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Prayer Tip: God and Suffering

April 23, 2023

Daily Scripture

Genesis 1:27-28 (NRSV) & Psalm 6:6-7 (CEB)

Be honest. Have you ever felt disconnected from God? Have you ever sat down to pray and said to yourself “Nothing. I’ve got nothing to say here!”

I’m going to be honest. I’ve had those terrible days – even a few periods that were a lot longer than a day – when grief, or anger, or confusion has left me with nothing to say in prayer. Times when God’s grace and presence weren’t completely evident to me. Even though I had nothing to say, God was there. Even though I was angry, or frustrated, or frightened beyond words and thought, God was there.

There is a prayer practice that has helped me to recognize and be thankful for how God is working in my life every day. It’s called the Daily Examen, and it originates with St. Ignatius Loyola, who lived in the 5th century. The Examen is a practice that helps us reflect on the events of the day, and pulls our attention toward God’s presence in our thoughts, actions, and the events that unfold around us.

There are lots of versions of the Examen questions, and an internet search can help you find a wording that seems comfortable for you. This is the practice I follow, which can be found online here. (I find that a pen and paper help me organize and focus as I do the Examen, but it is not required. Others light a candle and focus on the light as they settle in. I have one friend who does this while walking every morning.)

Step 1: Become aware of God’s presence. Spend a few minutes getting settled and quiet. If possible, clear your mind of the jumble of thoughts competing for attention. Ask God to help you as you look back at the day, and to help you understand.

Step 2: Review the day with gratitude. Look for moments where you can see God working and the blessings you’ve received. Put aside thinking about the day in terms of what you liked and what you didn’t, and look for the small blessings and the big ones. What did the sunrise look like this morning? Did you see anything unusual? What made you smile? What made you laugh? What did you eat? Did you hear music? Who did you talk to? Who were you able to bless? What do you really see when you look at your day?

Step 3: Pay attention to your emotions. One of St. Ignatius’s great insights was that we detect the presence of the Spirit of God in the movements of our emotions. We feel a range of emotions each day. Were you excited? Happy? Bored? Angry? Jealous? Were you filled with empathy for the struggles of another person? Did you feel tired? Did something frighten you or make you anxious? What is God saying to you through these feelings?

Do you see places where you fell short, where you didn’t please God, or yourself? Take note of those things, but don’t get lost in listing them and ruminating about them. What do they mean? What could God be telling you through these emotions? Do you need to explore something new to relieve your boredom? Do you need to unload your anger by talking honestly to God, or to another person? Do you need to reach out to the person who was struggling, or to someone who understands your anxiety and wants to help?

Step 4: Choose one feature of the day and pray from it. Ask the Holy Spirit to direct you to something during the day that God thinks is particularly important. This is where the surprises come. Take down your barriers as much as you can and let the Holy Spirit show you. It might be something big – a conversation that blessed you, or an argument with someone near and dear. Or it might be something that seems like a small detail. Don’t try to control what comes to you, but pray about what comes to mind.

Ask for God’s help and guidance. Maybe you need to praise God for miracles big and small. Maybe you need to ask God for help with a situation, or maybe you need to ask forgiveness for something you said or did. The hardest part is to keep it to ONE feature of the day but do that. Quantity is not always quality.

Step 5: Look toward to tomorrow. What is coming up? How do you feel about the day to come? Are you excited? Are you worried? Ask God to help, whatever you are feeling. Ask to understand, and to be understanding. Pray for the hope and confidence that you need to move forward.

The instructions on the website end with this good advice:
“St. Ignatius encouraged people to talk to Jesus like a friend. End the Daily Examen with a conversation with Jesus. Ask forgiveness for your sins. Ask for his protection and help. Ask for his wisdom about the questions you have and the problems you face. Do all this in the spirit of gratitude. Your life is a gift, and it is adorned with gifts from God. End the Daily Examen with the Our Father.” (As Methodists, we might substitute the Lord’s Prayer for the “Our Father.”)

This practice is called the Daily Examen, and it is a valuable prayer practice to use every day. But don’t get hung up on the “Daily” part. Maybe you will use the Examen on your Sabbath to look back at your week and ahead to the next one. Maybe you will use it occasionally when you just don’t know what to pray. It’s a tool, but one that can unlock our understanding of God’s presence in every moment of our lives. I hope it blesses you as it has me.

Daily Reflection & Prayer


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Jennifer Creager

Jennifer Creager

Jennifer Creagar is the Community Assistance Coordination Director in Resurrection's Congregational Care Ministry. She is married and loves spending time with her family, and she enjoys writing and photography.

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Scripture quotations are taken from The Common English Bible ©2011. Used by permission. All rights reserved.