Sometimes when I pull my bedcovers to my chin, I find that the worries of the day come back for an encore. Not only are my thoughts destructive to my sleep, but they tend to disturb the clean-conscience sleep of the woman in bed with me.
When this happens, I turn to what I call my ABC prayers. The prayers follow the Jewish tradition of acrostic prayers: Each word in the prayer starts with a consecutive letter of the alphabet. It's a bit like playing Theological Scrabble.
I have three prayers I pray, but I can only work on one per night. The prayers begin by using one of these three sentences:
1. God, help me to be . . .
2. God, thank you for . . .
3. God, forgive me for being . . .
For instance, "God help me to be Assuring." Or "God, help me to be a Benefit to others.
The second ABC prayer is a version of the old hymn that encourages one to "Count your Blessings and name them one by one. Count your many blessings, see what God has done."
These are prayers in which I thank God for my Children or something intangible like my Dreams. Each letter stands for whatever floats in my mind for the moment. At the risk of sounding like a TV preacher flashing his pearly whites, I'll say that the goal of this prayer is to develop an "attitude of gratitude."
My first and second prayers are meant to be inward and restorative -- they bring sleep quickly.
However, the third prayer -- "God forgive me for being" -- is much like the magic-bullet of medicine or the military smart bombs. This prayer goes past the harmless and seeks the stuff that is rotting and repulsive.
On one recent night, I prayed this prayer fairly quickly until I got to three letters not commonly used -- I, J and K.
The letters slowed my thinking enough to make me search my conscience for what I need to ask. I remembered I'd been with my family on an outing earlier that day, and my wife had commented on the time I was spending on the phone away from our family.
"God, forgive me for being Inattentive. Help me to be attentive and remember where you've placed me in the moment."
Since I had justified my phone usage as important to my business, I found it necessary to also ask God to "Forgive my desire to be Justified. I don't like being wrong. I like being right and just -- sometimes at the expense of my relationships."
The next letter was much harder. Forgive me Lord for Killing." "Forgive me," I prayed, "of the times I've killed -- or at least squelched -- the image of God I saw in others."
This word was inspired by a hard saying from Jesus. Recorded in the modern translation of the Bible called "The Message," it reads:
"I'm telling you that anyone who is so much as angry with a brother or sister is guilty of murder. Carelessly call a brother 'idiot!' and you just might find yourself hauled into court. Thoughtlessly yell 'stupid!' at a sister and you are on the brink of hellfire. The simple moral fact is that words kill."
When I use the first two prayers, I'm usually asleep before I'm halfway through. But on this occasion with the forgiveness prayer, I worked through the entire alphabet.
Of course, the next morning I had to explain to my wife how my "praying" kept us both awake.
"Hmm," she said, "Maybe next time you should reverse the alphabet. Start with "Z" and ask God to "Forgive my desire to be so Zealous."