Experiencing God In All The Things w/ Katie Haseltine

Katie Haseltine is a spiritual director, a certified Enneagram and self-care coach, and author of “All the Things: A 30 Day Guide to Experiencing God’s Presence in the Prayer of Examen.” Katie began her journey to become a trained spiritual director nine years ago. As an Enneagram type one, she was always looking for what was right, the correct theology, and figuring things out, while at the same time experiencing a lot of difficulty and suffering in her daily life. She was finding out that life wasn’t adding up the way she thought it would or how she had been taught. She struggled with finding peace and comfort in her relationship with God. She was led into a contemplative stream of spirituality as she sought to encounter Jesus.

Katie began exploring her personal connection to God in ways that went beyond just “doing the right things” which is what she had focused on for most of her faith journey. As she started working with people, she found many who were burnt out on religion, who felt like a failure, and like they never had the time, energy, or smarts to understand what “this” is all about. She knew there had to be another way and she started asking, “Where is the more?”.

One day during the pandemic Katie went on a “solo day” just to reflect and take time for herself. On an instinct, she grabbed her journals, and went through her notes on “The Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius” which are a collection of Christian meditations and prayers put together by a Spanish priest hundreds of years ago. She wanted to read through them and be reminded of what God had taught her. As she did, she sensed this little whisper that she should write a book about the prayer of examen. The thought made her laugh out loud. She wasn’t a “writer”, but the idea wouldn’t let up.

One day, soon after, she sat down on her porch swing and, within an hour, came up with a list of thirty ways she had used the examen in her journey to know God more. At that time, she didn’t have the idea of a thirty day guide, but when she saw the thirty ways it had profoundly shaped her, she thought, “Maybe this is it?”.  She wrote about a dozen pages and then met with a friend who worked for a publishing company to talk further. Her friend liked the idea so much, she pitched it, and a couple weeks later, Katie had a contract. Two months later, she finished writing the first draft, and two months beyond that it was edited and turned in to be published. “It all happened so fast”, she shared, “I’ve heard other Enneagram Ones say that writing for them is easy. I won’t say it was easy…but this is actually everything I believe, and it just came”.
When it comes to self-care, Katie has insight on what that can look like for anyone struggling with the demands of real life, including single parents. Katie shares that self-care is “emphatically” NOT selfish, then adds, “It all depends on what you think the definition of self-care can be. If your definition includes buying every piece of new clothing you think you need or spending eight hours binging a Netflix show – and…these things in pieces can be self-care…but my thought is, if your idea of self-care takes away from someone, I would love to reframe it.” Katie’s definition of self-care is that it’s “a spiritual practice that removes the barriers to our ability to accept, receive, and give back love”. She says, “When we don’t take care of ourselves, we miss how God is speaking to us. If you are harried, exhausted, guilty, frustrated, overwhelmed, or resentful, there is no way you can see the unlimited gifts that God gives us every day.” And, whether we can see it or not, God is doing that. Often it is our unmet needs that get in the way of our ability to see those gifts of love.  

Katie goes on to say that some of the basics for self-care are simple, like sleep. If you’re exhausted, go to sleep! “Eat well, drink water, exercise, be with people”, she continues, “When we do those simple things, and when we decide that our mental health, our emotional health, our spiritual health, and our physical health matter, all of a sudden we become healthier and able to notice and pay attention.” The number one thing we can do to be aware of God’s love and be a conduit of that love is to take care of ourselves. Often, says Katie, the things we do aren’t coming from a place of love. Our motivations instead come from a place of resentment, frustration, and fear.
When it comes to taking care of ourselves, Katie also says it doesn’t have to be expensive or time-consuming. “It can be as a simple as walking out your door, taking a deep breath, putting your face in the sun, listening to a bird or some rustling leaves, noticing God, asking for presence and then walking back inside.” It’s doing whatever we need to receive love so we can return love. “In spiritual direction terms, this is called the “love loop.” It’s this constant loop of God giving, and us receiving, of us giving back and God giving to us again. “It’s this loop that we want to stay in, so whatever you need to do to get in the loop and stay in the loop, that is your version of self-care.” One night that may be watching something on TV and relaxing, or it may be “a text thread with friends where you encourage each other and share funny memes”. Katie asks, “What are the simple things you can do that put you in a more healthy frame of mind to start noticing God? Because God is there.” Being able to know and connect with His presence and love is self-care. And we need that more than ever. We need to pause and remember that God is good even when the world seems like it’s on fire.

