Sisters and Brothers,
Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep
I Pray The Lord My Soul To Keep
If I Should Die Before I Wake
I Pray The Lord My Soul To Take
This was one of the very first prayers I learned as a child, a prayer for the end of the day. Of course, the odds of a healthy child dying in his sleep were pretty small and worrying that I might die didn’t exactly help me get to sleep.
So I have another end-of-day spiritual discipline to suggest to you – one that isn’t quite so morbid. It’s called the Examen. Developed by St. Ignatius of Loyola in the 16th century, the Examen is a spiritual tool for reflecting on the day as it draws to a close. It makes a great prayer as you lie in bed and drift off to sleep.
There are five steps to the Examen:
First, invoke God. Become aware of the presence of God within you and around you. Ask the Spirit to guide you through this process of reflection, to give clarity to your memory and honesty to your evaluation.
Second, give thanks. The day you just lived was a gift from God; be thankful for it. Recall the good things that happened and be intentional about thinking God for the many ways you were blessed. Think especially about those small blessings which we all too often overlook – a smile from a stranger, a compliment, a nice meal.
Third, face your shortcomings. Asking God to guide you, recall everything that you did, said, and felt throughout the day and recognize those times when your actions were not in accordance with God’s will or up to your own potential. Be honest. Remember that, even though you may do things that are bad, you were created in God’s image and pronounced “very good.”
Fourth, ask God for forgiveness and healing. Offer a prayer of confession for your shortcomings throughout the day. Ask for God to forgive you, and ask for God’s help to change. Ask for clarity about things that happened that still doesn’t make sense. Let the Spirit guide you.
Finally, look forward to the day ahead. Ask God to give you strength and peace and wisdom to face the challenges of tomorrow. As you do, pay attention to your feelings. Are you excited about tomorrow? Are you nervous? Let these feelings guide your prayer.
The Examen has become my new favorite bedtime prayer, and I hope that you’ll try it and find it helpful as you close the day. It has the added benefit of not scaring your kids.
Rev. Dustin Bartlett