Knowing the Self That is Known by God
Updated: Aug 10, 2020
There are many, many issues that we are grappling with as human beings right now. The COVID-19 pandemic, political polarization, social unrest, and racial injustice… just to name a few. I continue to seek ways of addressing these matters in my life with God through the practice of spiritual disciplines of intercession and petition, solitude and silence, cultivating a restful heart, and praying the welcoming prayer. Recently, I’ve noticed the Lord inviting me into another helpful spiritual practice for times like these: the Prayer of Examen.
In her book Sacred Rhythms, Ruth Haley Barton writes, “There comes a time in the spiritual life when one of the major things God is up to is to lovingly help us see ourselves more clearly.” The Prayer of Examen is a spiritual discipline that ushers us into God’s presence for just that purpose – to see ourselves more clearly in the light of His grace. A Christian practice that developed in the sixteenth century, the Prayer of Examen is a way of reviewing our day in the presence of God. The heart of the practice is to become more aware of and sensitive to the Holy Spirit in our lives.
The spiritual discipline of the Examen is one in which we open ourselves to the Spirit of God to reveal both our belovedness in Him as well as our brokenness apart from Him. Most of us are not keen to engage in anything in life or in spirituality that brings our flaws and sin into the light. Therefore, the practice of the Examen must always begin with full awareness of the presence of our Triune God who is our Father, Redeemer, and Holy Spirit dwelling within us. It is essential that we understand and see ourselves as fully and irrevocably loved while being utterly and completely known. Seeing ourselves through the lens of Christ’s sacrificial love is crucial in the practice of the Examen.
The beauty of the Prayer of Examen is in its simplicity. It is a practice that invites increasing awareness of God and growing awareness of self. For those of you who may not be familiar with the Prayer of Examen, the traditional names for the two basic aspects of this prayer are: 1) the examen of consciousness (awareness of God) and 2) the examen of conscience (awareness of self).
In the first step of this prayer, the examen of consciousness, our intention is God-awareness – an awareness to His infinite, loving presence. We invite God to show us how He was present with us throughout the day and our response to His presence with us. (Psalm 139:1-10)
The second part of the prayer, the examen of conscience, is the most challenging and one that I often cringe at the thought of – inviting God to grow me in self-awareness – an awareness of who I am as God knows me. In this step, we engage in the process of inviting the Lord to search our hearts to the depths so that we may *know the self that is known by God. (Psalm 139:23-24).
As difficult as it might be for me at times, engaging in the process of self-awareness with God always results in a new realm of intimacy with Him. There is an ebb and flow to the intimately loving ways the Spirit both draws us to awareness of His passion for us and also to awareness of our sin - the areas in which our thoughts and actions are not formed into the image of Christ. The Prayer of Examen is one in which we become aware of the loving voice of Jesus meeting us in the places of our brokenness. And it is in those places that we become most aware of our desperate need for Him.
The Lord has highlighted Psalm 85:8-9 to me this week. “Now I’ll listen carefully for your voice and wait to hear whatever you say. Let me hear your promise of peace— the message every one of your godly lovers longs to hear. Don’t let us in our ignorance turn back from following you. For I know your power and presence shines on all your lovers. Your glory always hovers over all who bow low before you.” (Psalms 85:8-9 TPT) As I practice the Examen, the desire of my heart is to meet Him in humility, to hear Him speak, and to follow Him in all my ways as I grow in love and yearning for more awareness of His Spirit actively present in my life.
There are many ways to practice the Prayer of Examen, whether daily, weekly, or monthly. It is also a way to engage in conversation with the Lord around specific areas of our lives. As a spiritual director, the Examen is a way I regularly review my practice of spiritual direction. How might the Lord meet you as you engage in the process of reviewing your work, your ministry, or your relationships with others by asking these questions: 1) when was I most aware of God’s presence in…? 2) when was I least attentive to God’s presence in…? Next, invite the Spirit of God to reveal your brokenness in this area – sins of commission as well as omission. Then, fully free of anything that might come between you and the Lord, offer your praise and gratitude to Him.
Below is a prayer that can be used as a template for the spiritual discipline of the Examen. May the Spirit of Christ guide you in growing humility, trust, and faith in the all-consuming love of God as you enter into quiet presence with Him.
A Prayer of Examen
Lord, bring to my awareness Your presence with me over the last twenty-four hours. Let me notice what you would to call to my attention. Let me see my response to your presence throughout the day. What was my awareness to you in the moment? Where did I lack awareness and responsiveness to your presence?
Lord, my conscience needs to be pricked. I desire so much to be formed into the image of Christ. You are the only one I can trust with this tender part of me. I want so much to please you and yet I fall countless times throughout the day. It hurts to know that I fail, yet I know you have no expectation for perfection - only for honesty and humility in our relationship. God, in your compassion for me and out of your desire to form me into the image of Christ, reveal to me my sins so that I may confess, ask for and receive your forgiveness. I invite you to show me what you already know about me. I want nothing to come between us. Your faithfulness, mercy, and forgiveness free me.
Father, Son, and Spirit, now in freedom and lightness I offer my greatest love, my most passionate praise, and my heartfelt thanksgiving to You.
*The title for this blog post comes from one of my favorite quotes, “Knowing ourselves must therefore begin by knowing the self that is known by God.” The Gift of Being Yourself, David Benner
This blog is one in a series of blogs, Spiritual Disciplines for Times Like These.
Sacred Rhythms, Ruth Haley Barton
Prayer: Finding the Heart's True Home, Richard Foster