Avoiding Burnout & the Examen Prayer: Help for Overachievers

Last summer on a hike with several friends we stepped into the danger zone of heat exhaustion. We could have well reached a very risky point of no return, on a trail in Glacier National Park with no immediate exit except to return over the trail we just traversed for several hours, back through the hottest conditions that put us on the precipice we were currently on–exposure to the sun without any water source. Mayo clinic helps describe the severity of our problem last summer.

“Heat exhaustion can progress to heat stroke when the body’s temperature regulation fails. The person develops a change in mental status, becomes confused, lethargic and may have a seizure, the skin stops sweating, and the body temperature may exceed 106 F (41 C ). This is a life-threatening condition and emergency medical attention is needed immediately.”115A8256

We really were a few teaspoons of water away from what could have been devastating, perhaps a life threatening situation.

Sometimes in our spiritual journey we find ourselves in similar straights–a few teaspoons of water, or some kind of life giving resource, away from a major crisis or burnout.

Those who are prone to activism, to the world of getting things done and making a difference, don’t always maintain a healthy balance between action and reflection, doing and prayer. The tilt of our universe is outward, taking on burdens and challenges that need to be addressed, but sometimes at the expense of avoiding the more inward movements of soul care where we disengage and recharge during quiet and contemplation. Maybe we have a nagging sense that if we don’t do something, who will. We desire to alleviate the ills that wreak havoc on our world and squish people who need our help. This is where, in my own journey, I’ve found help from the Jesuits, and their development of the Examen prayer!

The Examen is a method of prayer that was introduced to me by the Jesuits at a retreat in Mexico. The Examen is a simple method that can be used in daily prayer. One does not need to be erudite or a saint to utilize this approach. It is a way to aid the listening and discernment process in the commonplace events of everyday for every person. It is characterized by the ethos of Jesuit spirituality which seeks to integrate the presence of God in the affairs of normal, routine, everyday life.

The Examen was developed by St. Ignatius of Loyola who was a layman in the medieval Catholic Church and the founder of the Jesuit order, which led the Counter Reformation in response to the need for reform within the Catholic church. He had a clear preoccupation with the state of the spiritual condition within the Church, much like Luther did. As a movement, the Jesuits became known as contemplatives in action for their practical integration of the spiritual life with ministry and mission in the world. One of their foundational exercises was the daily Examen which I present here as a one of the disciplines of disengagement. They used this method of prayer numerous times per day, but especially at the end of the day as part of their daily rhythm of life.


For what moment today am I most grateful?
For what moment today am I least grateful?
When did I feel most alive today?
When did I most feel life draining out of me?
When was I happiest today?
When was I saddest?
What was today’s high point?
What was today’s low point?

It is a prayer in which the disciple tries to find the movement of the Spirit in his or her daily activities as they review their waking hours. There are five simple steps to the Examen, which should help one in discerning the movement of God’s Spirit in a routine day and give concrete help in staying “spiritually hydrated” on the trail so that the follower can realign all of life with God’s movement and guard healthy boundaries so we can sustain fruitful engagement in the challenges the world so desperately needs to be addressed.

Next Up: Doing the Examen Prayer. 5 Steps to A Spiritual Renewal

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1 Comment

  1. Thanks, Andy, for posting this.

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