“Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil.” (Eph. 4:26,27 ESV)
Our culture is in something of an emotional renaissance. There is an interest in emotional health and integration that has not been seen for several generations; one only needs to peruse social media to see the meteoric rise in conversation and resources directed towards better knowing our own hearts. The lack of emotional understanding has left many of us at the extremes of our relationships to our feelings - we are either dominated by assuming what we feel in the moment is completely true, or we are suppressive and therefore incapable of feeling freely.
This is certainly true in christian culture, as we haven’t always recognized the goal of the christian life is emotional freedom, not control or suppression of our God-given capacities to feel deeply. It is no longer sufficient to present a gospel message that only promises us eternal security without affecting our present realities. Our modern challenge in the Church is not simply to learn to feel more; it is to learn emotional intelligence as a way to listen to what God is saying.
Saint Ignatius of Loyola recognized the need for a fuller perspective of God’s saving graces in every aspect of the human experience. Born in the Basque region of Spain in the late 1400’s, Ignatius founded the Society of Jesus (also known as the Jesuits) as a new religious order devoted to education. One of the key spiritual practices developed for this adherents is the Daily Examen, a reflective meditation that reviews the past day with the help of the Holy Spirit to “read” each moment for God’s deeper revelations of where He was and what He is saying. Jesuits practice this form of prayer once at lunchtime, and again at the end of the day.
Get in a quiet space, and prayerfully work through these five simple steps on your own time. You may want to keep a journal for the purposes of tracking what God says to you through the Examen.
1. Become aware of God’s presence. Ask, “where were You today?” as you reflect. You may need to invite the Holy Spirit to bring clarity and focus to the order of events if you feel blurry.
2. Review the day with gratitude. Focus on the day’s small gifts and delights. Pay special attention to moments of giving and receiving - God is in the details, and all good things come from Him. Laying a foundation of gratitude is necessary to give you the courage to confront more difficult emotions.
3. Pay attention to your emotions. Read correctly, our emotions will reveal how God was moving through our stories in each event of the day. How were you feeling moment-to-moment? What is God saying through these feelings? Don’t jump to conclusions based on “good” or “bad” feelings; for example, a sense of frustration or anger may actually reveal a God-given desire for justice to be done.
4. Choose one feature of the day and pray from it. Ask the Holy Spirit to highlight one specific feeling from the day to pray from. This may lead you to various forms of prayer intercession for a person close to you, petition for God’s help in making decisions, gratitude for His good gifts, and so on.
5. Look toward tomorrow. Ask God to prepare you for whatever comes next. What feelings arise when you consider the future? Let them guide you to prayer - help, guidance, hope, etc.