A great way to move forward in the spiritual life is to look back and examine what worked and what didn’t.
The New Year often fills us with hope, as we say to ourselves, “Next year will be better!” The last 12 months may not have gone exactly as we wanted and our original New Year’s resolutions may have only endured to the middle of January. Whatever may be the case, we look forward to the future and have a glimmer of hope that our current situation will improve.
While looking forward to what could be can keep our spirits up for the moment, a much deeper exercise that provides more nourishment to the soul consists of reviewing the entire year and being thankful for the many blessings (and crosses) that God has given us.
This process allows a person to understand where they are and where God’s actions may be leading them. In other words, it is only in looking back that one can move forward.
One way to reflect on the past year is to make a Yearly Examen. This practice is simply an extension of the Daily Examen that is a central part of Ignatian spirituality. The Daily Examen is practice where an individual stops two times during the day (at midday and at the close of the day) to examine God’s activity and to recognize any faults or sins committed.
Here is how a Yearly Examen might look, based on St. Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises.
1. AFTER PLACING YOURSELF IN GOD’S PRESENCE, FIRST GIVE THANKS TO GOD FOR ALL THE MANY BLESSINGS RECEIVED DURING THE PAST YEAR. PASS THROUGH EACH MONTH, REMEMBERING THE BLESSINGS THAT OCCURRED.
2. PRAY FOR THE GRACE TO UNDERSTAND GOD’S DIVINE PROVIDENCE.
3. NEXT, REVIEW EACH MONTH AGAIN AND TAKE NOTICE OF ANY FEELINGS OR MOVEMENTS THAT OCCUR IN YOUR HEART WHILE DOING THIS ACTIVITY. WHATEVER YOU MAY FEEL (WHETHER IT WAS A GOOD FEELING OR BAD FEELING), ASK GOD TO HELP YOU UNDERSTAND WHY AN EVENT HAPPENED.
4. FOURTH, ASK PARDON FOR ANY SINS YOU COMMITTED, TRUSTING FULLY IN GOD’S MERCY.
5. LAST OF ALL LOOK FORWARD TO THE NEW YEAR AND THINK OF WAYS THAT YOU CAN COLLABORATE MORE WITH GOD’S LOVING PLAN FOR YOUR LIFE.
If we want to progress spiritually in the New Year, we must not forget the past, but learn from it and accept everything that happened in light of God’s divine providence. By doing this, we can better move forward and do so in a spirit of collaboration, realizing that God is the one who is in control. In the end, if we are to remember one thing let us recall the words God said to the prophet Jeremiah:
“For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me; when you seek me with all your heart, I will be found by you, says the Lord.” (Jeremiah 29:11-14)