Giving Thanks, and the Practice of Examen

“Give us a thankful sense of the Blessings in which we live, of the many comforts of our lot; that we may not deserve to lose them by Discontent or Indifference.” — Jane Austen’s Prayers I.

Happy Thanksgiving! I’m thankful for all of you who are reading this blog and my Facebook posts; I feel I have made new friends this past year, and you are a blessing to me!

I’m also thankful that I’ve almost finished a draft of my book Fashionable Goodness: Christianity in Jane Austen’s England. I’m looking for people who’d like to read sections of it and give me feedback; let me know if you’re interested! (You can find my email address above under About Me — Contact.)

I’ve been feeling more negative lately, and am looking for ways to be more thankful and joyful.

Examen

I sometimes use a traditional spiritual practice called Examen. At the end of a day (or week, or month, or other period of time), you think through that time period and look for “Consolations” and “Desolations.” I prefer to think of “consolations” as things that are life-giving, or joy-giving, for me. And “desolations” steal away life, or joy. Either one might be things that happened, things I did, people I talked to, encounters I had, etc.

I list out the “joy-giving” things and thank God for those precious gifts.  I then list the “joy-stealers” and put them into God’s hands, trusting that He will bring good from them also. And sometimes I may examine why those things were hard, and pray that I can deal with them better, more joyfully, next time, or make better choices. (There’s a free app called Examine if you want to do this orally on your phone.) I may do this for a whole week, or for a whole trip or other period of time.

For many months, I just did the positive side of this; I wrote down in my Jane Austen Daybook at least five things I was thankful for each day. I did this at bedtime each night, to help me sleep in a better frame of mind. I think right now I need to return to this practice. Sometimes, after a rough day, it may be hard to get started. But I always found once I identified one or two things to be thankful for, I could easily get five!

Families sometimes do Examen together in the evenings, with even the youngest children sharing something they were happy about and something they were sad about in that day. There is no criticism, just affirmation, compassion, and praying for each other.  It sounds like a beautiful way to support each other as a family.

Fanny Price
Fanny Price of Mansfield Park often spent time alone in quiet reflection, examining her own heart.

Reflection

Perhaps in Austen’s novels, when the heroine needs a time of “reflection,” she is doing something like an examen–being prayerfully thankful for the good things and bringing the hard things to God. Marianne searches her heart in “serious reflection” after her near-fatal illness, and Anne Elliot and Emma Woodhouse are “seriously” thankful after their sweethearts propose.

For us, after Thanksgiving dinner each person shares something they’re thankful for from this past year.  What are you most thankful for today? Perhaps today or tomorrow you might want to do an Examen, considering the blessings and struggles of this past year; looking for the good that came out of even the trials, and thanking God for His presence through it all.

Resources

For more about Jane Austen and thanksgiving, see A Jane Austen Thanksgiving? from 2018. Or the more recent Reflections on Austen’s Sampler; Austen stitched, “I will give thanks unto God while I have my being.”

For more details on Examen, see “The Examen”  or “Reflecting With Children.” There are many ways to do this practice, and you will find other approaches elsewhere online.

For pictures of family dinners in Austen’s time, see Regency Family Dinners.

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