My wife Grace and I came to a very important decision after we brought our first son, Eddie, home from the hospital. It had nothing to do with his diet or religion or what school he eventually would attend. It had to do with video games.
We agreed we would keep our son away from video games for as long as possible. We had both spent years in front of a TV playing the likes of Super Mario Bros., Donkey Kong and dozens of other games. Good times!
But when we both looked back at our childhoods, we grimace when we think that we could have spent those hours reading, playing, or just hanging out with our family and friends.
We were very good with Eddie. Granted, some people thought we were raising him in the Amish tradition because he didn’t know what a game controller was, but we were good for four years.
And then . . .
When Grace was in the hospital delivering our second child, our son spent the night with his aunt. Unbeknownst to us, her sister introduced Eddie to Nintendo.
It was over. All the hard work of keeping Eddie ignorant of the digital world — ruined by my sister-in-law.
Over the next few months Eddie would ask me, literally every day, to buy him a Nintendo DS, a handheld computer game. I refused!
No son of mine was going to waste all his time playing video games. (Looking back, I guess I was acting like St. Augustine, who, after living a lascivious life and fathering a child out of wedlock, converted to Christianity and then said no one could ever do what he did because it was the wrong thing to do.)
Well, my son kept asking. He kept knocking at the door of my nerves until I finally caved. One day, I ordered my son a Nintendo DS from Amazon (I love Prime!).
Yet, the moment I saw that box I knew I had made a mistake. I left it in the living room as I debated — to give or not to give, that was the question. My son had no idea I had ordered the game for him and his nagging persisted.
Then I began having a God moment.
My son passed that box every day, and not once did he ever think to ask, “Hey, what’s inside the box?” He would be inches away from it. Sometimes he would run his small hand over the lettering, but at no time did he ever suspect that the thing he wanted most in life was actually already in his presence.
That box for me became God. I don’t mean it changed shape or started talking to me, and I definitely don’t mean it turned into a cardboard idol that I worshipped. But I really did see God in that box.
So many of us have this yearning to know God, to be with God, to have joy in God, and many of us go on long journeys to find him. But how many of us ever ask ourselves, is God here with me now? Is the God I desire here in the room with me? And if he is, what should I do?
Little did I know that those questions I asked myself that day form the basis of the spiritual exercise known as the Examen.
The “Examen,” an important part of St. Ignatius’s teachings, involves setting aside time to reflect on the activities and thoughts of the day. In this simple meditation, we ask ourselves primarily two questions: Where was God for me? What was my response to those encounters?
This simple, seven-step process is a gentle, and sometimes startling, way of finding God in our daily lives, and it helps us learn from our actions — and reactions. Many of us may talk a good game, we may talk about love for God and neighbor or about the gifts in our lives, but our actions say otherwise.
The “Examen” is a bit like a spiritual chiropractor, helping bring our desires into alignment with God’s will — and conversely, it helps bring our will into alignment with God’s desire.
Oh, and did I give my son the Nintendo? Of course I did. I’m a total pushover.
Many people perform the “Examen” twice a day, around lunchtime and before you go to sleep, but it can be done at any time of the day.
Step 1: Take a few moments to settle yourself. Close your eyes or take a few deep breaths. Be like water and find level.
Step 2: Remind yourself that God is all around you. He’s inside you and outside you. His heart beats in all creation.
Step 3: Ask the Holy Spirit to rise up inside you and give you the wisdom to acknowledge God in your life and the gifts that are all around you. Ask the Spirit for guidance in reviewing your actions.
Step 4: Give thanks for the day. Turn your eyes into microscopes and look for God in all things, the good and the bad. Find God in a book you’re reading, your loved ones, and even the rude bus driver who’s always barking at you, and the electric bill that arrives in the mail.
Finding God in a flower can be easy. Finding God in someone who cuts you off in traffic … well, there’s a challenge.
Step 5: Take inventory of your day. Ask questions and give honest answers. Where was God for you today? Where was God present in your actions and your thoughts? Was God silent or were you fixated on something in your mind? Did you treat someone unfairly? Lose your temper? Did you really have to send that email?
Step 6: With the help of the Holy Spirit, make it a priority to reconcile your actions. If you feel you failed, ask God for guidance, strength, and forgiveness. And if you did a good job, well, be excited and build on that gift.
Step 7: Thank God for this time together and repeat every day.
Gary Jansen is the author of “Life Everlasting” and “MicroShifts: Transforming Your Life One Step at a Time.”
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