In the Spring of 2016, I went to visit what has now become one of my favorite places in the Houston area, The Villa de Matel. This is a convent on a large area of land downtown that specializes in spiritual retreat. My mind was feeling very cluttered and I needed some time for silence and reflection. I started off by meeting with the spiritual advisor, and she handed me several pieces of paper with some different exercises and practices that she thought may be helpful for me. As I walked around, I found a rocking chair on a balcony overlooking the prayer garden and sat down. I wasn’t really sure how to start. I had so many goals for what I wanted to get out of this experience. I picked up my stack of papers and selected one at random. It was an examen, called saving F.A.C.E. (Fears, Attachments, Control, Entitlement)
If you’re not familiar, examen is a very old Christian practice that comes from the Latin word meaning “review.” We get so caught up in the rush of life, that we forget to be present and to sense that God is present. This exercise is meant to review our day (or a recent time period) and notice the ways God was moving and speaking. We ask God to give us clarity, we begin to reflect on ourselves and our day, we see the thoughts and feelings that arise in us, we talk to God about those, and we end by looking toward the future.
This particular examen, saving FACE, is a challenging one. It forces us to recognize the areas in which we have been trying to save face. This phrase, saving face, refers to the strategies that we all employ as humans to avoid humiliation or embarrassment, to preserve our reputation at all costs. This is why the exercise is so hard. It forces us to confront the things we have been avoiding.
When it comes to saving FACE, most people fall into one of two traps. Either they deny that they have anything to confront, or they have already condemned themselves so much that they refuse to accept the love and grace Christ has for them.
Here’s how the exercise works:
First, find somewhere comfortable and distraction free. Relax. Slow down. Take deep breaths. Ask God to make his presence known around you. Feel this presence and just be.
Now, we examine ourselves
Fears: Ask God to show you what fears are dominant in your heart. Don’t stop at the surface level answer. Our truest fears are often hidden beneath. Once you are able to name the fear, take note of it.
Attachments: What have you been clinging to lately? You could be overly attached to a person, an idea, a result, or a behavior. Especially pay attention to emotional attachments. Once you’ve identified attachments, take note of them.
Control: In what areas are you trying too hard to have control? Are you trying to control people? Situations? Your future? It’s difficult for us to admit that we are controlling, so ask God for the courage to be honest. Once you identify spaces where you are seeking control, ask yourself why you feel the need for control in this area. Once you’ve recognized these, simply acknowledge them.
Entitlement: Where did you see entitlement recently? “I worked hard today, I deserve to…” “I’m an important person, I should not have to…” “Well, did you see what they did to me? I had the right to…” Where you find a false sense of entitlement, name it before God.
Trying to save FACE is exhausting. I know. I do it all the time. That’s why, ever since first learning this exercise, I go back to it regularly. Once you take the time to name your Fears, Attachments, Controls, and Entitlement, look toward the future. Here is a powerful question.
What would tomorrow look like if I didn’t allow these fears, attachments, need for control, and entitlements to rule me?
Then pray the sentence prayer that has been completely life changing for me…
“Lord, help me to live in the freedom of your mercy.”
We often get crushed by our tendencies to save FACE
“The Spirit of the LORD is upon me, for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the oppressed will be set free.”
“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I have come that they may have life, and have it in all its fullness.”
That Spring day, in 2016, I came to the Villa with so many goals of what I needed to accomplish. Those got ditched after this exercise. Instead, I spent the time walking around, practicing what it means to live in the freedom of mercy.
You may have a lot of goals for 2019. That’s great! I have some goals too. But the truth is, we can’t do anything to move forward, if we don’t acknowledge where we are currently at. We can’t set the right goals, if we don’t realize where we are trying to save FACE. Chances are, many of us made goals out of fear, attachment, control, and entitlement.
Although this exercise is hard, it has been completely transformational for me. My prayer is that it will be transforming for you as well, and that 2019 will be a year that you experience the freedom of Christ’s mercy.