examining our motives
"Everyone ought to examine themselves before they eat of the bread and drink from the cup. For those who eat and drink without discerning the body of Christ eat and drink judgment on themselves. That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep. But if we were more discerning with regard to ourselves, we would not come under such judgment." (I Cor. 11:28ff)
Regular examination of our inner attitudes and motivations, as well as our actions, is mandated in the Scripture. We must have as a goal the ability to be more discerning regarding ourselves. Most of us do not know our own "stuff." For some of us, personal examination comes naturally. For those like me, it's been a mystery, something that I've needed to be taught how to do.
How do we open ourselves to God's Holy Spirit so that our fatal flaws are open to Him and His transforming power? Well, we can't begin with flaws we don't see, so it makes sense to begin with the ones we do see.
C.S. Lewis was a great help to me: "You should at least make a list on a piece of paper, and make a serious act of penance about each of them...don't be sensational and exaggerate them trying to work things up and make melodramatic sins out of small matters--and don't slur things over...use plain, simple, old-fashion words that you would use about anyone else. I mean words like theft and fornication, or hatred instead of, "I didn't mean to be dishonest..." I think a steady facing of what one does know and bringing it before God, without excuses, and seriously asking for forgiveness and grace, and resolving as far as in one lies to do better, is the only way in which we can ever begin to know the fatal thing which is always there, and preventing us from becoming perfectly just to our wife or husband, or being a better employer or employee. If this process is gone through, I do not doubt that most of us will come to understand and share those old words like 'contrite,' 'miserable' and 'intolerable.' (God in the Dock, p. 126-127)
In my prayer journal, I found it very helpful to have a page where I kept a list.
I sought to have the daily practice of listing what came to mind when I sought to prayerfully open myself to the Lord and have Him bring to my mind where I fell short. I found it was helpful to engage in this prayer of examen in the evening, and to consciously walk back through my day, a few hours at a time, and see if there was anything in what I did, or what was going on within me, that the Holy Spirit would bring to mind. Then I'd list it with the date, and confess my sin, and ask to be forgiven.
What I learned was that I am not very regular. Making this a daily practice was difficult for me. But oh! how beneficial. I began to see, over and over, my besetting sins, and my conscience became much more sensitive. It humbled me.
examining how we are living
There is a lot of pressure to be pursuing a thousand dreams for ourselves, and perhaps even more pressure to be pursuing a million dreams for our children. But are these dreams truly motivated by our values? Are these values the ones we want to live by, raise our children by, work and play by? May I suggest reading the book like Excellent Sheep by W. Deresiewicz (or even just the first chapter) to gain a little perspective on what is driving "our dreams" for our children and then consider if this lifestyle is really what we want for our families. According to a NY Times review:
"Mr. Deresiewicz spends a long time considering college admissions because a vast number of crimes, he suggests, are committed in its name. We’ve created kids who throughout their high school years are unable to do anything they can’t put on a résumé. They’re blinkered overachievers. Once they’re in college, they don’t know what to do with themselves, so they jump through the only hoop that’s bathed in a spotlight: finance. He argues that many miss truer and more satisfying callings."
Feeling compelled to help our children pursue success as defined by the elite universities, only to find twenty years later that the pursuit was a wild goose chase, will certainly bring regret. If we sacrifice regular participation in church because our kids need to be in sports (so they can get a scholarship or have athletic achievements to include on their college application), and realize after it's too late that we haven't passed our faith on to our kids—won't we regret that for the rest of our lives? What were we doing?
In our prayer journal, we can develop a Rule of Life and let our Rule be our standard by which we make decisions for ourselves and our families. As I developed my Rule, I simply became specific about describing "This is how I live my life..."
Staying balanced is impossible these days. We may achieve balance for a few weeks, and then something happens and we find we are out of balance again....watching too much TV, or traveling too much on the weekends, or spending too much time at work. Our lives are like a swinging pendulum—we pass balance as we are swinging from one extreme to the other. The regular practice of examining how we are living, and making adjustments, is essential to wise living. If your life is like mine, balance doesn't just happen on its own.