Stay Focused: The Reflective Prayer
Updated: Feb 10
It wasn’t the first time I had heard the story. I had heard it numerous times.
It didn’t matter.
Dad would repeat the narrative as if it just happened. Even though his stories were often tales of past experiences, his reflection allowed him to remember — and retell — the events with precision.
It was always amazing how he could bring to mind particular facts from years ago while forgetting why he had just walked into the kitchen.
Listening to his repeated accounts of the past, I began to notice a pattern. Each anecdote contained essential elements:
He desired to recall what happened in the past, not because of regret, but to remember how God was present with him. Sometimes we have to remind ourselves to see.
Dad could get beyond his past shame because he remembered how God is generous to forgive a repentant heart. Recognizing God’s mercy and forgiveness frees us from guilt.
Each story revealed how freedom from shame produced abundant joy and thanksgiving for my father. Like an open faucet, praise to God was non-stop with my Dad.
It was common for him to end each story with: “That’s why…” He would then tell you why he was confident to trust God no matter what he faced.
For Dad, these stories were deeply moving.
Tears would form in his eyes and slowly trickle down his cheeks as he remembered times when he had failed God. His eyes would gleam when he spoke of God’s forgiveness. His smile was enormous when he talked about God’s presence and intervention, and his heart overflowed with thanksgiving and praise.
Although the stories were repetitious, it was evident: his reflection encouraged his awareness of God’s faithfulness and ever-abiding presence.
Aging has a way of encouraging forgetfulness.
A few years ago, I could make a mental list of items I needed from the grocery store. Today, a “hard” list is wise. I’m likely to remember what’s on my schedule for today. But ask me what I did yesterday, and I find myself racking my brain to remember.
It’s not that I’m forgetful, but it seems that my ‘forgetter’ works overtime.
Whether it’s distraction or forgetfulness, staying focused on God requires our intention.
One spiritual practice I’ve found to be helpful is Reflective Prayer or The Prayer of Examen. This spiritual exercise is an ancient practice of the Christian Church and helps us to see God’s hand at work in our lives.
In his spiritual exercises, Saint Ignatius of Loyola saw the Examen as a gift from God. He encouraged others to incorporate this prayerful reflection into their daily schedules.
The apostle Paul writes:
“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” -1 Thessalonians 5:16–18 (ESV)
Although I know this is God’s will for me, my problem is: I don’t always rejoice, and I guarantee you I don’t pray 24/7. Even for my blessings, I often fail to give thanks.
Paul’s words are written to the Thessalonians as he’s saying goodbye to them. These short, pithy directions are instructions for his friends. Paul is not suggesting that we stop living to be in a 24/7 prayer meeting. As Jan Johnson points out:
“If this were the case, Paul would have never made his missionary journeys or earned a living as a tentmaker.”
We’re to conduct our lives in ways that encourage a conscious awareness of God, even as we are working or playing. The Prayer of Examen is an intentional spiritual practice that enhances our sensitivity to God’s presence.
At the age of 98, my Dad went to be with the LORD. I question whether he had ever heard of The Prayer of Examen or Reflective Prayer. But I’m confident he practiced it — whether he realized it or not.
Here’s a step-by-step guide for the Prayer of Examen.
 Jan Johnson, Spiritual Disciplines Companion, (Downers Grove: IVP Books, 2009), p. 107