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How I’m releasing nighttime guilt

4.18.2023 • 1 Comment

How I'm releasing nighttime guilt by Valerie Woerner, nightly routine, goal series, goals, prayer journals, slow down

After a day full of activities when everyone is finally in bed and you have a minute to breathe, you think it’d be a moment to rest. Instead, the inner critic comes out, swallows up any peaceful moment, and replaces it with guilt. 

It reminds you of:

✔ the to-do list you barely touched today
✔ the pots that will spend another night in the sink “soaking”
✔ the home repair that will wait another day…like the 30 before

What a discouraging way to spend our few quiet minutes, right? It’s actually pretty depressing to think about. 

In a complete plot twist, we waste the free moments we do have worrying about how much time we are wasting. 

But interestingly these thoughts don’t necessarily depress us like you’d expect as we read it all out in black and white. This nighttime guilt feels all too normal. Like it’s just another step in our nightly routine. 

✔ Lock up the house
✔ Turn off the lights
✔ Check calendar for tomorrow
✔ Bemoan how much you didn’t get done today
✔ Wash face
✔ Brush teeth 

As challenging as the days can be, imagine if the evening was truly rejuvenating. 

Imagine if you actually felt rested and blessed by the Father remembering sleep was His idea instead of feeling guilty to end your day. 

Last August 28 (I remember the day because it was my birthday and we fled to the Gaylord Texan resort in Dallas to salvage another birthday dampened by a storm) we strolled through a bookstore and there it was on the cover of a book: “I didn’t do the thing today”. I’m sure I looked around for a hidden camera. Did someone put this out for me to find? I didn’t even need to glance at the back cover to know it was exactly what I thought it’d be: a book on the guilty feelings we feel for not doing enough. 

It’s amazing the things we think we alone struggle with. I remember being blown away by how many prayer journals I sold in the first 3 months of business (1,000!!) almost 10 years ago when I was just hoping enough people would resonate so I could cover the cost of making 50. 

So again, my naivete is showing and I’m learning I’m not the only one who struggles with that guilt that hits at night when you realize “I could have done so much more today!” 

If you feel that heaviness at night too, you are not alone!

Can I interrupt right here? If this post doesn’t resonate with you, I promise one of your friends struggles with this! Forward this to that Type-A friend who’s always striving to check one more thing off her list and give her the gift of a guilt-free night! 

Before the book even starts, this is the poem that author Madeleine Dore shares: 

I didn’t do the thing today.
I didn’t rise before seven. I didn’t change.
I didn’t pen lines of stream of consciousness.
I didn’t take my time with a purposeful ritual.
I didn’t diligently complete my tasks.
I didn’t move stridently around the park.
I didn’t write. I didn’t start; I didn’t finish.
I didn’t achieve; I didn’t progress.
And it didn’t matter. For doing the thing today
Isn’t the measure of a day. 

If I’m honest, many days this is how I measure a day. 

When I call my mom and ask how her day is going, she’s really honest too and will say “I hate to say it but it’s been a great day because I’m getting a lot done.”

It’s a struggle not to measure our day by what we accomplish, but I hope to share a few points today that will start reshaping our mindset about this. Ironically, I had hoped to read the whole book, I Didn’t Do the Thing Today, but I didn’t finish and I’m releasing guilt about that. 😝

What I took away from the pages I did read was powerful and I hope it will give you something to think about and even talk about with a friend!

1. Live in reality, not the perfect scenario. 

Often we idealize the past or future and don’t imagine the circumstances that surround it. We discussed this in our Led, Not Driven book club last week. Once we acknowledge that not optimizing every moment of the day actually makes us human, we can stop adding shame for it. We literally could not be perfect if we tried. 

Thoughts from Dore:

  • “So much of what we are trying to achieve in our days is bound to the idea that we can optimize things to the point of perfection.” 
  • “Being a fallible human means we need to recognize our own tendency to dawdle, to dash, to buffer the doing, whether out of necessity or habit—and maybe we don’t need to add a layer of guilt, anxiety, or shame to that.” 
  • “When we chase, grasp, and expect, we inevitably fall short. We won’t find the thing, the hack, the productivity tip that will magically make us feel whole and complete—because becoming whole and complete is an illusion.” – This isn’t a faith-based book so if I can add, being complete will happen one day because of salvation, so completeness is not an illusion but achieving it by our own productivity rather than the sheer grace of God is.  

Reflection questions: Am I expecting superhuman results? What’s reasonable for someone with my set of circumstances and season of life to actually accomplish?

2. Recognize the natural cycle of growth.

Rest is a vital part of growth. The Bible talks about seasons and how pruning is a part of the fruit-producing process. It also mentions a day of rest and how it is for man not man for the Sabbath. To think that we expect every part of our life to be high-octane producing doesn’t even align with the natural order of what God created. Replacing rest with shame isn’t serving us at all. Just as much happens during the rest periods, if not more, as when we are active. 

Thoughts from Dore:

  • “The paradox may be that when we have time, we long for something to fill it with; when it’s too full, we long for empty time. … It’s perhaps by embracing both that we can start to diminish the worry or judgment that each alone can bring.” 
  • Sometimes what can look like a block is just a work process…When something rolls over to the next day’s to-do list again and again, there may be a reason. … a loosened grip on a thing, and patience toward it, has made the doing of the thing far less strained.”

