The Examen – Mental Health Awareness Month 2021

The Examination of Conscience

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, an initiative that was first started over 60 years ago by Mental Health America. This year’s theme is “Tools2Thrive,” so we are excited to share suggestions each week of different types of prayer that can support a strong spiritual practice and a healthy mental state.

(See our earlier posts on Lectio Divina and Praying with Saints.)

This week’s tool is the Examen, which is a type of prayer described by St. Ignatius of Loyola in his Spiritual Exercises and practiced by many Christians today. In praying the Examen, we are invited to reflect on our day and identify moments, places, people, and experiences in which we experienced God. We also spend time thinking about tomorrow and where the Spirit may be leading us.

(View our detailed instructions on How to Pray the Examen.)

St. Ignatius believed that the Examen was a gift from God to be shared as widely as possible. In fact, he believed so strongly in its impact on our lives that in founding the Jesuits, he made praying the Examen a daily requirement for the entire order.

He may have been on to something. In addition to helping us feel close to God and finding God in all things in our lives, a daily habit of reflection can be incredibly powerful in strengthening our mental health. In particular, several studies have linked a practice of gratitude, a key part of the Examen, with improved mental health.

Our daily lives are full of ups and downs, and by reflecting on the moments as a whole, we are able to contextualize challenges and setbacks within the broader context of our lives and God’s presence. Practicing the Examen daily helps us to identify both the good and the bad. It then helps us to release ourselves from guilt, shame, or sorrow, and look forward to what is coming. 

RELATED: Prayers for Anxiety

Ready to try the Examen? Find it in the Hallow app under “Dailies.”

Entering into Prayer, we invite God into our daily lives.

In starting each Examen with Thanksgiving, we remind ourselves that God desires the best for us.

In Reviewing our day, we practice reflection and notice the Spirit’s presence where we otherwise may have missed it.

By Responding to God, we grow closer to God in a deeply personal way.

Looking Forward, we remind ourselves that tomorrow is a new day, and God is with us, always.

The Examen can be adapted in many ways to help us reflect on our lives within our worldly context. For example, try an Examen focused on Life After COVID-19 and where the Spirit is leading us from here. Or perhaps you’d like to try the Examen as a family – try adapting the prayer for Children and Teens.

Whatever you may be going through, doing an Examen can help you see God’s presence in your life. Practicing the Examen daily is an incredibly grounding habit that helps to build a solid foundation of strong mental health through prayer.

Note: While prayer is an important part of strong mental health, it is not a standalone solution to severe mental illness such as depression, addiction, severe anxiety, etc. If you are experiencing any of these, we urge you to reach out to a mental health professional in your area.

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