Sitting with a Choice: Discernment Through Ignatian Examen

Sitting with a Choice: Discernment Through Ignatian Examen October 10, 2019

The Ignatian Examen comes in many forms, though it's very useful in discernment. When we have a tough choice to make, looking at our lives in prayer can be extremely helpful, letting us escape the chaos to sit with God in silence and find clarity.Here’s a simple spiritual practice you can do when sitting with a choice you need to make. It’s based on the ancient practice of the Ignatian Examen, a prayer where you take a reflective look at where you are most spiritually energized and where you are least energized (and that’s just one way to do it — there are hundreds of variations, but this one is helpful for discernment).

Crafting the Question

Let’s say you are trying to decide whether or not to apply for a job you saw advertised that had an intriguing profile. Your question needs to be simple. An uncomplicated, easy-to-understand and concrete question will be more helpful in your discernment. Something like: Do I apply for this intriguing job?

Taking a Pause

Take a moment to write this question in your journal, on your smartphone, on a sticky note or index card. I prefer the index card because I can jot notes on the back of the card if need be and stick it in a book, bag or pocket.

Spend a few moments in silence, inviting God to assist you as enter this prayer practice.

Set the question aside

We’ll get back to the question in a moment, but for now, put the question away. But take note of the theme of the question. If your question is “Do I apply for this intriguing job?” the theme would be “work I enjoy doing.”

Do an Examen with the theme

Staying in a calm prayer mode, ask God to help you reflect upon:

  1. If you could relive any moment of joy and energy at work from your recent past, what would that be? Pick just one. In what moment recently did you find the most joy in work? What task were you doing? What, in particular did you like about the task? How did it make your body feel? Who were you with? Where were you? Make note of what you discover as you pray with these questions.
  1. If you could get a “do over” of any moment at work that disturbed your inner peace, what would you want to relive? Pick just one. What moment drained you of energy, frustrated you or put you on “high alert?” What task was involved? What, in particular did you dislike about the task? How did the moment make your body feel? Who were you with? Where were you? Again, make note of whatever comes to you as insight or understanding.
  1. Look over what you noticed from your moment of joy and energy, and from your moment of upset and disturbance of energy.
  1. Take some silence, asking God to offer you whatever you need: instruction, comfort, challenge, or creativity related to these two moments.

Returning to the original question

Now, pick up the question you wrote at the beginning of the exercise. How does the Prayer of Examen which you just did inform that question?

Using our example, does what you learned from praying with your high and low points at work offer you any direction on whether or not you want to apply for the intriguing job? Are you leaning more one way or another? Do you feel any more clarity on an answer?

Don’t berate yourself if the answer to those questions is no. The Examen seems to offer the most discernment assistance to those who use it regularly, so you may want to repeat this prayer daily until you reach some clarity.

If your question is time sensitive — as many job-related questions can be — you may have to decide before you have the level of clarity you really desire. But you can continue to ask yourself Examen-like questions all along the process.

It’s all about Inquiry

Reflection, a key component of the spiritual practice of discernment, is all about asking yourself the right open-ended questions. The more you use the Examen alongside key discernment questions, the more comfortable you get with deep and soul-searching inquiry.

Continue to open yourself to how God’s spirit moves in and through your questions. Discernment becomes a way of life when you do this.


Do you have questions about spiritual discernment? Spiritual direction is a good place to go if you do. You can find spiritual directors in almost all regions of North America and many throughout the world. Go to www.sdiworld.org and check its Seek and Find Guide for more.

Also, I currently have space for new directees, so if you would like to explore spiritual direction with me via phone, Skype or Zoom, shoot me an email at teresa@teresablythe.net. See more on my philosophy of spiritual direction at www.teresablythe.net.

I’d love to hear from you! And thank you for following this blog.

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