Recently I was the co-leader of a workshop on spiritual self-care. Since this is Lent, I thought I’d share what I learned in preparing and leading the workshop.
I based my part of the workshop on the practice of using the examen of Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuit order. He recommended that the brothers examine their lives twice each day—at lunch and at night before bed. For me, doing it once a day is hard enough! I try to do it before falling asleep at night. This way, if something happened during the day that was really bugging me, I can let it go and focus on finding gratitude for what went well. (An added benefit is that then I can fall asleep instead of brooding and tossing and turning.)
I use the examen questions as they are interpreted by the authors of Sleeping with Bread, a book by Dennis, Sheila and Matthew Linn:
For what moment today am I most grateful? For what moment today am I least grateful?
They suggest other ways of framing the questions:
When did I give and receive the most love today? When did I give and receive the least love today?
Or: When did I feel the most alive today? When did I feel the life draining out of me?
They say to ask God to bring to your heart the moment for which you are the most grateful. Then they suggest you breathe in gratitude and thank God. Then you are to ask God to bring to your heart the moment for which you were the least grateful. Ask yourself what happened in that moment that was so difficult. Be with the answer without trying to fix it or change it. Breathe out fear.
I think of it as soul aerobics or spiritual chemotherapy. It cures one of the spiritual illnesses that we can fall prey to (especially when stressed out)—resentment and envy. For me, it can start to reveal patterns and reminds me of how much I have to be thankful for—even on a very bad day!
What about you? Do you have a practice that helps you deal with stress, that helps you feel centered? In the workshop, folks shared that they walk and pray or listen to music or read the Bible every morning or reflection on a daily devotion. What are some tools you use to renew your spirit and keep it healthy? Do you have a regular practice of prayer or study?
Kate Elliott is editor Gather magazine.