The Re-Imagined Examen

Jan 4 / Becky Grisell
As we step into 2021 I am reminded of when 2019 drew to a close and three “noticings” I had collided. The importance of the Examen as a prayer practice, how listening and discernment were foundational to my life and the value of a SWOT analysis to add clarity would set the stage for a re-imagining. Their collision in my life may prove to be useful in yours as this new year begins.

First, I noticed the meaningful and important role of the Examen. The Examen is a daily prayer exercise integral to the Spiritual Exercises created by Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits. It is a set of introspective prompts or questions to find the Holy and the Holy’s blessing and movement in the people and events of the day. The Examen uses reflection, accountability, connection, and action to deepen self-awareness and discernment.

Second, I noticed how listening and discernment became foundational pillars in my life. They were uncovering a strong desire to align my life with God’s longing for me to be happy and joyful, liberated from all that prevents me from seeing myself as God does. I noticed how easy it is for me to get on the self-improvement treadmill. The media sends a harmonized siren call of consumption and the need to improve.

You need more. You need to be more.

Spiritual growth and maturity become a self-improvement plan to move the dial on God’s love: if I were a better Christian—had more faith—prayed harder, God would love me more.

In contrast to the demanding, exhausting, and dissatisfying self-improvement treadmill, the increasing importance of grace-filled, freedom producing “invitations” of the Holy surfaced and grew. I wanted to live an invitation-based life of discernment and listening, not a life of self-improvement, social pressure, or what others expected of me.

Third, a SWOT analysis presented itself in my mind. By examining Strengths, Weakness, Opportunities, and Threats, businesses and organizations utilize a SWOT analysis to assess their current positions before deciding on new strategies.

I remembered being involved in a SWOT analysis and how beneficial this analysis was for clarifying the next steps. Recalling my experience with a SWOT analysis was unexpected and random, so I took notice.

The fruit of these three colliding was a spiritually re-imagined Examen designed to bring into the Light areas of growth, as well as areas that need watering and weeding.

A daily or weekly Examen allows for deeper personal reflection, greater accountability regarding my work and calling in the world, and truer action flowing from within myself. Monthly or quarterly Examen then reveal an arc in my life not visible in smaller pieces.

  • Strengths became Fruitfulness/Fruit-bearing;
  • Weaknesses became Struggles;
  • Opportunities became Invitations; and
  • Threats became Challenges and Resistances.

Fruitfulness / Fruit-bearing - internal character and external conduct and good works.

  • Where is my character bearing fruit? Patience? Compassion? Resilience? What’s the evidence?
  • How about my work and calling in my life?
  • What projects am I working on?
  • How about my ministry—what is happening here?

Struggles - the areas, both internal and external, of difficulties or opposition.

Where am I struggling:

  • within my own self such as with loneliness, anger, or shame?
  • in my calling and work, for example with Imposter Syndrome or lack of clarity about a project or direction in ministry?
  • with external oppositions from a person, a situation, or organization?

What might help?

Invitations - Relational, there is one who issues the invitation and one who receives the invitation.

  • Whose voice is issuing the invitation?
  • Invitations are also internal and external:

What internal invitations am I being invited to?

Is there an area that needs healing or is in bondage?

Is there area to lean into deeper faithfulness and growth?

What weeds are growing in my life that need to be removed? Perhaps an attitude or habit.

What external invitations am I being invited to?

What is the invitation for my light to shine more brightly?

How is my light wanting to be less obscured?

How is my light being invited to come to emerge?

  • Other questions I consider:

Where is the energy?

What are my intentions moving forward?

Where is the desire?

Challenges and Resistances - they reveal aspects of change which may prove inappropriate or reveal a problem.

  • Where are my points of resistance? Why is it there? Do I take notice? Do I need to let it go?
  • What fears are circling?
  • Is there a place where I need a value shift?
  • Is there a place I need a perspective shift?

It is good, hard, and holy for me to identify and name my struggles, invitations, and challenges. I am always surprised when I look at my fruitfulness. I rarely think I am doing anything — especially when it comes to my Spiritual Direction practice and writing.

Once a quarter I sit myself down and take myself through this process. When I engage with honest vulnerability, Love can be heard inviting me more fully and freely into myself and this world. I am able to move with mindful intentionality into the areas that are important and meaningful in my life. I have a greater capacity to align my life with God’s longing for me and my own uniqueness and calling in the world.

Friends, if you desire to live a life of more deeply aligned to your own uniqueness and calling, a re-imagined Examen might help. It will require you to don your cape of courage and vulnerability, drop the armor of perfection, self-sufficiency, and denial, and listen to Love’s voice. I would love to hear what you notice.

Becky Grisell

Becky is a trained Spiritual Director, writer, and founder and curator of Cascade Ministries. She places high value on being a safe person and creating a safe and sacred space to explore and connect with God’s activity in all of life. Her approach is holistic, addressing the brokenness of life while focusing on the hope of the Gospel. She received a Master of Divinity with a concentration in spiritual formation. and Doctor of Ministry in Leadership and Spiritual Formation. You can find more out about Becky at, on Facebook, or on @becky_grisell. She can be contacted directly at