Most nights, I barrel towards bedtime like an exhausted marathoner yearning for the finish line. Each item on my to-do list is like a mile marker that I’m eager to check off as I keep moving forward. And once I’ve checked off 24 or more, I can finally rest.
The one time I actually ran a full marathon, all I wanted to do at the end was sit and breathe and be grateful and amazed that I survived. But in my daily marathon, I tend to spend those precious moments before I turn off the light in much less purposeful and intentional pursuits. I’ll be honest, bedtime is when the bulk of my screen time minutes get used up. The doom scroll catches me, and my tired mind is lulled into complacency by the never-ending ribbon of beautiful babies, adorable pets, and enviable trips of my social media friends.
I often feel vaguely guilty for the less-than-admirable ways that I use the final moments of each day. I’ve read enough self-help books to know that this time could be very powerfully utilized to grow my gratitude, set the tone for the next day, and even inform what I dream about that night. And over the years, I’ve made many resolutions to use that time better. I’ll keep up the new habit for a few days, but inevitably, after a particularly hard or exhausting day, I throw in the towel. “I deserve to rest! This is my time! I want to be done with responsibilities for today!” are the thoughts that run through my mind as I pick up my phone, and begin, once again, to scroll.
Now there’s really nothing wrong with this. It’s not a sin. And sometimes looking at funny things on the phone can be a helpful way to let my mind relax and ease into sleep. So I’m not saying that the act of being on my phone at night is a problem in and of itself. This isn’t a call to feel guilty or pressure to be perfect. This is just a realization that scrolling on my phone at night usually leads to less sleep and scrolling through social media almost always leads to less contentment.
Simply put, I feel better when I use my phone less so I’m often searching for ways to curb my screen time. I’ve tried many methods to cut down on my nighttime phone use: keeping the phone out of my room, turning my phone off an hour before bed, making strict screen time limits for myself. I’ve tackled this issue from the negative more times than I can count.
But the only time I really enjoyed and found strength and encouragement in my nighttime routine was when I learned about the examen. This is a prayer practice taught by Saint Ignatius of Loyola, and it’s practiced in Jesuit spirituality. It is a simple prayer routine that yields rich fruit.
The examen is a review of your day, a time to reflect on what happened and discover how God was at work in your world. So often our days fly by at jet speed; the examen is a way to slow things down and pay attention.
Here are the five steps of the examen:
1. Give thanks
Gratitude is a superpower. We all have access to it, but it is very easy to ignore. So, I love that the examen starts with giving thanks. This is a moment to pause, breathe deeply, and thank God for whatever pops into your mind.
2. Ask for light
Now ask God to guide your thoughts during this time of prayer. Imagine the light of God’s love shining on you right now. Then pray that God would illuminate how He was at work in, through, and around you today.
3. Examine the day
Let your day play like a movie in your mind. See yourself waking up and moving through all your daily activities. If a moment grabs your attention, stay with it for a while. Trust that God will reveal what He wants to teach you about that event. Maybe the Holy Spirit will prompt you to ask for forgiveness, give thanks again, or pray for the strength to make a different choice tomorrow. Soak in whatever lessons God brings you during this time.
4. Seek forgiveness
If your reflections revealed a sin– ask for forgiveness. Remember that “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).
5. Resolve to change
After reviewing today, what is one way you could make tomorrow better? End your prayer time by asking for God’s help and guidance for the next 24 hours.
We just passed the halfway mark of this year. I find that this time of year is a good point to evaluate and reset my goals and priorities for the next six months. My second half of the year resolution is to reincorporate the examen into my nighttime routine. I’m excited to see how God will use this simple prayer practice to strengthen, encourage, lead, and guide me.