A Bedtime Prayer for Grown-Ups: How to Offer Up Your Unfinished To-Do List

Woman praying kneeling at a bed
Photo by Karolina Grabowska from Pexels

When I was a child, I learned and often prayed the well-known bedtime rhyme: 

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. 

There are some great theological insights packed into this little rhyme, including a gentle memento mori — a reminder that one day we will die, and we should orient our lives to be ready to meet God. Despite the prayer’s gentleness, I felt the need to add another, hopeful couplet for some focus that I felt was missing: “If I should live another day, I pray the Lord to guide my way.” Now I pray this with my children sometimes, but it’s not our only bedtime prayer — and it’s not the one I turn to when I’m ready to lay my head on my own pillow. 

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I love to speak with God candidly and spontaneously throughout my day, including when I pour my heart out to him in the calm of night. But sometimes a prayer from memory can provide the spark you need when your own words feel inadequate. When I turn my heart and mind to God in the dark and quiet, I say (or start with) something called A Prayer for Daily Neglects:

Eternal Father, I offer you the Sacred Heart of Jesus, with all its love, all its sufferings, and all its merits. 

First, to expiate all the sins I have committed this day and during all my life: Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen. 

Second, to purify the good I have done poorly this day and during all my life: Glory be…

Third, to supply the good I ought to have done, and neglected to do, this day and during all my life: Glory be…

When I discovered this prayer, I was constantly feeling overwhelmed. I had a newborn, my first child was starting high school, and the kids in-between each had their own unique challenges. My husband was self-employed, which meant he worked long hours away from home and came home tired. The struggle to meet everyone’s needs had me believing that I could never do enough or be good enough. I admit, I frequently wanted to go hide in a closet, and sometimes did. I wanted to be close to God, but my prayer life fell short of my aspirations. My everyday work felt unworthy to offer up to God—what good is an unfinished to-do list?

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I owned up to some of these struggles during a consultation with my oldest child’s school adviser, and she introduced me to the Prayer for Daily Neglects. Immediately, this prayer soothed me. It reminded me that I didn’t have to be perfect, that God loves and accepts me as I am. It told me that he can cover all my needs and redeem all my efforts. The late dinner, the rowdy family prayer time, the well-intended discipline that was more harsh than it needed to be — God sees that, and can use it in ways that I don’t understand. And if it falls short of what it should be, his grace can carry us the rest of the way.

This prayer also functions as an examination of conscience. Reflecting on your actions and whether they are in line with God’s desires for you is a highly recommended spiritual practice for ending your day. Looking in hindsight gives us a clarified view of things. It gives us a chance to repent of the things we know we did wrong. It invites us to resolve to do better next time. Praying this prayer brings to mind many of my day’s efforts, both “what I have done and what I have failed to do.” But I can do so without distress because I am immediately placing them in God’s almighty hands to do with as he will. He can make something good of anything I bring to him, no matter what it is.

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Another thing that I love about this prayer surprised me at first — its formula. In the Prayer for Daily Neglects, our main spiritual action is one of praise, the Doxology. By praising God, I remember that my spiritual good and my world do not depend entirely on me. I remember that, in the words of St. Teresa of Avila, “God alone suffices” — in other words, God is enough without any other source, and only God can satisfy. When I am beset by thoughts of inadequacy, guilt, or pressure to perform, what a burden this lifts off me. What a joy it is simply to lift my heart in adoration. I remember to let God be God, and allow myself to acknowledge my limits. And suddenly, I am free simply to love the people around me rather than tangle myself in knots in a futile attempt to make everything as (I think) it ought to be. I am free to let them love me rather than worry about deserving their good opinion. I am free to let God love me without feeling I have to earn it.

My other surprise was how quickly I grew to love this simple, thorough prayer. The Church teaches four fundamental forms of prayer: praise, petition, contrition, and thanksgiving. This prayer petitions God to cover my shortcomings, in the form of repeated praise, through an implicit, contrite confession of my “neglects.” I consistently find when I pray this prayer that my heart swells with thanks that God is who God is. I am grateful for the peace that this prayer brings me as I lie down at the end of the day. I thank God for the invitation to rest in him in trust and tranquility, for as the Psalmist says, “he gives to his beloved sleep.”