The Pillow Test – My Messy Beautiful

The Pillow Test – My Messy Beautiful

**This essay is part of the Momastery Messy, Beautiful Warrior Project. 

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The Pillow Test

Far more often than I’d like to admit, when my tired head finally hits the pillow at night, my mind morphs into a jukebox stuck on an endless loop of the Ray LaMontagne song, “Trouble:”

Trouble, trouble, trouble, trouble
Trouble been doggin’ my soul
Since the day I was born

Worry, worry, worry, worry
Worry just will not seem to leave
My mind alone

When the lights go out and I am still and all is quiet for the first time All. Day. Long., I usually experience about a millisecond of relaxation and relief as I settle into bed.

And then, it begins.

My mind. The worrisome, stressed out, analytical-as-hell part of my mind thinks it’s time to PARTY.

I don’t know what it is, but when it’s just me and that pillow and my thoughts and my dear husband has long since drifted off to sleep, my mind starts going a thousand miles an hour. I agonize about everything I could have done better, said better, cleaned better, cooked better, explained better, written better – All. Day. Long.

I then move on to worrying about all the things I must do better tomorrow, all the things I must make right, or fix, or adjust, or be sure not to forget.

The time of day when I finally get to lie down and rest, is often my most exhausting hour of all. One thing I know for sure – this is not good, friends!!

I recently asked my husband, “What do you think about when you’re just lying there, before you fall asleep?”

He replied, “I think about things I’m grateful for, and things I’m looking forward to about the next day.”

Huh. Right. Of course.

So I’ve tried doing this – I’ve TRIED silencing the Ray LaMontagne record and replacing it with “Happy Days” or something – really, I have – but there’s only one way this works for me.

Enter, The Pillow Test.

It sounds super obvious – but I’ve simply learned (and re-learned, and re-learned), that how I conduct myself during the day is directly correlated to how I feel about myself at night.

There are things I can do or not do, and principles I can abide by or not, that ultimately pass or fail what I like to call “The Pillow Test” – how my mind and my spirit feels – at peace or wreaking havoc – when I come face to fluff with that pillow each night.

Here’s what works for me. I’m sure your pillow test parameters would be different than mine, but these are the things and values I have found I need to do and live by in order to be holding my head high when I lay it down each night. When I do these things, I rest well, I check my burdens at the bedroom door, and I unplug my mind from that scheming soundtrack telling me to worry, worry, worry.

Here’s my list. I encourage you to experiment with your own.


1. Be Authentic – to me this just means presenting my true self to the world, and standing behind who I am, where I’m at and communicating that honestly as I go throughout my day. Examples of not being authentic, for me, is pretty much anything that makes me feel like I’m “playing a part” – speaking or acting in a way that feels expected, but not real – be it at church, at the playground or chatting with neighbors.

2. Mind my own business and refrain from gossip – I define gossip as this: anything I say about someone else that a) is not my immediate business, directly impacting my life, and b) serves to neither compliment them nor express sincere concern. For example, “Did you see what Lauren was wearing at the party? It just looked so awkward” is neither a compliment, nor a serious concern, nor does it impact me in any way. It is simply sport and entertainment at someone else’s expense. Gossip is a huge shame trigger for me. It can feel so satisfying at the time, yet so rotten and empty at the end of the day when that head hits the pillow.

3. Live at peace with others, as far as it depends on me – Life and relationships are messy and I’m pretty sure there’s no lifelong cure for awkward situations, fights with friends and family, or stressful encounters. Unfortunately they just seem to crop up once in a while, some very much by our doing, and some in ways we could never control. I’m not one of those people who says I live life “with no regrets.” I have regrets, you bet I do. They mostly involve ways I’ve let down myself or other people, or caused someone else pain. Feeling unsettled about a stress in a relationship is another major pillow test fail for me. But, I’m learning, I can only do my part to make things right. I can’t control other people, make them like me, talk to me, or see things my way. I believe it is my responsibility to be a peacemaker as far as it depends on me. Beyond that, you HAVE TO let it go, friends. Let it go, let it go.  

4. Be Productive – As a “stay-at-home mom,” I sleep easiest on days when I’ve honored my roles as a mother, wife and homemaker to an extent that feels honorable to me. Again, this is a different measuring stick for everyone. For me, I feel better on days that have structure, tasks accomplished, exercise incorporated, and a clean home and nice meal for my husband to come home to. No this most certainly does not always happen, but it’s a nice pillow test perk when it does. My roles in my home and my family bring balance and fulfillment to my identity.

5. Explore my passions – In addition to my roles in my family life, it is important I continue cultivating my personal identity through passions and purposes that I hold important, independent of who I am to other people. For me those are things like reading and writing and running. When I do these things I honor my mind, my body, and my spirit – and I sleep easier knowing I made myself a priority, too.

6. Be present – I’m currently reading the book Quiet by Susan Cain (partially to decide whether I’m an introvert, partially to better understand those in my life who are). In it she argues that scientists have proven multi-tasking really doesn’t work. The other day my babysitter was over and I was trying to simultaneously carry on a conversation with her, and pay her. After signing my name on both the memo line and the signature line of the check, I discovered once again that I suck at multi-tasking and needed to do one thing at a time – talk OR write a check.

Similarly, it is so much simpler and fulfilling to look at my husband while I’m talking to him, rather than sort of talk to him and sort of watch the news. Or to play with my son with my hands on the book we’re reading or toys on the floor instead of sort of play with him while staring at my phone texting someone. I feel better about myself at the end of the day when I truly make an effort to be present.

“Trouble” has been playing less often in the silence that comes with bedtime lately. I haven’t found another song to replace it, either. I’m learning that when I’m more OK with myself, I’m more OK with the quiet. Those are nights, I sleep like a baby.


And the good news is, on the days when I fail the pillow test, I’m all the more motivated to do better by myself the next day. And knowing I always have that chance for a “do-over” helps me sleep a little better.

His mercies are new every morning.   -Lamentations 3:23

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