Christians for centuries have practiced varied forms of praying just before they go to sleep. Everything from monastic and liturgical forms of Evening Prayer or Compline, the Ignatian Daily Examen to simple prayers of thanksgiving or a gestured surrender of care to God. Communing with God before sleep provides the body and soul a sacramental closure punctuating the day’s end in order to enter more fully and intentionally into the rest of God, making distinct the separation between day and night. Too often, we are prone to take the day’s concerns right into bed with us blurring margins of work and rest, losing sleep, habituating ourselves in worry rather than surrender.
Bed-time praying of any sort benefits us. We can look over the day and see ways God was present to us, how we were present to God. We can spend a moment offering thanks for the gifts of God’s protection and provision. We increase awareness of God’s hold on us and discover we are not alone.
Bed-time prayers can be penitent. As we examine our heart in light of the day’s activities we notice sin: in word, thought or deed – in what we have done or left undone. Confession before bed provides a way to off-load the weight and worry of sin as we accept the peace of God’s forgiveness and acceptance which enables true rest.
What emerges from any practice of prayer before sleep is the sense of relinquishment at day’s end. Praying before sleep offers a way to bring our entire life, body, soul, spirit and social self, to God entrusting it into his hands. It avails us of a regular and conscious way to give up control for a set and sacred time when the body, in vulnerability, becomes unconscious and utterly dependent on God, who through sleep and without our will or effort, carries us into the next day. Dawn becomes the sacred threshold of awakening into the newness of life and the experience of having been sustained, held, and cared for through the darkest time of each 24 hour cycle. Bed-time praying can foster the deep belief that God can actually hold the world, us, our families and our cares as we rest in a keeping not our own.i
At the end of Jesus’ Work Day, he relinquished himself into the hands of the Father, praying the words of the psalmist: Father, into your hands I commit my spirit. (Luke 23:46; Ps.31:5)
Below is a simple bed-time prayer. Try it tonight. Take a few quiet moments to entrust yourself into God’s hands. When you wake the next morning, ask yourself: WHO held my world while I slept? Or HOW did I get here today from yesterday?
Yes, you, O Beloved, bring my fears to the fore, exposing them to the Light;
I abandon myself into your hands,
into your heart I commend my soul, in you will I place my heart.ii
– Elizabeth Khorey
i Berry, Wendell, A Timbered Choir: The Sabbath Poems, 1979-1997, Coutnerpoint, Berkeley, California, 1998, Poems from 1989 VII.
ii An excerpted adaptation from Psalm 55, Merrill, Nan C., Psalms for Praying: An invitation to Wholeness, Bloomsbury, New York, 2007, 103.