There’s an ancient prayer practice called “examen” with which I have a love-hate relationship. Examen is attributed to Ignatius Loyola (1491-1556), but it’s clear that he took the idea from Scripture.
As the name suggests, the practice involves examining. To do it, you prayerfully reflect on your day (or week, or other period of time) in order to recognize where God was present, and where you may have missed Him. It also involves inviting the Holy Spirit to search your heart, as the Psalmist did when he prayed, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me” (Psalm 139:23-24). You invite God to reflect on your day with you. As you do so, safe in His presence, He may bring to mind specific parts of the day—things said, done, or felt, things ignored, forgotten, or squelched. He may point out places where He was present with grace and mercy.
The benefits of such a practice can include a deeper sense of God’s presence, a closer dependence on God, and wisdom that comes by learning from mistakes. It’s all good, right? What’s there not to like?
Well, until recently, examen didn’t work well for me. My experience with examen was usually lopsided. In spite of asking the Holy Spirit to reflect with me, I still tended to focus on failures and missed opportunities, while glossing over the places where God’s grace flowed to or through me. Consequently, I would often leave the examen feeling defeated.
Obviously, that’s not how it’s supposed to work. I knew that. But I didn’t know how to move toward something more grace-filled.
Then, a few weeks ago when I was praying over Scripture one morning, God gave me a vivid image of me blessing Him with a bouquet of weeds (see “A Thousand Blessings”). He didn’t see the shortcomings of my gift—He saw my child-like heart. He saw my desire to please Him, my desire to include Him and to share something of myself with Him. And that made Him happy.
As I recalled His delight over my weed bouquet, I remembered that Corrie ten Boom, holocaust survivor and later a popular speaker, talked about a different kind of bouquet she liked to give God. At the end of every day she would reflect on kind things others said to and about her, collect them into a “bouquet,” and lift them up to the Lord in thanksgiving.
God had my attention.
I want receive both kinds of bouquets, He seemed to say. Gather the flowers I have given you through the day—undeserved grace, unasked for blessings, hopes realized, prayers answered, love given, love received—put them all into one bouquet and give them to Me with praise and thanksgiving. I have blessed you—return blessing to Me for these things and give Me joy.
He continued: Then collect your disappointments, mistakes, embarrassments, worries, and wounds. Gather them all into a “weed bouquet” and lift them to Me. Your act of trusting Me with these things also gives Me joy. And when you give them to Me, I can work with them, redeem them, and bring beauty from them.
Then He reminded me of a passage from Hebrews that I’d been pondering for a few weeks: “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God. Everything is naked and exposed before his eyes … So then, since we have a great High Priest who has entered heaven, Jesus the Son of God … let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most” (4:13-14, 16).
I realized what had been going wrong with my examens. I had been ashamed of my “weeds,” thinking He would be offended by them. I thought God only wanted roses. But He wants them all! He sees all my weed anyhow—nothing is hidden from Him. But He’s waiting for me to offer them to Him so He can pour out His mercy, grace, and help. My offering Him each day’s weeds is a sign of my trust and confidence in Him. And it is my invitation to let Him into my garden to work beauty there—one of the things He seems to enjoy doing most.