What Do You Say When You Turn Out the Light?

guardian-angelFrom my childhood, I have had a habit of prayer at bedtime – whether formal or informal. There were nights as a child that I prayed with great fervency in fear of what was taking place around me. There were times as a teenager that I prayed with no confidence that anyone was listening. As an adult and parent, some of my most fervent prayers at such times of day have been for the healing and protection of a child, or for the good death of a friend and fellow pilgrim.

My son, at age four, wrote this simple prayer:

Dear, St. Michael, guard my room!
Don’t let anything eat me or kill me!
Kill it with your sword.
Kill it with your sword.
Amen.

I still like his prayer. It seemed to have been inspired by a small statue he had in his room at the time. I am particularly struck by the petition, “Don’t let anything eat me.” How innocent!

A couple of years back, I wrote a short post on the children’s bedtime prayer, “Now I lay me down to sleep,” offering a longer version with which I have become acquainted. Interestingly, it is the most read article ever posted on this blog, daily ranked in the top ten. Very soon it will surpass 20,000 views (not bad for a single article). It seemed that such a milestone deserved a mention.

The comments have been a place of interest, as visitors to the site have added insights and versions unknown to me. There is even a comment from the descendant of Mother Goose’s sister (that may be the most amazing thing on this entire Blog!).

Bedtime prayers remain a staple in my life. Though today I pray for children (and a grandchild) who are scattered across the U.S. I remember a parent and a still-born child who stretch my prayers before the throne of God. As I child I probably prayed to allay my fears as much as anything (the darkness holds many unknowns for a child). As a man in his mid-50’s, I have more thoughts in the darkness about my sins than about “things that go bump in the night.”

For that reason, I think my favorite prayer at bedtime remains a traditional Orthodox prayer of confession. I would be surprised to see this change:

To the Holy Spirit:

O Lord, the Heavenly King, the Comforter, the Spirit of Truth: have compassion and mercy on me, Thy sinful servant! Absolve me, who am unworthy. Forgive all the sins I have committed this day both in my humanity and my inhumanity, behaving worse than beasts in sins voluntary and involuntary, known and unknown, from my youth,from evil suggestions, haste and despondency. If I have sworn by Thy name or blasphemed it in thought; if I have reproached anyone or become angered by something; or slandered or saddened anyone in my anger; or have lied, or slept unnecessarily; or a beggar has come to me and I have despised him; or have saddened my brother or quarreled with him; or have judged someone; or have allowed myself to become haughty, proud or angry; or, when standing in prayer, my mind has been shaken by the wickedness of this world; or have entertained depraved thoughts; or have over-eaten, over-drunk or laughed mindlessly; or have had evil thoughts or seen the beauty of someone and been wounded by it in my heart; or have spoken inappropriately; or have laughed at my brother’s sins when my own transgressions are countless; or have been indifferent to prayer; or have done any other evil that I can not remember – for I have done all this and more: have mercy, O Master, my Creator, on me, Thy despondent and unworthy servant! Absolve, remit and forgive me, in Thy goodness and love for mankind that I, who am prodigal, sinful and wretched, may lie down in peace and find sleep and rest. May I worship, hymn and praise Thy most honorable name, with the Father and His only-begotten Son, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.


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31 Responses to “What Do You Say When You Turn Out the Light?”

  1. George Patsourakos Says:

    Your favorite prayer at bedtime, Fr. Stephen, is an inspiring and inclusive Orthodox prayer of confession.

    This prayer elicits the true humility of the individual, and at the same time, it asks God for the forgiveness of one’s sins.

  2. Ilias Says:

    What a lovely, and very comprehensive prayer. Especially as it leaves no room for doubt that we have sinned.

    I have been unimpressed by the prayer that is included at the back of the Orthodox Study Bible, which I pray each night. The ‘confession’ consists of only one sentence, and begins with what to me is the theologically inadequate: ” O Lord our God, if during this day I have sinned …’

    Of course, I have sinned.