In Katie’s book, she takes about the ancient practice of examen. Ironically, the name of the prayer, “examen”, implies that we are examining ourselves and that is not the purpose or intent. St. Ignatius, a royal Spanish soldier in the 16th century, had a catastrophic injury that required a long recovery. Katie shares that as he recovered, he would read books about romance and about martyrs. When he read the romances, he would imagine himself getting well, returning a hero, and winning the heart of the girl, but he would go to sleep restless. When he read about martyrs, he would imagine returning home and giving his life away. That felt scary but at the end of the day, he noticed he felt restful. He realized that what we are thinking, feeling, and experiencing is what helps us perceive and know God. Our connection to Him is filtered through our thoughts, feelings, and physical experiences.

From that awareness, he developed a method called “examen”. In the practices of examen we are invited to acknowledge that God is always present to us in all things, to invite the Spirit to show us what we need to see, and then to review our day with that awareness.  As we do that, we can notice times we were acting from fear or resentment and not from love. Just paying attention to our days, noticing what happened and our responses, and talking to God about it is a game changer. “And”, Katie says, “most people don’t bring that to God”.  We don’t bring our authentic experiences to Him. This also applies in the positive. We may look back at our day and notice we were feeling really anxious but when a friend called and we could share about it, our breathing slowed down and some of the tension left our body. The practice of examen helps us see both patterns, the things we may need to confess and the gifts that come our way. It helps bring awareness as we bring our days to God.

Examen helps us take what you thought about, what you felt, and how you’ve experienced people, “and 
truly just lay it before God”, says Katie. The purpose isn’t to analyze it, go deeper with it, fix it, or solve it. “Think of it like you’re sitting on the side of a river, inviting Jesus to sit with you, and you’re watching your day go idly by on the river. You have enough time for that incident or moment to pass you by, to focus on it, then to let it go, and think of something else. You offer all those random thoughts to God. You have an opportunity if you need to confess anything, to offer gratitude, and you end the prayer with, “Be near me” for the rest of today. The prayer can be 3 minutes, or you can spend thirty,” says Katie. “It’s meant to be a light gaze at your day…a daily habit.” As you start paying attention to God’s present with you through it all, you may see patterns or have revelations about your actions and relationships. You might find yourself asking, what routines are working, what isn’t working? Katie says, “You can find that out that the examen is like an information trove of, “This is what my life feels like to me”. You want to use the examen to move toward the things that are life-giving and move away from the things that are life-draining.”
The practice of examen is simple but it is a powerful tool for self-care especially when we are in a season of waiting. The prayer is a prompt inviting us in to create our own dialogue with God. In her book, “All the Things”, Katie writes, “I wonder if I don’t wait well because I haven’t been taught to value the process. I often believe that to wait is to do nothing or that waiting causes me to miss out on life. Worse still is my belief that if God doesn’t fix what is broken right away then there must be something wrong with my faith or with God. Waiting exposes my fears and fears are scary.”  
So, how can patiently waiting move us to a greater understanding of God? Katie says, “Waiting is hard. It’s scary. Its uncomfortable. We’ve been formed in this belief that to be uncomfortable is a position you don’t want to be in.” Many of us are uncomfortable in transitions. They are awkward and we’ve been taught that awkward is bad, so we don’t like to wait. In the examen, we learn that prayer is not a list of things we need from God, or that He has to do things for us on a schedule. If instead, we learn that prayer is simply a way of being near God and being with Him in how we feel, we can learn over time to accept the discomfort of whatever position we are in and we can wait for it to change. “And everything changes”, Katie says, “and the examen has a lot to say about good seasons and bad seasons. If you’re in a good season, it’s going to get hard, and if you’re in a hard season, it’s going to get better.” The examen helps us normalize both and allows space for certain seasons, especially those of waiting, to not feel good.

“To have a practice where you can be in your own reality while you’re in front of God is so healing and life-giving. It creates an intimacy between you and God because you’re not trying to be somebody else. God knows you for you and you know God for God.” The examen helps us say, “Be with me in this.” We start to see that God is with us, “sustaining, giving, growing, helping, and being with us”, in all the seasons, good, hard, and those where we must wait.

