Two simple questions that could change my life

Learning about the examen

I took this photo of Shaeron Caton-Rose's installation 'Mirror' at the Greenbelt Festival this weekend. I was struck by how the piece showed beauty in the brokenness.

I’ve mentioned before here how much I enjoy the Pray as you go podcasts from the Irish Jesuits. They’re based on Ignatian spirituality which is something I’ve been getting interested in this year. Serendipitously, I was at Cragg Hill Church the other week and the pastor, Gaynor, mentioned a book called ‘Sleeping with Bread‘ all about the Ignatian practice of the ‘examen’.

The ‘examen’ is a very simple spiritual discipline which you can carry out on a daily basis or use it to reflect on an event or even the past year.

It consists of two simple questions:

What has given me life today?

What has taken life away from me today?

Ignatius called these two aspects ‘consolation’ and ‘desolation’.

You simply look back over the day and consider and acknowledge all the life-giving, joy-giving things that happened. These are all, of course, a gift of God. Then you acknowledge any pain or sadness, lifting these things to God.

What I think is particularly helpful about this discipline is the acknowledgement of the good and the bad. I’m an eternal optimist. I’m not very good, therefore, at acknowledging sadness and pain. I tend to try and ‘find the good’ – even when it’s not there. Equally, I have friends who are the opposite to me. They only focus on the negatives and will always look to the downsides of things. The discipline of the examen helps both types of person to see the light and the shade of life and to see where God is at work in that.

Undertaking this kind of discipline can really help you to discern God’s guidance – especially with regard to your job or your role at Church. Is what you are doing giving you life? Which parts of your job give you joy?

I’m just starting out my journey with this discipline of the examen but I have an inkling that it really could change my life for the better.

Try it yourself

If you want to try it for yourself, there is a ‘review of the day’ mp3 here on the Pray-as-you-go website which uses the examen. This is a great introduction. The book I referred to above is brilliant, very short but a really helpful introduction to the discipline of the examen. It especially has some interesting things to say about using it as a family and with children.

Try it with others

We also tried the examen together at small group recently. I played a song and then we spent some time in silence reflecting on the last few months of our lives: what had given us life, what had drained us. We then shared this with each other and found some interesting themes coming out. It was so good to share the joys and pains of the last few months with each other and even easier to then pray into those situations: giving thanks to God for the life-giving moments and praying about the sadnesses.

Next time you’re wanting to do something a bit different at your church or in your small group, perhaps doing a form of the ‘examen’ might help? Let me know how it goes if you do try it!


  1. Hi Bryony – has anyone gone through Jesus life and see how He uses this principle. He was described as a man of sorrows yet came so that we might life life in all it’s fullness. Trust you guys are well. Do pop in if you are in South Yorkshire!


    • Hi Michael, I’m just learning about Ignatian spirituality so I can’t really answer your question . I’ll let you know if I find out though! Bryony x


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