  3. Ben Says:

    I have found myself very attached to a particular Roman Catholic prayer which I ran across while a disenchanted evangelical. Though I am entering the Orthodox Church on Nativity, I still love praying this prayer (and many Benedictine prayers, for that matter, as they tend to flow better and center my ADHD heart on prayer.)

    Anyways, thought I’d share it here for others just in case they find it worthwhile:

    Good Night To Our Blessed Mother

    Night is falling dear Mother, the long day is o’er!

    And before thy loved image I am kneeling once more

    To thank thee for keeping me safe through the day

    To ask thee this night to keep evil away.

    Many times have I fallen today, Mother Dear, Mother Dear.

    Many graces neglected, since last I knelt here;

    Wilt thou not in pity, my own Mother mild,

    Ask Jesus to pardon the sins of thy child?

    I am going to rest, for the day’s work is done,

    Its hours and its moments have passed one by one;

    And the God who will judge me has noted them all,

    He has numbered each grace, He has counted each fall.

    In His book they are written against the last day,

    O Mother, ask Jesus to wash them away;

    For one drop of His blood which for sinners was spilt,

    Is sufficient to cleanse the whole world of its guilt.

    And if ere the dawn I should draw my last breath

    And the sleep that I take be the long sleep of death,

    Be near me, dear Mother, for dear Jesus’ sake

    When my soul on Eternity’s shore shall awake.

  4. mike Says:

    …….Flawless…………………………

  5. Anxious Anglican Says:

    St Tikhon’s Orthodox Prayer Book?

  6. fatherstephen Says:

    Anxious,
    Yes.

  7. Anxious Anglican Says:

    That does it: I have to buy my own copy! 🙂

    Thank you, Father Stephen, for this post and all that you do for your virtual flock!!

  8. Lucy Says:

    I don’t remember if you posted that prayer a while back or where I found it, but I have it printed out and taped to the wall by my home alter. There are many times when I don’t have the courage to pray it – it puts my sin right out there in front of me. ‘Cause yeah, I’ve committed almost all of them every day. But I do love the prayer.

    And I love your son’s prayer. Teaching my kids to pray has been difficult for me, growing up with all spontaneous prayer myself and having moved to recited prayers, I struggle with how to “keep it real” for them. I am afraid prayers become very repetitious for them. And yet, I love to hear them almost mindlessly singing, “Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, have mercy on us” as they play with legos or draw pictures. We’ve also incorporated the “Matthew, Mark, Luke and John…” part since your last post on that prayer. The kids love it and fight over who gets to say it.🙂

  9. Darlene Says:

    Thank you, Father! How timely this posting of yours comes. Just this evening while in that state of fatigue, my first thought was to watch t.v.and fall asleep. Immediately another thought proceeded the first which encouraged me to pray.

    I was going to look up some Orthodox evening prayers, but decided to first come to your blog. How pleasant to see you have addressed the matter of evening prayer.

  10. Academic Says:

    Father bless!

    Thank you so much for posting this prayer. As I grow closer to the Church, it is the supplications like this prayer that settle my mind into the reality of the Love contained with Christ’s Holy Church. Glory to God!

  11. David Says:

    As another of your “virtual flock”, I couldn’t help but remember the following, learned and prayed by my mother’s side on more than one night as a child. (from the old ’28 Prayer Book):

    Lighten our darkness, we beseech thee, O Lord; and by thy great mercy defend us from all perils and dangers of this night; for the love of thy only Son, our Saviour, Jesus Christ. Amen.

    O Lord, support us all the day long, until the shadows lengthen, and evening comes, and the busy world is hushed, and the fever of life is over, and our work is done. Then in thy mercy, grant us a safe lodging, and a holy rest, and peace at the last. Amen.

    And, lest we forget the simplest of all…..

    Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, have mercy upon us and save us, we beseech thee.

    Many thanks for all your posts over the years. May you have many more!!