In the examen, we start to learn “patient trust”. Katie shares a letter a Jesuit priest wrote to his niece who needed to make a decision but was unsure what to do. “Above all, trust in the slow work of God. We are quite naturally impatient in everything to reach the end without delay. We would like to skip the intermediate stages. We are impatient at being on the way to something unknown, something new. Yet it is the law of all progress that it is made by passing through some stages of instability, and that may take a very long time. And so, I think it is with you. Your ideas mature gradually. Let them grow. Let them shape themselves without undue haste. Don’t try to force them on as though you could be today, what time, grace, and circumstances, acting on your own good will, will make of you tomorrow. Only God could say what this new spirit, gradually forming in you, will be. Give our Lord the benefit of believing that His hand is leading you and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself in suspense and incomplete.”
Katie continues, “This is such a grace - for our soul to know that we can be incomplete and be with God in that.” We often run from uncomfortable emotions like the anxiety of uncertainty as if we can get away, instead of realizing that there is benefit in letting God be with us in that place, if we are patient with the process.

Another powerful element of the prayer of examen is to “stay in one place”. Katie shares that creating a space that is constant, steady, and that reminds us of moments where we knew God was with us creates a habit that prompts us to think, “This is where I go to meet with God.” Every time you pray in that space, your faith will grow because you meet with him consistently there. That can be a consistent place you sit, it can mean lighting a candle you use each time, have a stone that reminds you of his faithfulness or a memento that reminds you of God’s love. Those constants can provide a sense of place where God meets you.  

Katie’s favorite part of the practice of examen is saying, “Thank you, God, for being present to me.” It means so much to her to know that God will be with her no matter what. So often in the past she thought God would only be with her if she was good, if she was doing the right things – if she didn’t raise her voice that day or if she didn’t make a mistake. Just thanking God every day for being present helps us believe that He is. Going to a place where God has met you before is a powerful reminder of who He is and what He has done before. Go there and simply say, “Thank you for being present with me”. This alone is so anchoring and faith-building.

Katie also shares an idea she first heard from Steve Garber of Blood Water Mission. He would say, “It’s not everything but it’s not nothing, it’s something.” She talks about hearing that and how it stuck with her. At that time, she was very black and white in her thinking. Things were either good or bad, or all or nothing, but her life didn’t reflect that at all. Things weren’t that simple and defined. She often found herself in a place of “in between”.

Francis Schaffer talks about “proximate justice”. Here, on earth, before God returns, things won’t be perfect or all “right” or just. Instead, we can see proximate justice coming through in various ways. That idea, of seeing a reflection of what will one day be made perfect, reminded Katie of a children’s book called “Ish” that shares a similar idea. The boy in the story is frustrated that he can’t draw things just right. He crumples up his drawings and throws them aside. His sister gathers them and displays them all over her room and calls him to come look. She says to him, “It doesn’t look like a vase, but it looks vase-ish. It doesn’t look exactly like a lion but it’s lion-ish”. As she does that, the boy begins to realize that his drawings don’t have to be just right. There is room in life for things to be “-ish’. As Steve Garber said, “It doesn’t have to be everything. It just has to be “something”. This is the beautiful place of in between we often find ourselves in the here and now.
Katie shares, “You can have a sense that your kid is not doing well because it’s stressful in your world right now. You want them to be fine, but they might not be for a while. But maybe you can create a moment where you laughed, and you connected, and that’s something. And when you start stringing your somethings together, than you have actually got something to hold onto because you’re not looking for perfection.” If you can go with “something” instead of “everything”, you have a lot to hold onto. You do not have to have it all. You can just have something. And this is grace. We all need to hear this so much, maybe especially as single parents. Like a vector adjustment on a flight path, the change can be small, but over time that change of trajectory can lead to a completely different destination.  

Examen as a practice over thirty days can seem daunting, especially for a single parent that feels tapped out, but the heart of examen is not about performance or human effort. Katie shares the whole point is to go toward life, “Find what is life-giving. Move toward whatever brings you faith, hope, and love. Pray one aspect of the examen. If all you can muster today is, “God you are with me. Thank you.” That is enough. Do this however you want. Take what you want, leave the rest. Do what brings you life. There is nothing magical about this prayer” she continues, “but... it will help you see life, and that God is real present, loving, and good. However you can position yourself to see that is self-care. To remove all barriers” to knowing and receiving God’s love, that is self-care. And that is at the heart of experiencing God through the prayer of examen.
Find out more about Katie Haseltine on her website and get the book, “All the Things: A 30 Day Guide to   Experiencing God’s Presence in the Prayer of Examen” here and at other major retailers.

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