One of my 'titles' in the western church culture, if you will, is 'worship leader'. I'm not particularly into titles. And I'm not even sure how much I think of this as an accurate title. You direct your worship to the One who deserves it by your own choice. Worship is so much more than what happens in a church service. But for those times that we do have together as ones who believe, celebrating with anthems of victory of the Great One, I've always thought of it as a chance to roll out the red carpet for the One Who deserves it, take you by the hand, and go there together to sing our songs of gratefulness and proclaiming His forever promises. For me, engaging my emotions, my mind and my physical self in melodies and truth, it's always been a safe place. I like staying there.
So there's that. And then we've got this whole Roots + Wings lullaby project going on to bring peace and truth to the hours of rest for little hearts. For me there's this merging of streams with sharing about worship, rest, sleep and wholeness. Stay with me. I want to share some practices that have helped change my personal sleep from nightmares and restlessness on a consistent basis to nights filled with more peaceful rest. It's kind of like 'worship leading' in a practical way to lead us in engaging our emotions, minds and physical bodies to trust the Lord when it comes time to lay our heads down. Maybe?? :-)
Something I struggled with as a small child into adulthood - sleep. Terrifying things happened in my sleep. Not actual things. Just in my subconscious. Almost nightly, nightmares trashed my sleep with fear and left my mornings under blankets of uneasiness. You laugh if you want to, but I will passionately stop you from ever talking about The Neverending Story or Howard the Duck in front of me! I blame those movies for more nightmares than I knew what to do with! That demonic black, glarey-eyed, Neverending-Story-wolf-in-a-cave staring me down telling me all the awful things he was going to do to me, or that scientist friend of a womanizing duck (seriously guys, who invests in a film like this?!) that transforms into a monster of destruction chasing me while my feet just magnet-power themselves to the ground. The childhood version of my self could not stand up to the terror wrought in my pre-school dreams. I've had more end-of-the-world dreams than I could ever count, I've seen LA leveled by earthquakes and fire, and recurring nightmares like a hooded 'creature' carrying a torch with the intent of burning my family and our full apartment complex to the ground. (I'm sure there plenty of psychological interpretations of all this, but...whatev.)
I do also have several awesome stories about dreams and sleep, one of which happened in college that I'll share in the case that it encourages someone else. I was spending a semester in Beijing, China. I LOVE travel. I LOVE adventuring. I LOVED my semester in China. But there was someone in my life who did not want me going on that semester trip, which caused a lot of anxiety in my heart. I wanted to please this person. I wanted there to be peace and understanding. But I also wanted to enjoy this awesome chance to learn, explore and live in a foreign country as part of my college experience. One night after an anxiety-filled, middle-of-the-night phone call trying to reason with this person, I fell back into extremely restless sleep. In the dream, some creepy thing was chasing me - like always. And at the moment I could finally break away in the chase, my feet melted into lead - like always. I was alone in my dorm room, but I heard someone not actually in the dream say, "What would happen if you turned around?" Well, if we're talking about whether my natural response to angst is fight or flight, I'm a flighter. Ahhhw-bviously. And oddly enough, turning around really wasn't something I had considered before.
I heard it again. "What would happen if you turned around?" So. I did. In my dream, I turned around to face the chaser. And at that point, the dream went black. I woke up. I've never had a running dream since. I think it's freaking amazing that God takes care of us even in our subconscious states.
After struggling with sleep for so long and figuring out it had a lot more to do with my heart than I realized, something I chose to be intentional about is going to bed with a heart at rest and full of trust. I've developed healthier thinking patterns, I've allowed myself to receive Love in areas in my heart where before there was so much fear, and I've made it a priority to tend to MY own heart to invest Truth during the day. I don't do it perfectly, but even in the small steps I've seen change. To this day, I still need to be very mindful about what I allow myself to take on to 'solve' or 'figure out', especially before I go to sleep. We're not designed to carry the heavy weight of making everything perfect...because we can't make everything perfect. We were designed to live trusting God's strength and ability:
"Don't worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God's peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus." - Philippians 4:6-7
Responding to God in true worship, for the Ultimate Gift He's given us TODAY, it is our choice every time we get ready to go to sleep to trust Him and truly believe that in His care there is no lack of solution, provision, or relationship. I'm not perfect at this. But I can tell you, my sleep is a full one-eighty from what it was even five years ago. The amount of end-of-the-world terrifying dreams that occur on a monthly basis are fewer and fewer.
