If you have spent the last weeks or months in quarantine, you may feel as though you have lost all concept of time. Without the typical rhythms and rituals of your week, the days can run together and every day can feel the same. You may feel yourself slipping into a complacency, or even depression, because it feels as though there is nothing to work toward. But God has given you this one life, and the current crisis shows us that we shouldn’t take that life for granted. So what can you do to make the most of every day?
Fr. JP Mitchell, a priest of Opus Dei, recently stopped by The Inner Life® to discuss the practice of the daily examen, and how it can change our perspective so that we don’t take any day for granted. The daily examen, or examination of conscience, is a short prayer usually done for 15 or 20 minutes at the end of the day. It is perhaps best known from the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, and is an opportunity to look back at the day and to notice God’s presence in it.
“We’re talking about a joint reflection, a joint examination of our day,” Fr. Mitchell said. “When I say joint I mean with God. That’s not me, by myself, doing a psychoanalysis of the day. It’s looking at our day with God, to see our day a little more from his eyes. What to be grateful for, what to grow from, what to be sorry for.”
“If I were to summarize it in just a couple words, I’d say the examen helps us to be grateful, helps us to be sorry, and then to resolve to improve in something.”
Often we can get to the end of the day (particularly a bad day!) and think, “Well, glad that’s over with.” But if we don’t take the time to connect with the Lord, thank him for the ways in which he blessed our day, tell him we are sorry for the times we fell, and see how he wants to help us improve, we’ll just be spinning our wheels and not really growing.
“We’re human,” Fr. Mitchell acknowledged. “And so sometimes we can forget, or we can stray off the path a little bit. So we want to look at it with him and not to be afraid, because he’s a loving Father. He’ll show us areas that we can improve in.”
And Fr. Mitchell pointed out that it is particularly those hard days when we are most likely to put our prayer time on the back burner. But if we take just a short amount of time before we fall asleep to connect with the Lord, we can better face the next day with hope and purpose.
“If the day doesn’t go well, and let’s say we didn’t live those things that we try to live – like that time of prayer, or the Chaplet, or the Rosary. We didn’t do anything. At the very least do the examen,” he suggested. “Because it’s there that we have that moment to begin again, to say, ‘Lord, thank you. Lord, I’m sorry.’ And it’s a springboard to have a resolution for the next day.”
Another way the examen is helpful is that it keeps you accountable and helps remind you of your priorities and the life you want to be living every day. If you look back at your day and you see that you did things you’re not proud of you can ask yourself, and ask the Lord, ‘”Why did I do that?” Reflecting on that with the Lord is how you can begin again every day to become the person he created you to be.
“Otherwise we can spiral,” Fr. Mitchell pointed out. “We get in the habit of not doing those things, of not doing the examen, of not beginning again, and beginning again. It’s so important for the interior life. It’s kind of the name of the game, you know? And the examen helps us do that.”
“When we see that things aren’t going well, we just kind of say, ‘Well, what’s the use? And the examen is an encounter with God, our loving Father, who always forgives and always picks us up.”