What is the Secret to Flourishing?

Two years ago, I wrote my 22 best practices that have helped me survive and thrive through 22 years of pastoral ministry. Last year I added one more practice to the list which should have been there from the start: taking regular sabbaticals which have been generously provided by my church and have also been key for me over the years.

Today I’d like to add:

Get a good night’s sleep.

Since I included eating healthy and staying physically active in my original 22 best practices, in hindsight I think I should have included getting a good night’s sleep too.

I’m not sure why I left it out, though most likely because I generally sleep well except when I indulge in coffee, tea, chocolate, or any form of caffeine. So for me, sleeping well is related to what I eat–if I have a cup of coffee, then watch out! I’m easily up until 3 in the morning, which is great for whittling down my to-do list, but not the best sleep practice.

Advice abounds on how to get a good night’s sleep, so I don’t need to repeat much of that here. Besides avoiding caffeine, the best sleep hygiene includes going  to bed at the same time each night (which I don’t do), limiting screen time before bed (which I also don’t do), limiting  daytime naps (mainly yes), exercising (also mainly yes), having a comfortable mattress and pillow (yes), making sure the room is dark (also yes, I love my blackout blinds!).

The one thing though  that I don’t often see in discussions about getting a good night’s sleep is

Going to bed prepared for the next day.

For me that includes jotting down the two or three most important things for the next day. Somehow committing them to paper helps me to let them go at least for the night. Sometimes I need to journal out my concerns, but often it’s just a few words in the corner of my New York Times crossword daily calendar that I’ll look at in the morning.

So last Thursday night, for example, I wrote memorial service (which I was to lead Friday morning), sermon (since I was to preach the following Sunday), and the name of a family I planned to visit the next afternoon. There was a lot more that happened that day, of course, but those were my big three.

For me, writing these things down at the end of the day is a form of prayer, and a way for me to release them to God. If they’re written down, then I don’t need to hold them in my head, and Lord willing, they don’t need to keep me up at night. Tomorrow’s priorities are for tomorrow. Tonight I need to sleep.

If that makes me sound calm and overly rational about sleeping, well, I’m not. Although I most often sleep well, I’ve  had my restless nights too, and sometimes the adrenaline of a new writing project keeps me up far later than I intend.

And if it makes getting a good night’s sleep sound too good to be true, well, it is. Writing things down doesn’t always “work” even for a generally good sleeper like me. Setting things down even in permanent ink doesn’t mean that they will necessarily stay on the page, and let us sleep in peace.

But for me, this simple writing practice seems to help me sleep at least as much as my blackout blinds and drinking herbal tea instead of regular coffee.

So I offer it here in case you’d like to try it too. It’s one way to put into practice the words of Jesus in his sermon on the mount:

So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today. (Matthew 6:34).

Writing/Reflection Prompt: What helps you to flourish?

Over the last few months, I’ve been savouring the stories and poems of Everbloom: Stories of Deeply Rooted and Transformed Lives. I tell you, I have so many favourites! This article is inspired by Aleah Marsden’s story, “The Secret to Bloom,” and the writing/reflection prompt here is a simplified version of the prompt that ends her article. Get your copy of Everbloom today!



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9 thoughts on “What is the Secret to Flourishing?

  1. Yes, April, making a “to do” list, writing things down has been helpful to me over the years. It helps me to be organized and not to panick about all that still needs doing. I especially like checking it off after it is accomplished. I have also kept a menu book over the years in which I write down who comes over, when they come and what I make for the meal. Then, when the guests are gone, I make a summarizing statement or observation. Lately, Hardy and I have looked back over the years at some of these events recorded in our book. Quite interesting!

    1. Thanks for your comment, Elfrieda. I appreciate your word of affirmation, and love, love the idea of a menu book! What a great way to keep a record of your hospitality and to look back. Enjoy!

  2. A good night’s sleep is also critical for me. Not only in length but in quality. As you noted, I too find it helpful to glance at the next day’s schedule. I like to review it after dinner. It helps me to rest better at night knowing somewhat of the next day’s adventures. Thank you for the reminder, April!

    1. You’re welcome, Sharon, and I appreciate your use of the word “adventures”–I often think more in terms of challenges and joys, but “adventures” seems more open-ended and helps me think of the coming day as one of exploration.Thank you!

  3. Looking at the next day’s schedule,and, in this crazy house full of hungry boys, it’s been important for me to know what I’m going to make for breakfast in the morning. Then, praying The Examen after I turn out the lights helps me to sort through the day, to remember Who’s in charge of it all, and to trust for grace for one more day.

    1. Oh yes, Michele! What to make for breakfast may seem a rather small thing, but I know what a difference even small things can make in setting the tone for a day. Thank you also for mentioning The Examen. I don’t pray it as often as I used to, but it’s another beautiful practice to bring the day to a close.

  4. April, what a good idea to make penning the next day’s to-do list before bed, by lamplight—or candles!—(as opposed to screen light . . . whoops, I’m busted, again) a thoughtful, gathering-in-the-better-to-pour-out-love-tomorrow prayer. I need to try this. Thank you!

    1. I can’t say I’ve ever tried this by candlelight, Laurie, but I love that image. For me it’s the lamp on my bedside table and always making my little list by hand and in ink–when plans change or interruptions come, I can always cross out and write something in for another day. Like writing, life is a work in progress.

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