Between band practices, soccer games, archery club, homework, and volunteer activities, our gang has been hopping. In between the large stretches of crazy here, I have been trying very hard to practice a 500 year old prayer technique developed by St. Ignatius of Loyola. Before you raise your eyebrows, let me tell you that St. Ignatius might have been a soldier-turned-priest, but he really had a lot of good insights on parenting. Perhaps starting and taking care of the Jesuit Order was similar to starting and taking care of a family. If you want to check this theory out, I highly recommend the book, The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything, by James Martin, SJ. I found the parts about dealing with difficult people and making good decisions to be true parenting gold.
But it is the Examen that is changing me the most, slowly, slowly, slowly, as a parent. The Examen is a 15 minute prayer routine developed by St. Ignatius to be done once or twice a day by anyone and everyone. The key to getting a lot out of it is to do it every day. If you do, you will begin to see all sorts of patterns in your life as a person and parent. And then things start to get very interesting.
The Examen has five parts outlined by St. Ignatius and well described by Fr. Martin. Here is how I pray it (apologies to St. Ignatius and Fr. Martin for any mistakes I may make here in description).
First, you ask Holy Spirit to help you pray well. I try to quiet down the thoughts in my head to focus on talking to God. Second, you thank God for the gifts of the day. You are supposed to take a moment to remember and savor the sweet things, like little pats on the back your seven year old gave you when you were mad, the fact that your surly teens are healthy and able to make you crazy (recognizing not all parents are so lucky), the stolen moment watching the goldfinch eating seeds from your neglected garden.
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Third, you review the day in your mind looking especially at times when you felt especially close to God and times when you ran away from God. I know God was there when I held my temper. I know I was moving away from God in moments when I allowed anxiety and fear to take over my thoughts and actions.
Fourth, you ask forgiveness for the times you moved away from God. You thank God for the moments of grace. And you figure out if there are others (for me, there usually are!) you need to apologize to the next day.
Fifth, you ask for help in the coming day to do better. Are there particular things I can do to make the next day a better one? I ask for insight to see those steps and help to do them.
Finally, St. Ignatius says you should end with the Lord’s Prayer.
Here is what I have found in doing the Examen fairly badly (I admit I often fall asleep in the middle, but I do finish up in the morning) on fairly regular basis. First, saying thank you every day for things changes your perspective. It does make it easier to “see God in all things” as St. Ignatius said. I can now see God in weird things like root canals (Thanks for a good dentist and two hours to just lie still and listen to my iPod!) and teens slamming doors (Thank you that she is healthy enough to do that and that we have a home she can do it in).
It also helps me recognize patterns. I went through several days of blowing up at my kids before I recognized it was because I was tired. I just needed to go to bed earlier. Well, duh, you say! But here, is the thing, so often as parents we are running around from one obligation to the next that we don’t have or take time to connect the most obvious of dots. The Examen has helped me do that and improve some things.
The other major thing that has changed is that I have had to become a more forgiving person and parent. Day after day, I find myself making the same mistakes and asking for the same forgiveness and help. So when my kids do something they have been told 642 times not to do, I can’t just lecture any more. I have to take their apologies seriously. I have to take a deep breath and say, “It’s okay. I forgive you. Let’s just try really hard not to do it again.”
So that is what has been going on around here each day. About 7 hours of sleep, 16 hours and 45 minutes of running around like a chicken with its head cut off, and 15 minutes or so to stop, take a breath, and put it all into perspective.