Over Lent I took the painful decision to leave my virtual community of Facebook. It was becoming all too easy to mindlessly scroll through status updates and get distracted. Upon re-entry into Facebook world after Easter, I wanted to be more mindful rather than mindless. How could I do it?
I stumbled across the Examine app whilst readying a blog about the practice of ‘paying attention’. Examine is based on the ancient Christian practice of the ‘Daily Examen’, a technique of prayerful reflection on the events of the day in order to detect God’s presence and discern his direction for us. I shared the idea with a close friend, Claire, and we decided to trial it together during Lent.
The app is designed to be used at the end of each day; I used it before bed. It takes you through some brief questions under two themes, ‘things to be thankful for’ (consonance) and ‘difficulties you’ve faced’ (dissonance). Each day I recorded answers to questions like, ‘What events or relationships encouraged me the most?’ and ‘When did I feel most dissatisfied or restricted?’
If I lose my temper with one of my children, I often find a shadow is cast over my whole day. It was on days like these that I found the questions particularly helpful – coming to the ‘thankfulness' questions would enable me to remember and thank God for the many positives I might also have experienced that day. The moments that brought me profound joy, I discovered, were often very simple things such as watching my baby fall asleep, or those big, belly laughs you have with a close friend.
The app also probes the one niggling anxiety that keeps popping into your head. This question was brilliant at enabling me not to ignore my fears. Having to physically type them out made them less scary and easier to bring to God in prayer.
As part of the daily process there is an opportunity for five minutes of meditation. I have to admit that I often skipped this part. Perhaps it is because silence so often brings us face to face with our raw selves… Sometimes I just didn’t want to go there. But when I was brave enough to be still, I found a deep sense of peace after my over-busy day of ‘to do’ lists and school-runs. A peace in which God was there waiting to embrace me.
I loved the way in which the Examine app enabled me to share my reflections with my friend Claire. I felt privileged to receive her honest responses to the questions. Ironically, sharing my own daily joys and woes became a Facebook substitute. But this time I wasn’t sharing photos or status updates with the world, only precious thoughts with a trusted friend. I felt known… and still loved.
The app provides a way of saving your responses and looking back at them over time. This is an excellent feature. Not only can I see how often the same challenges crop up (perhaps I had better get praying about this one?!) but it also reminded me of the ways in which God had been good.
So, Lent is well and truly over, but I am continuing to use the Examine app. It has helped me to become more thankful and face my challenges with God and others. We also use a simplified version of the Examen in discussion with our children, asking them at the end of each day, ‘When were you happy?’ and ‘When were you sad?’ They do not always answer, but when they do, we can respond in prayer as a family.
My hope is that my presence in all spaces will be mindful of a God who loves me with my anxieties, failings, triumphs and achievements. If I can be honest before him first, I can be more honest with myself amongst my family and my communities, both real and virtual.
Anna France-Williams is co-author of Soul Food for Mums and Ordinary Mum, Extraordinary Mission (both IVP)