I’ve been keeping a journal since I was in first grade. I didn’t always write every day and I still have problems with keeping a daily journal because there are days that I don’t want to remember or feel like writing. I’m pretty sure you can all relate. The thing about it, though, is that, to quote a show I love watching:
“Every life is a pile of good things and bad things. The good things don’t always soften the bad things, but vice-versa, the bad things don’t necessarily spoil the good things and make them unimportant.”
Some of us have good lives and some of us feel like we’re “doing okay,” while others feel stuck in a cycle of endless bad days.
No matter where we are or what kind of days we have, keeping a daily gratitude journal can help us.
A wonderful way to keep a gratitude journal is to use the journal as part of a Jesuit prayer called the Examen. There are many ways to pray the Examen, but for this Bible study (and hopefully long afterward), I recommend using a journal.
The Examen starts with gratitude. Recall your day, with all the good, the bad, and the things that you would normally take for granted. Gratitude has a way of pulling us outside of ourselves, which is important when it comes to prayer. The choices you make in trials also count as blessings as well, such as acting like the bigger person in an argument or choosing to let criticism slide off of you instead of letting it hurt you.
After writing down the things that you feel grateful for, ask God for clarity and guidance. We ask God to review our day through His eyes, pulling us further from our navel gazing. Even if you end up praying the examen on what feels like a bad day, the journaling will help you remember that God is always with you in the foxholes that you fight in.
After asking God for clarity, review the less-than-stellar things that happened in your day. This is the part most of us would rather forget, especially if we sinned or acted less than our best. I don’t want any of you to be scrupulous in this process, either. We are looking at ourselves through God’s eyes, which means no self-flagellation! Reviewing the bad parts of our day helps us to be honest with ourselves, but on a healthy level.
Once we review over our faults, we turn back to God and ask for his forgiveness. This can easily be done by praying or writing down the Act of Contrition. It doesn’t replace the Sacrament of Reconciliation, but we are granted a partial indulgence for our prayers. “What is an indulgence,” you ask? According to Sister Theresa Aletheia Noble of the Daughters of St. Paul: “When we sin we incur temporal punishment, or a need for purgation or cleansing. An indulgence provides the grace of cleansing. Plenary erases all temporal punishment, partial erases just some.” For more on indulgences, click this link.
Finally, we look forward to tomorrow and make a plan on how we can do better the next day. One tip to help you with this part of the Examen is to look to the saints or role models you have and see how you can emulate them or incorporate the things you like about them into your lives.
It also helps to remember that this prayer is a lot like gratitude: it starts from within and works its way out. In this last part of the Examen, turn your attention towards others and see how you can improve the relationships with the people in your life.
I hope that during this study, I can be writing alongside you, writing about the things that I’m grateful for and the things I’m learning every day.
Today’s featured song is “Day By Day” from the musical Godspell. Regardless of how you may feel about the musical, I feel like this song captures the purpose of the Examen: to bring us closer to God on a daily basis.
St. Ignatius of Loyola, pray for us!
How do you think gratitude can be found on bad days or within bad moments?
What are some examples of daily blessings in your life that others take for granted?
What are some ways that you motivate yourself to keep a positive attitude throughout the day?