What happens when you’re preparing to go to sleep? Some just fall into bed exhausted and they’re ‘gone’. Others read for a while. Still others set out their necessities for the coming day. Whatever routine we might have, do we also review the day that has passed?
Conducting a review of the day is an ancient Christian discipline. Called the examen in the historic tradition, it is seen as a daily opportunity for us to take a look back on our day – not to second-guess ourselves so much as to see where God showed up in unexpected or amazing ways. It was popularized by St. Ignatius of Loyola in his Spiritual Exercises.
It often happens, though, that when we look back on the day, we do so to find fault in ourselves. “If only I had…”, or, “I shouldn’t have…”. And while discerning and confessing our sins is part of a daily review, it is not the only part – or, arguably, even the most important part.
If we take Psalm 139 as the structure for our daily examen, as Ruth Haley Barton suggests in Sacred Rhythms, we can find that a healthy process of self-examination involves, first, awakening to the presence of God: “O Lord, you have examined my heart and know everything about me” (v. 1). To experience a review of the day without experiencing the presence of God would be a graceless activity. Since we live life in the presence of God, we do well to review it in his presence, too.
Then, we celebrate our created goodness. For many of us, especially in the Reformed tradition, we move immediately to our sinful nature as fallen human beings. While our fallen nature is all too evident and not to be ignored, we do well to remember that God created us with delight. “You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body and knit me together in my mother’s womb….How precious are your thoughts about me, O God” (vv. 13, 17a). Revel in the fact that you are God’s precious child, loved unconditionally. Rejoice in the ways God loved you through the course of your day.
Finally, invite God to take a deep look inside, to reveal where you missed the mark over the course of your day. (That’s what ‘sin’ literally means: to miss the mark, as in archery.) “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life” (vv. 23-24, NLT). Sometimes, sin sneaks in so quietly that not even we notice it ourselves until we invite the Lord to point it out. And, of course, we have the promise in 1 John 1.9 that when we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness – so we can confess our sins with confidence that we will not be shamed, but renewed, when we bring them to the Lord in faith.
Awaken, celebrate, confess. Close your day with a review, an examen, and watch your relationship with the Lord develop. Even if you fall asleep in the process, at least you’ve fallen asleep in his arms!