    Asking your blessing, I remain……
    Yours of the 15th…

  12. Thursday Highlights | Pseudo-Polymath Says:

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  14. Helena Says:

    Farther bless!

    In our Finnish Prayer Book this evening prayer is called Prayer for the Holy Spirit.

  15. David Di Giacomo Says:

    Ilias:

    “I have been unimpressed by the prayer that is included at the back of the Orthodox Study Bible, which I pray each night. The ‘confession’ consists of only one sentence, and begins with what to me is the theologically inadequate: ” O Lord our God, if during this day I have sinned …’

    Of course, I have sinned.”

    I too pray this prayer each night, just before I pray Psalm 50, and I too found it to be wholly inadequate. Saying “if” before a confession, to me, is as good as no confession at all. So I took the liberty of changing it, replacing “if during this day I have sinned” with “whatever sins I have committed this day”. It’s still very vague, but at least it does not leave me the option to imagine that today, maybe, I didn’t really sin. I don’t know if changing a prayer is an Orthodox thing to do, but otherwise I felt like I was lying.

  16. Twitter Trackbacks for What Do You Say When You Turn Out the Light? « Glory to God for All Things [fatherstephen.wordpress.com] on Topsy.com Says:

    […] What Do You Say When You Turn Out the Light? « Glory to God for All Things fatherstephen.wordpress.com/2009/10/14/what-do-you-say-when-you-turn-out-the-light – view page – cached From my childhood, I have had a habit of prayer at bedtime – whether formal or informal. There were nights as a child that I prayed with great fervency in fear of what was taking place around me…. (Read more)From my childhood, I have had a habit of prayer at bedtime – whether formal or informal. There were nights as a child that I prayed with great fervency in fear of what was taking place around me. There were times as a teenager that I prayed with no confidence that anyone was listening. As an adult and parent, some of my most fervent prayers at such times of day have been for the healing and protection of a child, or for the good death of a friend and fellow pilgrim. (Read less) — From the page […]

  17. Mrs. Mutton Says:

    You have posted your son’s prayer before, and I still find it one of the most beautiful prayers I have ever read or heard. I bet St. Michael treasures it, too.

  18. fatherstephen Says:

    Indeed, thank you. If you and other readers would remember my son, James (now an adult). He is currently visiting an emergency room in his town with possible appendicitis. May God protect him – may St. Michael continue to guard him! He’s at the right place if he needs more care. But your prayers are much desired.

  19. AR Says:

    Praying for your son, dear Father.

    As for bedtime prayers, my mother taught me to say the second Psalm – “I will both lay me down in peace and sleep, for you Lord, alone make me to dwell in safety.” It has more meaning to me the older I grow.

    It seems that when God’s name dwells in our mind, or our mind dwells in God’s name, then sleep comes at its proper time and in its most refreshing way. Perhaps when we are falling asleep, forced to become still, then we find out our true state of mind, though we may have been hiding from it all day. This gives us a chance to correct it.

    I taught my two year old son to say “Lord Jesus, you give us our sleep. Bless us. Amen.” Now that he is three, he is learning the traditional children’s prayer, including the priceless appeal to the angel: “I am little, you are tall. I am weak, make me strong.” He loves it.

    Children know what we sometimes forget: the value of ritual. My son was inventing rituals, and gleefully keeping them, before he was a year old. The idea that repetition makes things less real to us is a false assumption. When something recurrs in the manner of seasons, in the manner of breathing, in the manner of the rising and setting of the sun, then it becomes part of us and transforms our outlook. Repeating our prayers is just another opportunity the Lord, through his holy Church, gives us to allow his name (and the right way to think and feel about Him) to sink into our hurried, worried, frantic, cold, stubborn, miserable, hateful, bewildered, unloving, deprived, stricken, desperate hearts.

