Many moons ago, waaaaaay back in July of last year (not actually that long ago, but now it seems like another lifetime ago) I had the extreme pleasure of attending the Vineyard National Conference in Anaheim. Oh the bliss! I got to go with some of my favorite people on the planet, and Christen, Abby and I even got to go to Disneyland for a day! I’m telling you, it was the stuff dreams are made of 🙂
Anyway, at that conference I got to connect with some awesome leaders in the Vineyard missions world. One of them, the oh-so-wise Jerry Reddix, had a sit-down with me and shared some invaluable wisdom. He talked with me about being really intentional with our kids in this new season of our lives. He talked of rituals and routines that will help their little hearts to feel settled, even when everything around them is completely new and different. He talked about a Daily Examen. I look back on that conversation now as one of the most valuable I had before moving to Ukraine. Jerry, if you ever read this, THANK YOU!!!!! Your words were just what this family needed.
Jerry encouraged us to read a book called Sleeping With Bread: Holding What Gives You Life. It’s a small, easy-to-read book that describes how to implement the Daily Examen with your family. We aren’t Catholic, but the Examen isn’t just for Catholics. Basically, the idea is to end your day by asking each person in your family to share about their day. Think back, reflect on your day, and share the most life-giving moment, and the most difficult moment. In our house, we say “What was the best part of your day and what was the hardest part of your day?” We each share, and then at the end we pray and thank God for the great parts of our day, moments where we experienced His presence, joy, and love. Then we talk to Him about the difficult moments and ask Him to help us with whatever made it difficult. Simple, yet beautiful. In the book, it phrases the questions as “What are you most thankful for today and what are you least thankful for today?” At first, I was like “Woah…I don’t want my kids talking about what they aren’t thankful for!” But really, why do we have to ignore the difficult times? We aren’t dwelling on them, but voicing them and inviting God to be present in our difficult times. We are bound to have hard times. Ignoring them won’t make them go away. Let’s talk about it as a family and agree in prayer for those situations.
The benefits of the Examen have been better than I ever expected. Sure, sometimes there’s a night when everyone is hyper and silly and the Examen is less than contemplative (insert potty talk and fake burps…oh little boys…), but usually there is at least one gem that comes out of our time. It helped us not-so-good-at-routine-Johnsons establish routine back in the US that we carried on here in Ukraine. It’s something the kids can count on and it gives us a chance to key in on how everyone is really doing.
When we do our Examen we turn out the lights, we light candles, and we all take a turn sharing. We also do our family read-aloud during that time. It’s called “Family Time” and it’s lovely. Of course, sometimes Seth won’t sit down, sometimes Havalah pouts, sometimes Addy or Ez has a bad attitude, and sometimes Mommy and Daddy are really just ready for the kids to go to bed so we aren’t super patient. It’s not always a romantic, solemn, introspective time, but it’s still precious in its own way. I know we are laying a foundation of open communication and sharing with one another. I’m excited to see how the sharing deepens as the kids grow in maturity. Right now when sharing about the difficult moments the kids like to use it as an excuse to tattle on each other. Ha! So, we try to move it back to them focusing on their own responses to the situation. “Okay, so maybe so-and-so stole your toy, but how did you respond?” People will always let you down, but God is always near and always faithful.
If this strikes a chord with you I highly recommend giving the Daily Examen a try. Anyone can do it! If you are single, you could journal your Examen. If you have no kids at home you can share with your husband or wife. Take a moment to quiet your heart at the end of the day and look back for glimpses of God’s presence. When did you feel His joy? What about that moment was so great? When did you have a difficult time? Was there something that happened when wish you would have responded differently?
Sleeping With Bread is a great book for understanding the benefits of the Examen. I definitely don’t agree with everything in the book, but I can take out the good and forget the rest. I’m okay with doing that. 🙂 The general idea is great and doesn’t deter me from the stuff I don’t agree with.
Soon I hope to share some of our favorite read-alouds from our Family Time. I’m a sucker for a good book, hence the 6 ginormous boxes of books we shipped to Ukraine. Be thinking of your favorites because I’ll be asking for suggestions!
What about you? Do you have any great family nighttime routines you’d like to share? I love hearing what others do at the end of their day. Hmmmm? Anyone?