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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