Over the past few years I've had several tests done at doctor's office because I consistently felt so low on energy, especially during the winter months. (Blasted Midwest gray winters.) One of the tests I had done revealed that my cortisol levels were peaking during my sleep and not at the top of the morning, which is when it should be. Cortisol is a stress hormone in our bodies, and mine took over my sleep hours. So when I woke up, I hadn't reeeally rested. My adrenal glands were stressed. There was all of this chemical stuff going on internally. The test results flipped this switch in me that taking control of my thoughts and emotions before bed would actually have a medical and physical effect on my body and well-being. I didn't want to keep letting this happen, so I've tried several natural ways to take care of my body. Which is where a lot of the items on the list below come from. At the same time, I also was learning about something else on a scientific level. Have you ever heard of the optimism bias? According to scientific research, we are designed brain and body to think good thoughts, give and receive God's kind of lasting, healthy love, and to be in health. Toxic thinking ravages the brain and body in the same way sickness ravages the brain and body. I was learning a lot from Neuropsychologist Dr. Caroline Leaf that was changing my paradigm. If I was being honest with myself, I lived in and carried a TON of fear. (She also talks a lot about Quantum Physics, and collapsing realities, which I can hardly tell you how fascinating I find learning this stuff!) It might sound a little extreme, but in talking about her research and scientific findings that we are wired for love - Jesus being the finished and ultimate expression of that - she says this:
"Instead of thinking of yourself as a poor old sinner saved by grace; rather think of yourself as a magnificent creation of God who has made some bad choices or experiences some knocks in life and who, through the grace of Jesus Christ, can choose to appropriate his grace and receive forgiveness and cleansing. This wonderful choice actually rewires the brain back to its original state each time we acknowledge him. This is where science and grace meet. You see - we are wired for love! And as we practice His Presence daily we step into our natural design, which is one of love and perfection." (Here's a link to her entire post.)
So, something I thought I'd share is a bedtime routine for me as an adult that creates the space for me to rest in trust (and worship/responding to what Jesus has done for me) BEFORE I actually fall asleep. Because if you and I are wired for LOVE and not for fear, anxiety, worry or despair, then I wanted to teach my body that.
"You'll take afternoon naps without a worry, you'll enjoy a good night's sleep. No need to panic over alarms or surprises, or predictions that doomsday's just around the corner, Because God will be right there with you; he'll keep you safe and sound." -Proverbs 3:24
1. Figure out how much sleep I want. My goal is generally 8 hours. I know, for a lot of high achievers or parents, this might seem unrealistic. And honestly, I don't always make this goal. I just know that after a prolonged amount of days with less sleep, I have less patience, less energy and tend to get sick easily. Again, I've talked with my doctor (who takes a pretty holistic path) about this. You pick your thing. For me, if I don't budget the time, I don't get the amount of sleep that I could, and I don't feel good on an emotional and physical level.
2. Figure out what time I need to start getting ready for bed if I want 8 hours of sleep. (Y'all might be good at math, but I have to actually chunk out the time in my head to hit my time goals, or I'm floating through a timeless continuum of creativity.)
3. Clear clutter in my room
4. Wash face + brush teeth, etc
5. Set out my clothes for the next day
6. Turn on bedside lamp, and turn off the bright light
7. Essential oils. I personally think essential oils make a difference for me when I sleep, so I fill up my essential oil diffuser and turn it on. Depending on how I feel, I might rub some Lavender and Peppermint on the bottom of my feet and back of my neck.
8. I pick out a song or two I want to wind down to. (I made a Spotify playlist with some of the songs I've used and re-used this year.)
9. Once a chiropractor gave me some stretches to do 3 times a day for my lower back after sitting/standing all day. If I'm being really good, I do those stretches....mmm....one time that day. :-)
10. There's a yoga pose called 'Legs up the Wall' that I LOVE doing before bed. It's supposed to be super calming for the nervous system, relieves pressure on the lower back, and it feels great. I turn on at least one full song (yes, about 5 minutes) that encourages trust in God's heart toward me. I'll close my eyes and imagine that song happening in my life.
Your love’s not fractured, It’s not a troubled mind
It isn’t anxious, it’s not the restless kind
Your love’s not passive, It’s never disengaged
It’s always present, It hangs on every word we say
Love keeps its promises, it keeps its word
It honors what’s sacred, cause its vows are good
Your love’s not broken, It’s not insecure
Your love’s not selfish, Your love is pure
Then I'll climb into bed. I'm not saying that this is THE way. I have several strategies and tools I have used and still used that have helped me get to this place. We're all different and are in so many different situations. The point really is to take the time for your heart to settle into the safety of God's love before you attempt to rest. I just thought I'd share what that looks like for me in this season.
"At the day's end I'm ready for sound sleep, For you, God, have put my life back together." - Psalm 4:8