Discernment is not just an activity one engages with when we are seeking clarity on the big decisions of life such as: “Should I marry Bob? Or “Should I move to California to take this specific job? Or, “Should I attend this church or that church.
”Discernment begins with practicing experiencing God each and every day. The foundation of all discernment is the belief that God cares about the day to day “business” of our every day life. Discernment helps us to see and experience God in all things.Dailiness is where the wheel hits the road of our lives and it is in the mundane stuff of our daily lives as well as the significant events that happen to us in our days where we long for our own transformation. We want to see God at work, don’t we? Don’t we want to witness the movements of God in our every day lives? It is also where we have the opportunity to grow in our own awareness that God is moving and at work—whether we are aware of God’s movement or not. Our goal in discernment is to grow in our awareness—to wake up, so that we do not miss what God is up to in our lives and in our world. Just as Jeremiah told us that God’s mercies are “new every morning,” (Lamentations 3:23), our invitation is to be aware of these new mercies.
We become aware by practicing discernment. Awareness is the key to a life of discernment and we become aware by practicing discerning what God is up to in our lives on a daily basis. As we all know, it's too easy to move swiftly through our lives without a thought of God. We get consumed in the dailiness of our busy lives--blind to what God is doing--or wanting to do in us and through us.It is here, that Ignatius of Loyola, long ago, offered us a daily exercise whereby we could examine our day and trace God’s movement in our own lives and the circumstances of our days. As we learn to trace God’s movement in our souls, we learn to practice discernment—by sifting through our feelings, facts, impressions and God’s leading us towards being consoled by peace and a deep sense of shalom within us.
This exercise is called, “The Daily Examen.” Ignatius believed that the idea of this exercise originated with God and he trained those he led in discernment to “do” the Daily Examen, twice a day—one time in the morning and one time in the evening. For beginners, I suggest one time a day. Ignatius said that the Daily Examen prayer was so important and vital that if all other forms of prayer were neglected in one’s life, then the Daily Examen should be always practiced—never neglected. Ignatius boldly said if people would practice the “Daily Examen” then their life would be changed.
As I’ve learned to practice the old ways of examining my own days, I can say beyond any doubt that my own life has been changed and so deeply impacted. That now I can’t imagine how I ever made decisions before. I’m an advocate. I'm a believer. I’m convinced of the depth, sincerity and wisdom in this manner of experiencing discernment.
Over the centuries, the Daily Examen has stood the test of time and proven to be a valuable tool for those who practice this. It is the key to understanding discernment. You learn to first, discern you day—then you learn to discern your next steps. But the key is learning to discern the movement of God in our souls on a daily basis.
Annie Dillard, the prolific American writer reminds us, “How we live our days is how we live our lives.” Discernment begins with the day and unfolds as a practice we incorporate for our lives and for our decisions we are making for our families; work issues, church matters and more.In my year of discernment. I practiced the Daily Examen once a day and tried to do it most days of the week. It is precisely here that I learned how to notice, become aware and wake up to the fact that God was moving in my life—in my soul and giving me the ability to pay closer attention, than I ever knew I could—how to trace his Spirit working in me—leading me, guiding me, pursuing me and blessing me.
How the Daily Examen Works. Practicing the Daily Examen is like reviewing the past 24 hours of your day in a sort of video clip manner. You “look” back through your day, reviewing your day in categories to help you discern where you experienced God in our midst and day and where God felt absent or distant. While there are many different forms of the Daily Examen, there are always five essential sections that together, form our ability to be able to trace God’s movement in our past 24 hours.
Here are the five key themes to that make up the Daily Examen
The idea here is to actually take a few moments at each of these steps--and in silence--to allow oneself to connect with their inner world--their soul and to sense what God is saying to us in our souls.
Prayer for Awareness of God’s Presence in this time. Consent to the Presence of God. Ask for God’s help to let you see your past day as God sees it. What gifts have you been given?
Give Thanks. Gratitude helps us to find God in all things, places and people. Where has God been working in your day and life? Try to express your blessings and express your heart in thanksgiving over the past 24 hours.
Review your feelings in terms of Consolation and Desolation. Consolation (the Beautiful) are the places where you experienced joy, happiness, peace, satisfaction, blessing, well-being in your day. Desolation (the Brutal) are the events which caused anxiety, self-preoccupation, distress, fear, upset feelings. Notice the interior movements and trace God’s hand through each movement of consolation/desolation.
Seek Forgiveness. Ask for God’s forgiveness in areas you blew it, messed up, sinned or held special help in a particular area. Where was I not attentive to God’s spirit.
Look to Tomorrow. Invite God’s blessing on your upcoming day. Be specific to mention particular areas where you already know you need guidance, direction and blessing.
The Daily Examen is for our individual way of praying and fostering intimacy with God through our prayer. But the Daily Examen is also a beautiful tool for couples to learn to pray together and for families to practice together.
Bill and Joan's Story with the Daily Examen. When we introduced Bill and Joan to the Daily Examen, they had never heard of it. We introduced it to them because they wanted to develop their spiritual life and share in a greater sense of intimacy with God with each other. Though both were Christians, they shared that they rarely, if ever really prayed together. We explained how to do it and then Gwen and I led them to do it for the first time.
We took a couple of minutes just to be still; to allow some transition from our talking together to allow silence to be a portal for us to allow our hearts to center and focus (Step One).
Then we moved into expressing our hearts of gratitude. I asked, “Where in our last 24 hours did we see God moving and working that moved us to be grateful and to share, but not elaborate in paragraphs. Just to speak a few sentences. Joan started. She said, “When I was walking on a trail yesterday, I noticed a red fox scurrying ahead of me. I’ve never seen a fox before because we live in the city. It made me smile. I’m thankful for the fox.” Bill shared, “When I was reading the chapter in the book you asked me to read, I saw myself in those pages. What happened to that man in the book—was happening to me. It made me thankful and I realized that I really am not alone in my story. (Step 2).
As I explained the third step of the Daily Examen---what consolation and desolation might look like, we paused in silence and each of us began to share how they experienced the consolation of God and where in their day that they experienced the desolation. It was a beautiful time. We did not elaborate or ask questions of each other. We were careful to listen—to deeply listen to the precise words that each of us shared in opening our own hearts to one another. Bill and Joan were not aware of what each of them shared about how they experienced a sense of desolation in a conversation that happened over dinner when they were alone in the cabin—but both shared the same conversation gave them a sense of desolation. By sharing this, they each had a window—a sort of portal into the heart of each other realizing for the first time that their words and the inflection in their words with each other caused some feelings of desolation to surface. (Step 3)
Through their sharing, Bill and Joan created a deep place of intimacy—“into-me-see” where they both shared they felt heard; listened to and connected to one another. They told us that this single exercise had "revolutionized" their marriage.
We've seen this happen time and time again and for Gwen and me personally, we give a witness that we, too, have been changed and drawn closer by our using this exercise at dinner time or at bedtime. We don't try to comment long when we do this together. We simply try to listen. When something comes up that one of us wants to comment on, we simply say, "Let's dig into this tomorrow. Let's just rest in what we have shared."