoon and evening as a daily practice, is actually flexible and adaptive. Yes, it can be done daily, as originally intended, but it can also be done as you enter and exit a season of life (a prayer of examen while finishing school for spiritual direction training was a beautiful practice), to begin a new month, or as a part of discernment while going through a period of challenge or life change.
The framework itself is simple and a google search of ‘prayer of the examen’ will guide you to many different prayers. The questions aren’t magic, there isn’t one right prayer and one wrong one; it’s the heart of the prayer that is most important. The heart of the prayer of examen is to review your life in the presence of God and notice his presence.
Below is a prayer of examen that you can use as one month ends and a new one begins. Grab your paper planner or calendar on your smartphone, your journal to reference, and feel free to journal your responses to these questions if you’d like.
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Quiet Down. Find a safe space, close your eyes and take a few deep breaths. Acknowledge the loving presence of God here and now with you as you take time to reflect on your past month.
- As you consider the past month, perhaps flipping through the pages of your planner, calendar or journal, what moments were you most aware of God’s presence? Consider that this doesn’t mean that NOW, while reflecting, you are struck by how present God was. Try to walk through your month and notice where, as the moment themselves were unfolding, you remember being aware of God’s presence. Express gratitude for this or these moments.
- Notice if there were moments during the past month that, while you moved through the experiences of events, meetings, routines, the passing days and weeks, you were least aware of God’s presence. Express how it feels for you to notice the lack of awareness of God. Perhaps there’s sadness.
- Notice if there were moments where you felt close to God. This can be called ‘consolation’. Consolation is where you feel like you are moving closer towards God.
- Notice if there were moments where you felt distant from God. This can be called ‘desolation’. Desolation is where you feel like you are moving further away from God.
- Notice how you intentionally spent time with God this past month; did you schedule time in? Did you have a seemingly continual conversation with God? Notice the emotions that come up when you consider how you intentionally spent time with God this month?
- How is your relationship with God and journey of faith different as you end this month than it was when the month began, if at all?
- How did your relationship with God flow outwards, rippling out into how you interacted, loved and served others with your time, your talents, your resources, your prayers and the other things you have to offer?
- As you reflect on this past month with God, what do you imagine God is inviting you into for this next month?
To close, express gratitude for these moments spent with God in reflection and for his continual presence.
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These questions are all completely optional! Answer one or two of them. Notice which ones stand out to you and start there. Work through the list top to bottom or bottom to top. There’s nothing magical about the questions; their order, their phrasing. They are a jumping off point, a guiding star, on your journey of reflection as a new month begins.
I hope that these questions of reflection are a welcome addition or start to your monthly reflection and serve you as you journey with God.
Save the image below to your phone for easy reference when each new month begins!