“Tell me good things to think about while I fall asleep.” For years, this was the near nightly request of my firstborn, a sensitive and anxious child.
I’d prop myself up with Firstborn’s head against me, my hand resting on their back, as I murmured a recitation of everything good in the world that my brain could conjure at that moment. I would talk about puppies and kittens, individual varieties of colorful flowers, the interesting shapes of clouds, fun games and toys, whatever books and movies my kid was interested in at the time, their friends, comfortable clothes, lightning bugs. The list would go on and on. I’d keep talking, my voice soft, until I heard the rhythm of breathing that announced the arrival of sleep. The prime years for this were between the ages of four and eight, though the request still came at less frequent intervals right up to about age fourteen.
Being un-churched, I suppose this was the form of our evening devotion. It started as a way to help an anxious child calm enough to sleep. But it also became a comforting ritual for me.
I know the advice to count your blessings seems hackneyed. But if I really do it, it helps with my own anxiety and depression (my offspring come by this trait honestly.) The key is, though, I can’t just think of one or two things and flip a switch inside. For me, for it to be effective, I have to keep thinking and adding to the list, literally for as long as I can until I run out of ideas or fall asleep. Usually, it’s fall asleep. Because this is how I’m now soothing myself at night when the problems of the world loom. I tell myself good things to think about while I fall asleep.
In helping someone else, I inadvertently created a gratitude practice of benefit to myself. Funny how that works.