This has not been a week of Benedictine bliss. In fact, I’ve been a failure of the Rule, hardly praying, living in the same pajamas four days straight, feeling sorry for my sickly self, and in turn, caring for the little boy I passed that sickness onto. The good news is that Benedict would be okay with that (except maybe not the feeling sorry for myself part). For all of his sixth century intensity, he was a man of grace. Even before the Rule’s first chapter he wants us to know that in all of this guidance of life he hopes to impose, “nothing harsh or burdensome.” His goal is more that it will cause our hearts to “warm to its vision” and will give us “eager love and delight that defies expression” as we seek to follow God through the Rule (RB Prologue).
So, it’s on a day like this, with no deep insight into God’s character and no heart full of profound prayers, that I’m grateful for the ancient collection of prayers I’ve grown to love and apply in my life. For this season of Lent, I’ve been using a prayer at night before bed that has become really important to me over the past few years.
It’s called an Examination of Conscience. It’s a guided prayer meditation developed by St. Ignatius as part of his prayer exercises. (You can see the book I’m using for it here.) I know, I know. Meditation is a scary word. It was to me. I was a good evangelical prayer-girl for a long time. What it means to me now is a freedom from words. It means I get to sit in God’s presence without having to come up with something to say. It means I don’t have to perform.
And the “examination” part has become important to me. I spent much of my Christian life sitting down in the morning trying to remember with what I did wrong the day before and listing those things to God in my brain, always feeling like I’d forgotten something important. This exercise has really opened my eyes to seeing my life and failures and hurtful habits in patterns and recognizing the deeper need that’s underneath what I’m doing.
My favorite part of the Examination is that it calls me to first let my heart run through the past day and thank God for the good things that came into my day, in no particular order. Then it asks that I petition God for eyes to see how those good things are making me “more fully alive to God.” I love that. I cannot look back on my day without my heart filling up for Chris and August. I can relive the pre-dinner dance party the three of us had in our living room last night. And I love that I don’t have to just stop with being thankful for them, but that I can be thankful for how God is using the daily ordinariness of our life together to make me the woman he’s always intended I be.
With my heart full like that, it’s not hard to see how I’ve lived out patterns that day that are opposed to the woman God’s making me. In my heart, the woman who spins in circles to awesome toddler music with her 20 month old and super cute husband is not the same woman who nags and blames and lives in fear. And when I speak those failures out loud to God, I can do it with relief that God is changing me, that I’m becoming more my true self every ordinary day.