Reflection question: What would it look like to value all seasons of the growth process and not just the obvious flashy ones?

3. Acknowledge that what’s on my to-do list may not be on God’s.

How I'm releasing nighttime guilt by Valerie Woerner, nightly routine, goal series, goals, prayer journals, slow down

This truth has the power to instantly remind us that if we didn’t get it done, God’s whole plan has not been thwarted. God is in control. 

Elisabeth Elliot says “If we really have too much to do, there are some items on the agenda which God did not put there. Let us submit the list to Him and ask Him to indicate which items we must delete. There is always time to do the will of God. If we are too busy to do that, we are too busy.”

The more I force stuff in, is it any surprise when I feel frazzled by the end of day? 

Reflection question: Can I genuinely release my own agenda for the day and rest in God’s plan  for me?

4. Know that our obsession with time management can cause wasted time worry.

Friends, this one cuts me deep! I love some good time management hacks. I love making the most of my time but we can absolutely snowball here and actually feel worse as we pursue the ultimate in making the most of our time. 

Thoughts from Dore:

  • “We don’t have to view every moment we don’t spend the way we expected to as a waste—we can simply appreciate the part it played in our life.”
  • “I’ve often wondered what all the time-optimizing hacks are really for—if we optimize in order to gain more time, then why do we feel guilty or rush to fill that time when we finally get it?’
  • Quoting Derek Thompson, “Americans tend to use new productivity and technology to buy a better life rather than to enjoy more downtime in inferior conditions.”

Reflection questions: Am I too obsessed with optimizing my time? How is it affecting how I end my day?

5. Procrastinate something on purpose this season.

Dore shared a story that I’ve included below that made me wonder if there are things I am bummed about not doing that just don’t fit in the season I am in. This goes hand in hand with #2 but is slightly different in that, this one involves things we can choose. 

Thoughts from Dore:

  • “Clare Bowditch remembers that at twenty-one, she made herself a promise; she would one day write a book. She allowed herself one particularly comforting condition, however: she would wait until she was in her forties to do it. Adding this concession helped Bowditch shut down the cycle of rumination and self-doubt that can accompany our ambitions—the promise created a sense of patience as well as a commitment to the dream.”

Reflection question: Is there anything I expect to get done in my days that I can procrastinate on purpose and wait for God’s timing?

6. Figure out where the line of success is and don’t be quick to move it.

There is such a thing as holy discontent. As we pursue holiness, it’s perfectly normal to feel discontent and desire to be more like Christ. This is part of us working out our salvation. But I fear much of our discontentment is just discontentment and our constant drive for more. 

We’ve all heard the quote from Rockefeller when asked how much money is enough. His response? “Just a little bit more.”

I’m exhausted just thinking about that! Where is the rest? Where is the celebration? Where is the contentment? The joy? 

Thoughts from Dore:

  • “The ‘hedonic treadmill’—the tendency for our brains to adapt to our improved circumstances and search for the next thing that might be improved, without pausing to celebrate our current success or positive change in our circumstances.” 

Reflection question: Where is my line for success for my day? And can I be content with and grateful for it?

7. Recognize where your significance comes from.

This is last, but it’s obviously the most important. The rest of these mindset shifts don’t work if we are still placing our significance in our own doing. Is there still a part of us that’s trying to earn our salvation? I grew up a good girl so it wasn’t until high school that I realized that I wasn’t “saving grace for the bad girls” like I said in my book The Finishing School. We are all sinners and all only saved by God’s grace. As believers, real rest and peaceful evenings are ours! We don’t earn our salvation so if anyone can step back from the day and enjoy just being, it’s the children of the Lord. 

How I'm releasing nighttime guilt by Valerie Woerner, nightly routine, goal series, goals, prayer journals, slow down

Thoughts from Dore:

  • “Perhaps, through our ambitious pursuits, we are trying to prove to ourselves that we’re somehow significant—that we are somebody, doing something, going somewhere. … The steady rise in individualism in Western culture has come with the pursuit of greatness, personal growth, and subsequent achievement—not just to be somebody, but to be somebody special.

Reflection question: Am I trying to make down payments on my mansion in heaven (how I worded it in The Finishing School 😉) or have I truly accepted that salvation is a gift I receive?

Whew! Well, that was a lot to cover! I hope it was thought-provoking and that the reflection questions are something you take time to think through specifically in the presence of the Lord. Make it your prayer. Write it on a notecard and carry it with you for the day. Jot down what comes to mind and let the Lord search your heart.

If you need a really practical first step to a restful evening, our Adagio Evening Prayer Journal has been a game-changer for me! It’s a few short questions I answer at night that help me let go of the day in a very real way! Grab it here!

How I'm releasing nighttime guilt by Valerie Woerner, nightly routine, goal series, goals, prayer journals, slow down

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Comments (2)

Thank you Valerie, these are things my husband and I have been discussing. The quote by Elizabeth Elliott is wonderful. I am going to post that in my calendar.