Tag Archives: examen

What’s Saving Me: The Five Minute Journal

This week I’m over at the NEXT Church blog. This fall they’ve asked a number of leaders to respond to the question, “What is saving your ministry right now?” Here’s my offering.

What’s saving my ministry these days is a five minute journaling practice I’ve been doing each morning (and most evenings) for the past few months. I’ve tried various journaling methods off and on for years. Something about holding the pen in my hand allows me to focus my prayers in a way my monkey mind can’t do by simply sitting quietly. And now that I work from home “for myself,” I have lots of possible things vying for my attention and time. I was looking for something short and focused that could bring clarity and discernment to my day.

8Y0EDX4VP9Many of us are familiar with Julia Cameron’s morning pages, which she calls her “spiritual windshield wipers.” This practice serves the same purpose, but instead of writing stream of consciousness, I write short pithy statements. Whereas morning pages are like an epic poem, this is journaling as haiku. I adapted it from Tim Ferriss, an author and entrepreneur. He’s a little too “guru” for me, but I think he’s hit upon a good structure to get the day started with intention.

Here are the questions for the morning:

Three things for which I’m grateful:

Three things that would make this a fruitful day: These don’t have to be things I want to accomplish, but they usually are. Most of us have way more than three things on our daily to-do list, so it helps to be clear on the most essential items.

An affirmation: 
I am…
I have three kids, so “patience” shows up a lot here.

I’m curious about:
This is something I’ve added recently, thanks to Brené Brown’s work. This is often where I think about my reactions to things and wonder “What was THAT about?!” 

As for the evening practice, it is similar:

Three things to celebrate about the day:

One thing I could have done better:

Those of you who know the Ignatian examen will recognize threads of this practice in these questions. The questions are framed in terms of gratitude, and there is ample space to acknowledge the times I’ve fallen short—to see them written in my own hand, and to let those moments go—to let God absorb and hopefully transform them.

Family Rituals

I read many years ago about a pastor who gathered his family each and every morning, before school and work, for scripture reading, morning devotions and prayer.

Let’s just say that the Dana family does not follow that minister’s example. Partly because that’s not my style, and partly because it’s all I can do to get the kids and me out of the house wearing clothes that are weather-appropriate, if not actually matching one another.

But at dinnertime, we do the ancient practice of examen with one another, although none of the kids know that that’s what it’s called. The examen is a spiritual practice inspired by Ignatius. It’s simple, really, and goes by many different names: highs and lows, roses and thorns, etc.

Our lingo is to describe our favorite and least favorite moments of the day. As the kids get older we will shift the language to “what are you most/least grateful for?” and “where did you feel [God’s] love today/where did you feel disconnected from [God’s] love?” You can read more about the examen for children here. I think it’s one of the most beneficial spiritual practices out there.

It’s a very sweet, even holy, time of day. It gives us a little glimpse into our children’s lives, which is precious since they spend much of the day away from us, at school and daycare. James participates too—we’ve been giving him a turn for several months, and his answers have provided some amusing non-sequiturs. But now he is starting to get it. And it seems important for the kids to hear about the moments of grace and challenge in their parents’ lives too, though we sometimes spare them the truly gory details…

I must be honest—sometimes their energy is all over the place. Sometimes one of them has left the table before we even make it through the five of us. We get sidetracked by conversations. And there are nights when it doesn’t happen at all. But when we’re all in good space for it, it’s great.

I especially love seeing how the kids receive one another’s answers. It’s not unusual for the kids to mention one another, especially in their least favorite moment. Caroline might say, “My least favorite moment was when Margaret wouldn’t stop bugging me.”

The first time this happened, I expected protestations and pouts from the offending sibling. But there was none of that. Instead, we just hear the negative stuff and receive it, and move on. Which is really the spirit of the examen: to look lovingly at the day and to appreciate the good and to acknowledge and let go of the bad.