“Now I lay me down to sleep. I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.”
My grandmother taught me that prayer when I was a child. She made me say that every night before I went to sleep. The prayer is from the 18th century which was a time when childhood deaths were very high. As a child I didn’t understand the morbid nature of the words. Kids in the 1970s didn’t die in their sleep from a sudden onset of measles or other childhood illness. But when I became a mother and started to teach my daughter to say this bedtime prayer I was horrified when I realized the meaning behind the words. So, I let the ritual of my childhood go, and I didn’t teach my daughter the value of saying bedtime prayers. I do wish I had. Bedtime prayer is so much more than a cute childhood tradition.
Are bedtime prayers a Christian thing?
Prayer is communication from your heart to a higher power, to the universe. You don’t have to be Christian to say a bedtime prayer. Jews say the Shema, Hindus say the KaracharaNa, and Dias for Muslims. In fact, you don’t have to be religious at all. Non secular parents have started teaching their children bedtime rituals focused on gratitude. Many atheist parents have their children say the following poem by Dani Shapiro from her memoir Devotion
May I be safe; may I be happy; may I be strong; may I treat others with kindness; may I live with ease
Isn’t saying a bedtime prayer a kid thing though?
I’ve given this a lot of thought. For thousands of years, across cultures and continents, one thing humans have always done is incorporate some form of prayer in their daily routine. Seems logical to me that there must be some purpose for prayer in our lives no matter how old we are or what our spiritual beliefs are. Our world today is chaotic. We are overloaded with information coming at us fast. In the cult of busy that has sprung up in this digital age we rush through our days without taking time to pause and reflect. Our jobs keep us connected nearly 24/7 with laptops, mobile phones, and tablets. At night we crash in our beds exhausted craving sleep only to be kept awake by our racing mind.
Creating space in our evening hours for reflection, meditation, and prayer is more than just reviving a childhood routine. Routines are just habits. Things we do mindlessly. Bedtime prayer is a ritual. Rituals are intentional acts we set apart from our everyday life. Bedtime prayer should not be a mindless childhood rhyme or a bible verse recited from memory. Bedtime prayer should be something that lifts us up out of the mundane pace of life and for a few moments connects us to something more sacred. Bedtime prayers should not focus on the fear of death or the wrath of God. Bedtime prayers should focus on gratitude and appreciation. Bedtime prayer should be a ritual of thanks and a time for personal reflection.
Bedtime is a perfect time to pause and reflect on the day. What went right? What is good about life? It may be that the only thing good is that you were able to get out of bed but giving thanks for that small victory is powerful for overcoming depression and anxiety. Bedtime is a perfect time to reflect on what could be better. What could you improve with a bit more discipline and effort? Creating space in your bedtime routine for a few moments of prayer is a powerful tool to help you let go of stress, practice gratitude, and find peace.
Sure, bedtime prayer is great if you’re religious but what if your an atheist? I’ve got news for all you nonbelievers. Bedtime prayer is just as helpful for you as it is for us secular folks. As a Lutheran, I believe that I am communicating to God from my heart when I pray. That can be intimidating sometimes. I mean, what the hell do you say to the almighty? So when I find myself overwhelmed by the idea that I am talking to God, I remind myself that I am made of stardust. I am stardust speaking to the stars. Maybe this image is more comfortable for you if you’re a nonbeliever?
Taking time before I close my eyes for the night to give thanks and reflect on my day is one of the ways I refresh my mental health. It’s my mental pause and reset. It gives me the clarity to see that maybe it wasn’t such a hellish day after all. It forces me to remember what is going right rather than ruminate on all that is going wrong. And as a Christian, it comforts me to know that God is listening.
My personal bedtime prayer is below. Feel free to try it out. I would love to hear what you think in the comments.
Dear God, my day is drawing to a close and I’m ready for a good night’s sleep. As I close my eyes tonight I pray for loved ones around me, for friends, and all who need you. I pray that your comfort, mercy, and grace as plentiful as the stars in the sky will touch all who need it. Bless me with rest so that I wake refreshed and ready to begin another day. Thank you for blessings so undeserved and too numerous to count.
I close my prayer with my favorite bible verse.
2 Timothy 1:9
For God’s not given me a spirit of fear but a spirit of love and of power and a sound mind to live each day and glorify his name.