Find Peace in Holiday Chaos with This Contemplative Practice

Recite the examen prayer that can help you find peace throughout all the holiday chaos.

Do you feel the chaotic energy of the holidays taking hold?

There are meals to cook, presents to buy, social expectations to uphold, all on top of the many implications of COVID-19. Many of us are dealing with separations that are interrupting our holiday traditions. And let’s be real: the holidays aren’t an easy time for those of us dealing with grief or dysfunctional relationships.

It’s easy to feel like we are drowning and overwhelmed by it all — maybe to the point that we don’t have anything left to give in this season of generosity. We might find that as we try to pour ourselves out to others, our cups are bone-dry. We’re doing all we can to just hang on to try to “survive” the season one breath at a time.

The holiday season is a time of heightened expectation — it calls us beyond ourselves and tugs at our minds, hearts, and souls. Whether we feel that tug as playful and joyful, or painful and sorrowful, it deserves some of our attention.

A 500-year-old prayer can help us respond to that tug — it’s called “the Examen.” St. Ignatius of Loyola first articulated this prayer, which is traditionally practiced for about 15 minutes at the middle and end of one’s day. Like most contemplative prayer, it’s best to be seated and avoid distractions with some sort of silence.

Here are five steps to praying the Examen:

  1. Settle and ground yourself, becoming aware of your breathing. Become aware of God’s presence. Ask for assistance in your reflection if appropriate.
  2. Cultivate gratitude for the gift of living another day, for the miracle of creation that gives you breath and allows for your existence. Offer that gratitude to God.
  3. Review your day from the beginning and pay attention to your emotions. If something strikes you, sit with it for a while.
  4. Face your shortcomings that occurred during the day. Acknowledge those shortcomings within yourself without judgment. Don’t beat yourself up — just notice. Ask God for forgiveness and healing where you see you need it. Acknowledge where you might need to ask forgiveness from others.
  5. Look toward tomorrow and ask for the strength where you feel you need help.

Feel free to modify the format of the Examen as you see fit, or you can download the app, Reimagining the Examen, which has 34 different Examens with step-by-step guides for each one.

Again, the heart of this prayer is an examination of your experience to discover where God is present with you, and what God may be saying to you in the circumstances of your life. Taking a few moments for this kind of reflection — it’s only 15 minutes — can keep you grounded and hopeful, especially during the heightened expectation (and chaos) of the holiday season.

That heightened expectation and tug you feel during the holiday season? At the bottom of it is your desire for God — this is one way to meet that desire and find joy.

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