Praying the Examen With Your Children

Praying the Examen With Your Children

Praying the Examen With Your Children

“I think the examen protects our children not only from drinking and premature sexuality, but also from getting caught up in the violence of our culture…the examen has taught our children to face the violence of their own shadow sides and bring it into the light for healing.” Sleeping with Bread

My oldest son turns 12 next month, and I’ve seen a lot of changes come quick.

He’s starting to notice more of the world. He’s becoming more influenced by his friends and what they do. Being popular and well liked has become an issue now. And, along with that, the latest shooter video games, pop music, and more adult movies occupy his mind.

But as these new interests capture his attention and imagination, I’ve also noticed them dulling his enthusiasm for God. Religion is not as exhilarating. Video games are engrossing, the Mass is not. God is doing amazing things in his life, but they are harder for him to see.

So, I’ve been thinking lately about how to foster more of a relationship with Jesus in my son and help him recognize God in his life. To do that we started praying the examen prayer of St. Ignatius Loyola.

What is the examen?

The examen is an integral part of Ignatian spirituality. It’s a way of understanding how God is present and active in your life.

In the examen, you reflect on what happened during the day with an eye toward figuring out where God was influencing you. At every moment, God is actively working to guide you on a path toward himself. Like Israel in the desert, God is still leading his people to spiritual freedom. You just have to know how to listen.

God’s influence is felt in what St. Ignatius calls consolation. It’s a feeling of comfort, security, love, happiness, and peace.

Sleeping with Bread is a small book that explains the examen in very simple terms that a teen can understand. It describes consolation as the things that give you life. The title comes from a story about child refugees during World War II. Even after they were safe and had plenty to eat, the trauma of living with severe hunger haunted them so much they couldn’t sleep. The only thing that gave these children peace was sleeping with a loaf of bread. It gave them security and comfort knowing they would have food when they woke up. The bread gave those children life.

Similarly, we want to hold onto those things that give us life. That’s God speaking to us and showing us the path to abundant life.

How does it work?

Every night, I get together with my son and we answer two questions. What am I most grateful for today? What am I least grateful for today?

Sleeping with Bread suggests other ways to can ask these questions:

  • When did you feel the most alive today? When did you feel life draining out of you?
  • When were you happiest? When were you saddest?
  • What was today’s high point? What was the low point?

You get the picture. God’s will lies in the things that give you the most life or gratitude. Whenever possible, you should try to do more of that.

It’s taken a while for him to figure out what to look for. At first his answer was always, “I don’t know.” I had to help him some to get the idea of what to share, and I had to share my own most and least gratefuls, as well.

But slowly he’s more able to think back during the day and recall his best and worst moments. After a while of doing this, I started reading Sleeping with Bread to him. I think he understands the process much better now.

The family examen

Perhaps the most intriguing story in Sleeping with Bread is of a family that does the examen together.

The parents say it’s taught their children to know themselves and have confidence in what is right for them. They tell the story of their 15 year-old daughter turning down a party invitation because there would be alcohol and sexual behavior. “I think Beth’s inner strength has come from all these years of doing the examen and learning to trust that she knows what gives her life and what doesn’t,” said the father.

That’s what I’m counting on for my son. We’ll see. I’ve just started it and he’s just beginning to understand what it’s about. However, I can already see more awareness of spiritual things in him. He’s expressed a desire to be on God’s side several times in these examen discussions. Hopefully, it will lead to more.

Copyright 2013 Marc Cardaronella


About Author

Marc Cardaronella is the author of Keep Your Kids Catholic: Sharing Your Faith and Making It Stick from Ave Maria Press. By day he works as director of the Office of Discipleship & Faith Formation at the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, MO. By night he writes about Catholic parenting and how to share the Faith on his personal blog. Marc lives in Kansas City with his beautiful wife and two awesome boys.


  1. Great post Marc! I had the same book recommended to me by a Jesuit priest not long ago and had forgotten about it…thanks for the reminder! I can’t wait to get it…two mentions in a short time…that means there must be something in that book I really need to hear right now. Thank you! And thank you for being such an great Father! I’ve been a teacher for a very long time and spiritually active Fathers make a beautiful difference! Blessings on your family.

    • Thanks Sheri! Yeah, God must have a message in that book for you. If you want to go deeper into the examen, check out the books by Fr. Timothy Gallagher. They’ll give you a whole new perspective on the spiritual life.

  2. Nanette Jaluag on

    Hi! Thanks for sharing your story. I have 2 daughters who are nearly in their teens and I want them to grow believing, knowing and loving God more. I know that through this book i wiil be able to communicate with them fully well and let them know how God’s love works in wondrous ways…I would like to know if you have your books available here in the Philippines? Please let me how and where will I be able to acquire your books..Thank you so much and God bless..

    • Hi Nanette, this book has been around for a while so it should be readily available. Perhaps you can contact the publisher, Paulist Press to find out where it’s sold in the Philippines. I hope it helps your two daughters.

  3. Kathleen Anderson on

    ~ generally, a child reaches the “age of reason” by age 7 ~ the first five years of life form the framework of the adult personality, and is such a unique period of brain growth that many experts can identify “red flags” in a child headed for a stay in prison by age 6; also, there are increasingly more social interventions to redirect that same child ~ in our Catholic Faith we do not have much for young children ages 0-3 after Baptism, yet this is 60% of the critical brain growth period ~ “age & stage appropriate” faith formation in this group can be boosted if we realize the religious vision of the young child that Maria Montessori wrote about and has been continued through the work of Sofia Cavelletti ~ we can learn to recognize how an infant can be nurtured in a natural relationship with God in one way by praying scripture prayer with infants ~ I have a PDF on this I freely share with those who are interested:

    • Thanks for sharing Kathleen. I would love to see your paper on this. I’m extremely interested in faith development in the very early years and a big fan of Sophia Cavaletti. I definitely agree that we should be doing more in that age range to tap the great potential for spirituality at that early age.

  4. Cathie Macaulay on

    Hi Marc,

    I couldn’t agree more about the value of the Examen for families. We would share nightly at the supper table the two questions from ” Sleeping with Bread” : What am I most grateful for today? What am I least grateful for today? Our four children are still at home but teens and early twenties and it has become harder to share in the same way. The point is reflecting, being grateful, and being able to grow in relationship with each other and God. I hope that this discipline that we taught them is something that they will fall back on as they grow to deepen their faith and relationship with God. I don’t know. It is an act of faith on my part to let them find their own way and to trust that God has them firmly in His care.

    • That’s what I’m hoping too. I’m sure there will be some influence on them after all these years of doing it. But in the end, it’s always about trusting them to God’s care, isn’t it? Thanks for sharing!

  5. Thanks for sharing this resource! I often reflect that the teenage years will reflect what happened from age 7-12. We have found tremendous success in making Bible narratives central to our religious formation. It helps keep faith from slipping into sentimentality. My kids fell in love with the Bible when we read the excellent Action Bible together (comic book version). The kids also really enjoy evening prayer with a prayer book they can hold and a candle they can light. They love rituals they can participate in.

    • Hi Eric! I often think the same way about the younger years…that 7-12 laid the foundation for the rest. I’m hoping that’s true anyway. I agree with you about reading the Bible to your kids. I’ve found a lot of fruit in doing that as well. It really helps to ground them. I’ve never heard of the Action Bible. Sounds interesting. I’ll have to take a look at that.

      Thanks for commenting.

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