I can’t tell you how often it happens.

I close my eyes, nestle in all comfy-cozy in bed…or roll over in the middle of the night, meaning to just find a new position and then keep on sleeping…but I can’t.

My brain turns on. A switch is flipped. And the thoughts…the thoughts start swirling. Buzzing. Clamoring.

I know I’m not the only one to deal with this, right? RIGHT?? LOL

A little while ago, my best friend was the kind of sick that involved a sore throat and stuffy nose. When I asked her how she was feeling, she said she hadn’t slept great because of the congestion–a feeling I certainly know well! And then that she also had trouble turning off her brain. To which I said, “Ah, so mental congestion too.”

“YES!” she said. “That is the perfect phrase for it!”

And it really is, isn’t it? Sometimes our thoughts are just congested. Instead of being orderly and filed in their proper places, they’re all a-jumble, clogging up our minds and tripping over each other. Sometimes they won’t come out…and sometimes they’re just spilling like a faucet we can’t turn off. They keep us from falling asleep. Or from falling back to sleep.

Some days, I don’t mind. This is how I’ve come up with many a story. It’s how I’ve planned out innumerable blog posts. I design book covers with my eyes closed many times, or dream up the next dream I want to pursue. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said to my husband, “So when I was lying there last night, I came up with this idea…”

I love ideas, whenever they come. But let’s face it–I’d prefer they come in an orderly fashion, between the hours of 5:30 a.m. and 9:30 p.m. Is that so much to ask?? 😉

The same day Stephanie and I were talking about Mental Congestion (I am so laying claim to that phrase–think I should trademark it?? LOL), another friend, Mike Sollom, author of Grief Exposed, sent me an email. He and his wife had recently come across a nightly “examen” meant to help our thoughts settle and center on Christ at the end of each day, and he thought maybe I’d enjoy trying it.

I read over the document he sent and quickly saw that it was in the same vein as many of the spiritual formation exercises Laura Heagy has shared with the Patrons & Peers group, which I’ve then shared here. That made me smile, assuring me that it was one of those God Things we all know and love, when totally different sources all combine to show you something the Father wants you to see. Don’t you love those?

I admit it though: I’ve tried to do this sort of nightly ritual before, and while it’s great, it’s usually only a week or so before I forget one night, and then I’m too tired the next, and then the next thing I know, a month has gone by and I look over and see my notebook and go, “Oh! I totally forgot about that!”

I can’t say for sure that this will be any different. But I hope not. Because the beauty of this little exercise speaks to my soul…and my congested mind could certainly use it. Maybe you can too. Even if we don’t go through it step by step every night, keeping the process in mind as we settle into bed could be rewarding.

The practice of an “examen” goes back centuries and millennia; you can see at a glance the relation of the word to “examine,” right? The idea is simply to examine your day, your conscience, your heart, your mind…all with a focus on the Lord. In this case, it’s been broken down into a few steps or perspectives to consider:


We begin with Enlightenment as a means of bringing the light of Christ into our hearts–pause to see yourself as God sees you. If you’ve done the Beloved Charter, this is a perfect time to revisit it. Remind yourself that you are a precious child of God. That He loves you SO MUCH. As the Holy Spirit to reveal the parts of your day He wants you to think about, especially where God was moving…even if you weren’t aware of it at the time.

Looking back on my day, I can see that God blessed me with the words I needed to write, even though I had a headache. I can see that He was walking with my husband and me in the evening as we chatted about Things That Matter. I can see Him reaching out to me through friends and colleagues when I needed encouragement.

Next comes Thanksgiving. This is pretty self-explanatory, but a practice I daresay we can all do more often. Thank God for His blessings that day. Thank Him for how He spoke to you through nature or friends, through His Word, through all the little things.

It’s spring here in West Virginia, and I can’t glance outside without being astounded by the beauty of His creation. That beauty thrills my soul anew every single year, and it’s a beautiful reminder to thank Him. I am so grateful for the friends and family He’s given me and how they enrich my life. I’m constantly filled with gratitude at the husband he’s given me, who challenges me to go deeper, with whom I can have conversations that matter, who loves me more each day. I’m amazed again each day at the children who have grown into near-adults and who talk to me about everything from the universe (as a scientific thing) to cat jokes. The more I dwell on all those things, the more grateful I am, not just for what God has given, but for who He has made me. For the fact that He wants to be in communion with me. Little me!

Now it’s time to get specific with your Reflection. This is where you should bring to mind some specifics from your day. When did you feel the worst? Physically, mentally, emotionally? When did you feel the best? Why? What did you or can you learn from those moments?

I had an interesting case of this. There was an opportunity I’d been hoping for, and I suddenly realized it may be 100% impossible. As in, not really an opportunity at all, just misinformation. That made my heart sink, and I had to examine why I had so much hope pinned on it. What is it about this that I want so much? What can I do about that if it isn’t possible in the way I first thought? How can I redirect? What has it shown me about my heart and goals? Where is God guiding me?

I also realized that that “realization” had led me to some general frustration. The thought of that being beyond reach made me unhappy with things I’d always been happy with. I was grumbling about not having comfortable chairs on my porch. About all the hours I was spending caring for sick animals. About the fact that I felt under the gun with a deadline, even though I’d planned my time pretty carefully and knew it would be tight.

So then, Response. This is where you acknowledge all those things from your day, from your heart, from your mind. This isn’t about trying to school yourself into the “correct” response. This is just where you embrace what your actual response is. “Lean into it,” as my husband frequently says. “Feel it.” There’s no point in denying your emotional reactions. Embrace them, but in the same way that you embrace an angry toddler–not to coddle, but to soothe. To explore why you feel that way. To turn it over to the Father.

Sometimes, this is going to mean that I shed a few tears. Sometimes, this means that I tell God, “I’m so frustrated right now! I don’t know what to do!” Sometimes I might whisper-shout to Him, “Why did you ignite this yearning in me if nothing’s ever going to come of it? Was it not really from You? But it FELT like it was!” Sometimes I need to confess a sin or a less-than-godly response.

Sometimes I’m just going to worship Him, in awe of what He’s done. Sometimes I’m going to laugh in gratitude. Sometimes I’m just going to bask in the comfort of His presence.

Once we’ve worked through our responses, we say a simple Closing. Renew your commitment to Christ, asking Him to show you how to follow Him in all those things, and into tomorrow. Look ahead to what you know is coming and ask for Him to guide you. Put all your concerns into His capable hands, and ask Him for a restful night.

Of course, this isn’t some magical formula. Going through this process every night won’t guarantee peaceful sleep all the time. But like so many rituals, it will help. Clear out some of the congestion. And show you things about yourself, your heart, and your mind that otherwise might not have filtered to the surface through all that “stuff.”

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