The Examen of an “Overachiever”

Years ago someone called me an overachiever. I suppose it’s true in the sense that I have distinguished myself at times in spite of my limited gifts and natural abilities. Early in life I learned that I could compensate for a lack of natural talent by hard work. I ran cross country in high school rather than being a sprinter – and I set a new school record. In Seminary I wrote a thesis that was more than twice as long as necessary (Have I mentioned about my OCD tendencies?) – and I won an award. As a pastor, when I became convinced of the importance of prayer, I preached several series on it – one must have been 16 weeks long, and started praying with people from the church for hours and hours each week. For me, success has always meant working harder than the other guy. More was always better. Faster was better too. There was definitely no time to waste. “Daylight”, as they say, was “burnin’.”

I’ve been in recovery now for some time, but it’s tough going. I recently wrote out a prayer for use as an “examen.”* I need to pray this like I do the Lord’s Prayer – “daily”, and I find it helpful when I do. If you can find something useful in it, that’s great too. Here it is:

“In the morning O Lord, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait in expectation. Listen to my cry for help, my King and my God, for to you I pray.” (Ps. 5:3,2)

Today I leave to you …
what I do or don’t accomplish
what others think of me
my comfort and my pleasure
my health and my happiness
my sense of satisfaction and my success
my impact and my importance.

Today I will hallow your name by  …
leaving enough silent spaces to hear from you
living in calmness of spirit, not in haste
looking for transformational moments in the events of the day
waiting for my turn to speak
talking less and listening more
acting and speaking only out of love
remembering the poor and marginalized
depending on you rather than myself for success, and working to further your agenda and enhance your reputation, not my own.

May I do this by your grace and Spirit, desiring to experience and increase your kingdom rule. May I persist in all my weakness, and in spite of all my failures, as I depend on your unfailing love to see me through. Amen.


* “The Daily Examen is a technique of prayerful reflection on the events of the day in order to detect God’s presence and discern his direction for us. The Examen is an ancient practice in the Church that can help us see God’s hand at work in our whole experience.” My version involves using this morning prayer at the start of the day, and then returning to it at the end of the day for the “prayerful reflection on the events of the day” that is the essence of the examen.

I have posted other resources on the interface between overachieving and the examen elsewhere for those who are looking for more help.

10 thoughts on “The Examen of an “Overachiever”

  1. Ann J says:

    My favorite line is “leaving enough silent spaces to hear from you.” I guess that is why silence is traditionally one of the spiritual disciplines. In my opinion we have misunderstood this to simply mean turning off the noise, but I think it is even more important to have a time of interior silence and listening, like the contemplatio phase of lectio divina.

    Also, regarding your reference to remembering the poor and marginalized, are you familiar with Heidi Baker? One of her themes is ‘stop for the one.’ We can’t get up in the morning and solve world hunger, but we can stop for the one in front of us. Here is a short clip (although you can google full sermons)

  2. Bill Britton says:

    Thanks Ann. I agree about the “interior silence.” A difficult thing for a person who has almost always felt rushed within. Powerful though. Thanks for the link. I’ll check it out.

  3. sjmunson says:

    Thanks, Bill. I can relate. In childhood we learn that the world rewards our overachieving with awards, applause, and accolades, but no one prepares us for the emptiness that follows. So we try to fill the void with the useless balm of more achievement. It is only by gazing daily into the Father’s eyes that we can embrace failure, disaster, and humiliation and what they have to teach us regarding who we are and who we are not. Good post.

  4. David W. Johnson says:

    I appreciate your thoughts, Bill, and your craft in expressing them. These blogs are well written. With your permission, I would like to share your prayer with groups in our church. It would be helpful in fleshing out the concept of worship-based prayer, which we have been encouraging for some time now.

    Your personality/performance struggle in some ways has been the opposite of mine. Though I have OCD tendencies about some things (Just ask Chris.) and know how to work hard, I have never struggled with having too much drive, too much discipline in work. Setting and striving toward goals does not come naturally to me. Instead, I wrestle with too little ambition, too little focus. I am far more prone to react to my environment and circumstances and to shape them out of necessity than out of intention.

    I ‘get’ the prayer, but when I read, “living in calmness of spirit, not in haste,” the Spirit also warns me not to use such thoughts as an excuse for the laziness that is so deeply rooted in my flesh. For me, it would need to read something like this:

    “Today I will hallow your name by …
    leaving enough silent spaces to hear from you
    living in calmness of spirit, not in haste
    yet, diligent in all things– O guard me from sloth.”

  5. Bill Britton says:

    David, thanks for your transparency and insight. Your comments show that everyone has to craft a prayer of their own. Certainly there are essential things to include (God’s kingdom, listening better to him and others, caring for those we overlook, etc.), but we each have our own struggles, and it’s definitely not “one size fits all.” And certainly, you have my permission to use the prayer! I hope we can all encourage each other in this journey of “detecting God’s presence and determining his direction for us.”

  6. Ray says:

    You are once again addressing my exact condition. I think I need to pray this prayer several times a day.

  7. Bill Britton says:

    I had a feeling about this entry, that it might be my most widely read. I’m really pleased with all the discussion already. The contents of the prayer speak to universal needs, which is why I think we all relate so much to it. (And yet sometimes we don’t know just what to do. In the prayer I spelled that out for myself – a daily prayer/reminder – and end of the day review. It’s like being accountable to yourself – and it’s easier to be totally honest that way. 🙂 Thanks for your comment Ray.

  8. […] and the “examen” of St. Ignatius. (I separated these references from my examen prayer page because I wanted keep it free of distractions. At the same time, I wanted to share just a few […]

  9. Doug Britton says:

    Great prayer! We could all benefit from praying that daily.

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