Sometimes, it feels impossible to unwind at the end of the day. You might find that your evening routine often falls into one of two extremes:

  1. You obsessively go over all of the “mistakes” you made throughout the day, and spend the night practically paralyzed by shame or what-ifs.
  2. You still feel so overwhelmed from the day, your brain completely shuts off to anything other than doomscrolling or Netflix binging. 

It can be hard to engage in any kind of healthy rhythm of reflection when your brain leads you into a spiral at what was left undone (or done incorrectly ☠️) or anxiety about things to come.

Maybe you feel your prayer life dwindling. It feels like too much to offer anything other than a quick, obligatory, “thank you…” before trying to drift off to sleep.

Or, maybe, you’re afraid of digging deeper and taking time to actually connect with God. What about all of the things that went wrong? That you did wrong?

This isn’t an easy cycle to break… but it can be helped by discovering a rhythm of the right things to focus on from your day– the ways in which God came alongside you and was present, or the times he felt far away.

When we’re finding it hard to pray, it can be helpful to have a structure to rely on that helps guide and focus our thoughts.

Examen is an example of this helpful sort of prayer. This prayer form was developed by St. Ignatius of Loyola in the 16th century and has been practiced by Christians throughout the world for hundreds of years. The purpose of this type of prayer is to do just what so many of us struggle with: to slow down and notice God’s presence, in each and every moment of our day.

Plus, there’s nothing inherently complicated about this prayer. It’s meant to be led by your memories and emotional awareness. Of course, this can sometimes bring up some hard feelings, but the intent is not to berate yourself during these encounters. You simply ask God to meet you in these moments– past, present, and future. 

Some people try to practice Examen twice a day– around lunch, and again in the evening. Others just use this as a nighttime practice, while the day is still fresh in their minds. Find the time that will work best for your own rhythms of reflection and prayer. 

Practicing Examen regularly not only helps you draw closer to God in the everyday, but it can also help you identify patterns of health and unhealth in your life. Are there any times of day that are regularly causing you stress, or where you’re noticing patterns of sin? What about the opposite– times in which you more readily feel God’s love or the presence of peace in your life? 

Having a guided, but open, conversation with God through prayer can help us identify how the Spirit wants to move in our daily lives.

Ready to give it a try?

1. Connect.

Ask God to meet you in this moment to reflect on the day.

Try to find a quiet place, where you’ll be able to think about the day with few interruptions. Ask the Spirit to guide your reflection– not to let you get caught up in your own expectations of the day, but to come alongside you and to reveal where God has been with you and where he is calling out to you.

2. Review.

Review your day and thank God for the ways he provided for you.

Start at the beginning of the day, and go from there. Often, we’re tempted to jump to the “big” moments, but try to start with your morning. Imagine the many individual steps you took from when you got out of bed, to this very moment.

3. Reflect.

Notice the emotions of different parts of the day, positive and negative.

What brought you joy? What experiences made you feel fully alive– at peace and connected with God? The types of moments you wish could be repeated.

What troubled you? Were there any moments that left you feeling frustrated or isolated? Perhaps drained of energy or positivity?

4. Respond.

Respond to the emotion stirring in your heart– perhaps repentance, gratitude, lamentation, or intercession.

Remember that God was near to you in all of these moments. His presence was perhaps clearer in the positive moments, but he is just as near to you in the difficult. Give thanks for the moments where this was evident, and ask for grace in the experiences of trials.

5. Anticipate.

Think about tomorrow and ask for God’s guidance.

Imagine the things you’ll be doing, the people you will see, and the places you may go. 

What are you anticipating that fills you with stress? Ask God to go before you and with you into these moments– to begin preparing your heart and filling you with peace now.

How are you hoping to draw closer to God tomorrow? What are ways you can prepare to notice his presence in each moment?

What are you looking forward to tomorrow? Thank God for the grace of having this hope.