On Sunday night, I was irritable for about two hours. Some of my friends witnessed this deficiency in patience.
I've been reflecting on that irritability for the last three days. It's not pleasant to examine one's shortcomings.
I could try to explain it away as the product of hormonal fluctuations (ain't it great being a woman?) or blame it on someone else. But the truth is, it's my own weaknesses of character that lead to impatience and sharpness.
I have them. We all have them. Each of us has buttons that can be pushed.
I take some comfort in knowing that my friends extend me more grace than I extend myself. They have probably already forgotten this lapse in gentleness. But that's only fitting. It's not important for them to reflect on it and remember it. It is important for me.
I have gradually become a better person--not perfect, but better--by honestly acknowledging my failings. I still look back on certain past personality traits and behaviors with dismay, but I do not feel ongoing guilt. I know that I am forgiven. I realize that I learned many things the hard way, and that there was a purpose behind every event in my past.
A couple of hours of irritability may seem minor, but examen of minor events like this is what prevents us from more significant destructive behaviors.
Here's a definition of the practice of examen. I like the way that the author emphasizes the encouraging role of examen as well as the less comfortable part:
In his Spiritual Exercises, Ignatius urged that all be taught the examen, a daily examination of our deepest feelings and desires. He called these feelings our consolations (what connects us with God, others and ourselves) and desolations (what disconnects us). He believed that God would speak to us through these feelings and desires. It's not surprising that this saint felt so strongly about the examen -- this prayer practice changed him from a wild soldier to a pilgrim walking barefoot to Jerusalem.
The examen helps us:
• Acknowledge sad or painful feelings and hear how God is speaking to us through them.
• Overcome a pessimistic outlook by encouraging us notice the good in each day.
• Tell the truth about who we truly are and what we need, rather than who we think we should be.
• Become aware of seemingly insignificant moments that ultimately can give direction for our lives.
From The Upper Room website