Highlights and Lowlights
By Kimberlee Conway Ireton
We gather for dinner, my children, my husband and I. After bickering over who gets to light the candle, my kids agree that Jack can strike the match and Jane can hold it to the wick.
“Bwess the Lord,” Jane says as the candle flares.
“The Lord’s name be praised,” the rest of us respond.
Then there’s bickering over who gets to pray. They decide to take turns. Jack lets his sister go first, “Since she’s younger, and she’s a girl.” After Jack’s “Amen,” we can finally eat.
“All right,” I say. “I want to hear what the highlight of everyone’s day was.”
We go around the table, making sure everyone gets a turn to share their highlight. Then we go around again and we each share our lowlight.
What we’re doing is actually a centuries-old Christian practice called the examen, modified slightly so our young children can understand and participate. The purpose of the examen is to cultivate awareness of God’s presence in our lives. By stopping for a moment and reflecting on our day, we have a chance to notice where we felt God’s presence — and where we didn’t.
I’ve been practicing the examen for about a decade now, and I’ve noticed that in the times when I am faithful to practice it daily, I’m more aware of God’s presence throughout the day, not just at its end when I stop and reflect.
The examen also has helped me learn more about myself, about who I am and why I’m here. The underlying assumption of the examen is that, in general, God wants us to embrace more of what helps us notice him. Our consolations (“highlights” in kid lingo) point us toward our calling, and our desolations (lowlights) help us know when it’s time for a change.
A few months ago, for instance, my husband and I were applying to put our son in kindergarten. Night after night, my desolation was the school application or the thought of having Jack gone all day come fall. Listening to that, we decided to homeschool him for kindergarten. Once we made this decision, my consolation for many weeks was reading with Jack or the curricula research I’d done, which confirmed that we’d made the right decision.
Our nightly practice of the examen around our dinner table helps my husband and I recognize the gifts in our lives, to know ourselves and our children better and to be aware of God’s presence with us. It helps our kids learn to reflect on their lives, to be grateful and to notice what they like and don’t like, which helps them discover who they are.
The examen creates a rich tradition for our family of listening and being heard — which is helping all of us learn how to hear and speak not just to one another, but to God as well.
Kimberlee Conway Ireton is the author of “The Circle of Seasons: Meeting God in the Church Year” (InterVarsity Press, 2008) and has written for FullFill , Weavings and TheThoughtfulChristian.com.
Practicing the Examen with Children
To include your kids in the examen, choose a time each day when your family is gathered – perhaps for a meal or before bed. Then ask your kids to share the highlight and lowlight of their day.
It may take awhile for young children to catch on, and you might need to prompt them to remember what happened: “Well, you went swimming today and to the park, and Sammy came over for lunch and you fell and skinned your knee” – but they’ll catch on.
After you ask each question, listen to what they say. If you say anything in response, simply mirror back their emotions: “That must have been exciting!” or “Oh, sweetie, I bet that made you sad.”
If you want, you could also extend the conversation: “Tell me more.” You might also pray with your kids, thanking God for their highlight and asking him to help them in their lowlight.