8.2 The Examen: A God-Breathed Self-Awareness.

Listen to this!

Today’s Lectio Divina: 

Investigate my life, O God, find out everything about me; cross-examine and test me, get a clear picture of what I’m about; see for Yourself whether I’ve done anything wrong— then guide me on the road to eternal life. Psalm 139: 23-24 (MsgB)


Ignatian Truth #8: Ignatian spirituality is all about the Prayer of Examen. Self-awareness is the key prayer practice of the Exercises and an important tool for becoming a discerning, grateful person. The Examen extends beyond the Exercises, helping us develop a healthy rhythm of life; morning, afternoon and evening.


Fr. Dennis Hamm, SJ, a scripture professor at Creighton University, calls the Daily Examen “rummaging for God.” He likens it to “going through a drawer full of stuff, feeling around, looking for something that you are sure must be there.”

As I see it, King David, in his prayer we call Psalm 139, is offering a beautiful example of the Examen, where He is asking God to “rummage” with him through the drawers of his life, looking for a God-breathed self-awareness. An honest and true investigation that not only finds the source of the stinky things in David’s life but more importantly, offers a “clear picture” of what David can turn away from so he can get back on his trek with God…on the road to eternal life!

Last time, we discussed the importance of beginning every prayer of Examen with a time of thanksgiving. It’s so important for us, before entering into a time of truthful self-examination, to remind ourselves that the Lord we are coming to “is good and His mercies endure forever (Psalm 100: 5).” If we fail to soak ourselves in the goodness of the Lord, having an attitude of gratitude as we enter into the Examen, our “rummaging” of drawers will most likely produce “fruit” that reeks of self-condemnation, self-pity, and an assortment of other non-productive items that, in the long run, will pull us away from God rather than be drawn toward Him.

You see, once we solidly establish in our minds and hearts that God is in all things and that He is truly good, it becomes much easier for us to honestly “rummage” through the remnants of our day, looking for the good while never being put off by the bad and the ugly that’s there as well.

So, each prayer of Examen should begin with an awareness of God’s goodness and a heartful of gratitude, and then, once we are there, we can start the often-unenjoyable work of allowing God to show us our sinful and selfish nature. Now, please note what I just said here. We allow God to show us our stuff…not the other way around! So many times, I’ve found myself using the prayer of Examen as a time for me to gather up all of my dirty laundry so I can bring the whole basketful into God’s presence. But my mentor, Larry Warner, author of Journey With Jesus, suggests that this part of the Examen should be more of a time when I sit quietly before God, allowing Him to point out the bad stuff He wants to address today.

You see, my life, on this side of heaven, will always contain dirty laundry. Yes, Jesus is very interested in setting me free from my sinful and self-centered nature, but in all honesty, it’s His job to initiate that work and my job is to simply respond. Sadly, so many of us believe we must clean up our act first before God will work. But look again at David’s prayer in Psalm 139. He asks God to investigate his life, inviting the Holy Spirit to be the leader of this scavenger hunt.

So, relax, my friends. Giving God access to rummage through the drawers of our lives is not what you think it might be. Yes, He’s fully aware of the stinky socks and stained underwear you stuck over there in the back corner. Rest assured. He will address those issues at some time of His choosing. But today, just allow Him to have access to the whole drawer, knowing that whatever He chooses to address this day will be sufficient for both you and Him.

Here are two simple self-examination questions you might use as you open yourself up to all God might like to show you today:

  1. What situation, event, or activity today caused me to move further away from God…and why?
  2. What situation, event, or activity today caused me to move closer to God…and why?

Simply pondering on these two questions alone can be enough on your part in allowing the Holy Spirit to illuminate what He desires to reveal to you. And once God places His finger on your responses to these two questions, simply be ready, like King David, to quickly agree with anything you sense God pointing out for you. If it’s your sinful or selfish condition He wishes to address, don’t fight it, but simply receive that correction with a sincere and sorrowful heart. And if, on the other hand, God desires to point out where you did rightly choose His desires for you today, receive that in thanksgiving and go on with your third and final phase in the Examen…

An attitude of hope.

More on this third important component next time.

My prayer: Yes, Father, as I enter into the Examen, give me the attitude of David, who simply trusted You, as his loving Father, to point out those areas of his life that were serving as obstacles on his road to eternal life. So, Jesus, I see that pair of dirty socks in the corner of my drawer, but today, if it’s Your desire to talk about some loose threads on one of my shirts, I’m OK with that. I want to be about those things that are of interest to You today. Let’s talk. For Your name’s sake. Amen.

My questions to ponder: Can I release myself from the mindset that the Examen must include every bit of dirty laundry that’s hiding in the drawers of my life? Can I be content to know that Jesus has His agenda in investigating my life and I can freely go with Him, knowing that in all these things, there will be mercy and grace awaiting me as I agree with His wisdom, repenting for those things that keep me from receiving, in full, His eternal life?

How are you experiencing God as you ponder on these Ignatian truths today? 


Over a period of twelve weeks (3 sessions per week), we will take this journey into Iggy’s Biggies, contemplating twelve foundational truths found within the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius. We suggest you bookmark our blog series homepage to keep all the writings in one place for your future reference. Take note that each blog session begins with a short scripture reading. My suggestion is that you don’t hurry through, or skip the text, but treat it as a Lectio Divina reading where you slow down and sit a bit with God’s Word, allowing it to penetrate and influence you as you read.

If you’ve never journeyed through the Exercises, might I suggest that you find a qualified spiritual director and ask them to accompany you along the way? Here at The Contemplative Activist, we can offer a good number of highly qualified folks to do just that.

Oh, and if you enjoy what you’re reading here, we encourage you to share this page and our website, The Contemplative Activistwith your friends! 

Click here to go on to the next blog/podcast in this series…

1 thought on “8.2 The Examen: A God-Breathed Self-Awareness.

  1. Pingback: 8.1 The Examen: An Attitude of Gratitude. | The Contemplative Activist

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