Yesterday was a day for quiet reflection and family. Today is a day for hustle, for shopping and spending and “saving.”
What does it say about our culture (and our hearts) that our biggest shopping day of the year comes directly on the heels of a day when we purport to be thankful for what we have?
Perhaps the answer lies in the question—it is, after all, one day a year when we concentrate on gratitude. One single day. The nature of our days—of the culture we’re surrounded in—is to be always shown what we do not have. And our heart response is often to give ourselves over to desire. To counter consumerism with one day a year of intentional thanksgiving is certainly not enough. Thanksgiving must be a lifestyle, a daily exercise of reflection and prayer for it to really take hold in our hearts.
When St. Ignatius of Loyola founded his Jesuit order in the 1500s, he brought his previous life as a warrior to its formation. Those who joined the order agreed to be part of a “company” that belonged to Jesus. They considered themselves “soldiers of God.” They agreed to serve beneath the “banner of the cross.”
The Jesuits are the ones for whom the Sunday school song “I’m in the Lord’s Army” seems most fitting.
St. Ignatius also gifted his famous Spiritual Exercises to the Jesuit order upon its founding. He wrote them while living in a cave—yes, a cave—not long after his conversion to Christianity, when he had several mystical experiences and had dedicated himself to live as an ascetic along the lines of St. Francis.
The Spiritual Exercises guide a follower of Jesus through a series of contemplative prayer experiences over the course of about 30 days, with the intent to enkindle a person’s heart and render them a more faithful and devout follower of Jesus.
St. Ignatius was a rather intense spiritual father to his followers, you might say.
But amidst all his rules and expectations, Ignatius made room for mercy. If there was no more one could do in a single day, he said to his followers, at least make room for a prayerful review of the day.
This prayerful review of the day came to be called the prayer of examen, and it is a simple practice intended for each day’s end that includes reflecting quietly upon the events of the day with an intent to see God’s presence and activity in it.
A review of the events of the day to find God’s presence and activity in it. This is what St. Ignatius, a former warrior and diligent spiritual father, affirmed as the most important activity a person could complete in a single day—the one activity a person should not fail to do.
Why? What’s so special about a review of the day?
I believe the answer is gratitude.
I first practiced this review of the day about four years ago. The one thing I still remember about that very first day I tried it is that the day included a visit to an insurance office. I drove across town to ask an insurance agent to inspect my car so I could validate the car insurance premium I’d just purchased online for cost-saving purposes.
The insurance agent didn’t want to be bothered. I wasn’t his client, and my car didn’t indicate I had much wealth or prospect for additional business. Even still, after completing the inspection with hardly a word or a glance in my direction, he tried to sell me on his agency’s services. He pointed out the benefits of switching to a local office, and he used scare tactics to sell me on renter’s insurance.
I left the insurance office feeling like I’d first been dismissed and then been used, and by the end of it, I was steaming mad. Pulling out of the parking lot, I was so preoccupied with my anger that I nearly missed being hit by a car.
At the end of that day, when I sat down to complete the review of the day I’d told someone I would try, I considered: Where had God been present that day?
Clearly, in saving me from that car accident. Thank you, God.
I wanted to skip right over the encounter with the insurance agent—God couldn’t have been present there, right? It had been such an unpleasant time.
I’d gotten the paperwork completed that I needed. I’d begun saving money on my car insurance premium. I’d had the ability to see my worth was far greater than the insurance agent’s estimation of me. And you know what? The insurance agent had greater worth and value than I’d been assigning him, too.
Thank you, God. You provided for needs today. And have given me eyes to see. Please forgive me for my own sins and wrongs against another.
The more I practiced the review of the day, the more times I saw God show up in unexpected places, just like this. I found God’s presence and gifts in ways I wouldn’t have noticed without taking the time to look.
Over time—and it didn’t take long; maybe 10 days?—I settled into a greater sense of ease and rest. God was all around me. I’d come to see the fact of it through the daily review. He encouraged me through an email from a friend. He helped me remember to pay a bill I’d almost forgotten. He helped me work through a conflict with someone I loved. He let me see joy on another person’s face.
I began to feel grateful all the time. God was with me. God was speaking. God was present. God was acting. God was teaching. God was providing.
All these things I came to see because of the review of the day. It begins to make you grateful—as a state of being. It inspires a lifestyle of thanksgiving, not just one singular day of it.