Test me, LORD, and try me, examine my heart and my mind;
Rarely when I am anxious or angry is it for the reasons that I first think.
My initial reaction is to blame external circumstances but usually these reactions flow from within rather than from what has captured my attention outside. My anxious thoughts and jagged emotions actually serve to distract me from examining my heart. It hurts less to assume that my unsettledness results from external circumstances than to discover that I need to change.
Early on children find similar ways to protect their hearts and learn to use their emotions, thoughts and behaviors as shields – and even weapons. They fight when frustrated; act mean when they wish to be included; withdraw to avoid criticism; put on a “know it all” mask to hide deep feelings of inadequacy; feign an “I don’t care” attitude when they fear failure. As children age, they need to learn how to see past these protective layers and be vulnerable and open to the work God wants to do in their own hearts.
To examine one’s heart is difficult for adults and even more so for children.
It’s easy however to develop the habitual style of examining external factors. We read the scriptures and evaluate them rather than allowing the scriptures to evaluate us. We hear genuine testimonies in the lives of others, but ignore reading the tablet God is writing on our own hearts. We examine others and judge them. We examine circumstances and grow weary and discontent. We rationalize. Blame. Accuse. Anything to keep our focus off our own hearts out of which flows the real issues of life. (Proverbs 4:23)
Yet, what we hunger for deep inside – and perhaps more than anything else – is to be known and to really know ourselves! We fear this at the same time! What if who I really am is “not enough” to be accepted or loved? This willingness to be authentic is the path to wholeheartedness; to being fully alive.
To do so we must learn to practice a daily habit of self-examination. Then small issues won’t grow into big issues and our hearts will remain light and receptive to the Holy Spirit.
St. Ignatius (1491-1556) made what he called the “Daily Examen” a part of his life.
His practice consisted of reviewing the history of each day in order to appraise his heart so that he would be cognizant of what poured forth from it during the course of the day. He found that examining a day at its close gave tomorrow a greater conscientiousness. This is a version of what St. Ignatius practiced:
- At the beginning of the day, become aware of God’s presence.
- At the end of the day, review it with gratitude.
- Pay attention to the emotions you experienced in the course of the day.
- Choose one and pray through it.
- Look forward to tomorrow.
Each day needs a thoughtful beginning and each day needs contemplative closure. So bookend each day with God with this simple liturgy by which to examine the gift of 24 hours and what occurred within your heart throughout the course of the day.