Guest post Tuesday, guest post Tuesday! We’ve got a treat of treats in the ol’ blogosphere today, as author, blogger and editor Ed Cyzewski is with us today. Because y’all, I’m telling you: Ed is the real deal. He clarifies the hard-to-understand. He makes the rest of us feel normal. He pursues his gifts and his dreams and encourages his fellow sojourners to do the same. So, regardless of religious preference, engorge yourself in what he offers each one of us today. Enjoy.
I never want to portray myself as the kind of person who has amazing self-discipline. So let’s dispel those notions right off the bat.
I have never had a regular exercise routine.
When it comes to dieting, my only response to the question, “Do you want a donut?” is “YES!”
If you weighed my accumulated guilt from skipping quiet time, Bible study, devotions, or whatever else you want to call Bible reading could give a mill stone a run for its money.
I have never stuck to a New Year’s resolution.
I usually forget my “one word” for the new year—often before February.
I’m terrible at going to bed early.
I don’t have an amazing track record when it comes to waking up early to write.
If I haven’t given you a smug sense of superiority in comparison to me, I hope you can at least relate to me a bit. Whatever you read next, I want you to hold onto the tension of my struggles with self-discipline and my growth through one simple ritual. Maybe you’ll believe you can do anything that I can do.
By the way, my major turnaround via a ritual happened because I was wasting time on social media one day—which is basically every day.
Facebook, long my enemy that provides distractions, sources of conflict, and news stories that I really don’t need to read, gave me a gift. I wasn’t looking for it. My friend Holly just dropped it in my lap. Holly always finds great links to share. This time it was an iPhone app called Examine—a misspelling of the Ignatian practice called Examen.
The Examen is a series of questions that you answer at the end of the day. It’s kind of a way to take stock of your spiritual and mental status. Much like John Wesley’s questions that helped his followers determine, “How is it with your soul?”, the Examine asks about the good and the bad of your day.
I’m already a sucker for any excuse to use my iPhone. The Examine just provided yet another thing to do with it.
I can’t tell you why I stuck with it. I’ve been working through the Examine for well over a year, perhaps two at this point, and it has quite simply revolutionized the personal, spiritual, and professional aspects of my life. It’s not rocket science. It’s just a series of questions and an invitation to spend five minutes in silence.
In just a few minutes I can tap into the best and worst parts of each day. I can zero in on what gives me life, what I treasure, and what has dragged me down.
Every night I tapped the same things into the Examine over and over and over again. If you aren’t sure what your issues are, try typing them into your smart phone for three months straight. You can’t help but see them with clarity!
The Good Things in My Life Were Actually Bad Things
Night after night, I answered questions about the encouraging parts of my day. The questions included:
- What relationships encouraged you?
- What energized you?
- When did you experience God?
My answers related to my work about 90% of the time for the first three months or so.
- A bunch of people liked my latest blog post!
- I have a new client at work!
- People left good feedback on my project!
- My editor was encouraging about the latest chapter!
- I felt energized by my new book project!
- I felt close to God when I was writing!
You get the picture: work, work, work.
If you had asked me about my work/life balance before the Examine came along, I would have told you that I need to work hard during this season of my life. I’m building a new business, and there’s just no way around that.
However, I had staked far too much of my identity, self-worth, and success in the progress of my work. In fact, the more I took notice of my work, I realized that I hadn’t really relaxed in the evening for about four years because I always felt like I needed to get more work done.
With the unassailable evidence of the Examine before my eyes every evening, I finally started to make some changes.
I read Richard Rohr’s Immortal Diamond to get a better handle on my personal identity.
I started shutting down my computer at 5 pm.
I became more intentional with how I spent time with my family. When it came time to take note of my day in the Examine, I ran through all of the time with my family before considering anything related to work.
If the good parts of my day were ugly, you can only imagine how the bad parts looked!
Facing My Fears and Worries
The other half of the Examine asks a series of “dissonance” questions that identify what’s discouraging or stressful. There are prompts like: “What am I least thankful for?” and “What’s keeping me awake at night?”
Not to say that work wasn’t an issue at times, it certainly was. I was often more worried about finances—one of the results of my work.
And so I once again faced a three-month or more barrage of Examine answers concerning my worries about future bills or the potential of a hefty bill in the future. I noticed how hard it is to pray the Our Father, trusting God with my daily bread, when I really just want a three-year supply.
I’m learning to recognize what it feels like to worry and to live in fear. I’m also learning that faith doesn’t always lead us to a comfortable place. Even those led by God walk through dark valleys.
I can’t tell you that I’m out of the woods with all of this worry and stress over work and money, but I see these issues with profound clarity. Best of all, spending a few minutes each evening with the Examine keeps me honest.
I could try lying to myself, but having spent the first few months of the Examine being brutally honest about myself, I’ve seen the benefits of brutal honesty about my life situation. Ignoring the pain, worry, and imbalances of my life won’t fix anything, even if an overarching sense of despair drove me to denial in the first place.
The Examine isn’t necessarily prayer. It’s that essential first step before prayer. It’s the crow bar that busts our lives open and prevents us from hiding the truth. It’s the practice I need in order to pray with both honesty and clarity.
Without the Examine, I suspect that I would continue to work myself into the ground, while missing the joys of my family and the peace that God offers those who trust in him. And when I start to lose my way again, for I surely will, the Examine is one tool that will help me get back on course.
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Postscript: By the way, I write at length about the Examen and how it impacts my prayer life and work as a writer in my new eBook: Pray, Write, Grow: Cultivating Prayer and Writing Together. It’s available for pre-order at $.99 on Kindle (regular price as of March 11 is $3.99).
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Ed Cyzewski is the author of A Christian Survival Guide and Coffeehouse Theology: Reflecting on God in Everyday Life. He’s a part time freelance writer and work from home dad. He writes at www.edcyzewski.com and is on Twitter as @edcyzewski. Hey, Cara again, and I personally LOVE how Ed incorporates ritual into his life every single day. So, what can you say about Ed’s words? Regardless of religious belief, how did this daily exercise encourage you?