    What do these prayers do for us? What do they not do! For those of us with intellectual pride, we meet our masters in the saints who composed the prayers. We find that whatever needs to be said has been said better by someone touched of God before us. For those of us who take pride in our individualism, we find our true personhood emerging when we submit our desire for innovation and self-expression to simply do what is given us to do, and say what is given us to say. Confusion melts away in the specificity of the holy words. The tendency to let our mind wander when we pray, to pray without direction and purpose and to imagine that we have been on our knees (or feet) much longer than we actually have been, is arrested by the black-and-white requirement of getting to the bottom of the next page. Are we beset by false images of God? The prayers of the saints will exercise our minds to dismiss them. Are we beset by an inability to sense God’s presence, or to understand that he is good? Duly repeated, the prayers will well up from within us and gradually transform our minds in respect to God. In short, these prayers are a discipline, a practice, that will lead us over many of the steps we need to apprehend the Lord God, impossible as it is and seems.

    As long as we say each word with attention, not trying to think or feel anything in particular, the Lord will use the prayers that the church gives us to do his work in us. You don’t have to “think” about the prayers or find a perfect “I really mean it” state of mind in which they “count” or are “real.” You just have to be present, there, in the words you are reciting. As a start, you just have to know what you are saying at any given time. The prayers, and the the Lord who hears you, and the saints whom you are evoking and whose words you are using, will see to it that you do mean it, when the prayers have done their work in you.

    At least, that is my understanding of the question.

  20. fatherstephen Says:

    Many thanks to all for your prayers for my son, James, who had an emergency appendectomy tonight. We drove the 90 miles to his home and were with his wife during surgery and visited with him in recovery – having just now gotten home (its about 1:30 a.m. here as I write). Thank you for the prayers, and thanks be to God for His mercies in sustaining my child. Glory to God for all things.

  21. Damaris Says:

    Father Stephen —

    I’m very glad your son is all right, and I’m grateful to live now when healing from appendicitis is possibloe! God is good.

    AR — Thank you for your thoughts on prayer. If it’s all right with you, I may copy them and share them with others who raise objections to “rote” prayers.

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  23. Durk Says:

    Here’s a prayer my brother said at age 8:

    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 “mistake! mistake!”

  24. Georgia Says:

    This Scriptural prayer has comforted me:

    I will lay me down in peace
    and take my rest:
    for it is Thou Lord only
    that makest me dwell in safety.
    Into Thy hands, O Lord,
    I commend my spirit,
    for Thou hast redeemed me,
    O Lord Thou God of Truth.
    Amen.

    Lancelot Andrewes
    English clergyman, 1555 – September 25, 1626, feast day in Anglican church.

  25. clary Says:

    A beautiful prayer indeed, one that reflects our fragile condition before God. Some people like to do an examination of conscience but this prayer is a good addition or alternative to it. Thanks for sharing.

  26. AR Says:

    Damaris,

    as you wish.

  27. AR Says:

    But with the reminder that I’m the rankest of novices speaking only of the beginning of the Way.

    Also, when we speak of defending such practices…I often think that Protestants are not so much wrong as they are hurried, in many respects. Certainly to compose one’s own prayers must be a good thing, since the saints do it. And they do it before they’ve been declared saints. But they were trained by the prayers of those who came before them, as we are.

  28. fatherstephen Says:

    AR,
    Well said.

  29. AR Says:

    Thanks, Father.

  30. luciasclay Says:

    A child I know has a prayer they developed on their own that they recite nightly. It is profound in all its parts but particularly in the following lines :

    “Anything I prayed to you I pray to you God. Anything I missed in the prayer to you God and anything I would pray to you I pray to you God.”

    Its a semi-liturgical prayer developed by a child on their own over time, modified at times, who doesn’t theorize but knows that prayer is real and its the childs way of expressing all that is beyond words.

  31. Single Orthodox Christian Woman Says:

    Reblogged this on O Gladsome Light! For Single Orthodox Christian Women and commented:
    One is never too old to say bedtime prayers. I find that blessing my bed with Holy Water and prayers before sleep are a good defense against anything that the Evil One might try to throw at us in our sleep. I thought this blog entry was a very good one and am I am commending it to you.

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