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Don't try so hard - a reflection for Advent

Updated: Dec 17, 2021

So, the run-up to Christmas this year is unusually calm. The tree is decorated, the presents are wrapped, the cards are written. Normally at this time of year, I’m running around like a headless chicken attempting to create a Disney-esque experience for our blended family of six children and six grand-children. But I’ve taken my foot of the gas and just let stuff go. (If my husband reads this, he’ll ask me if I’m taking my tablets.)

I often have people comment on what I write. They’ve taken time to read what I have to say and I’m really grateful for that. The other week, someone wrote, ‘Don’t try so hard’ and she meant with my spiritual life. That really struck home. I’ve always been a trier. God loves a trier.

And I realised that I was trying so hard, I’d lost sight of what it was I was trying to achieve in my relationship with God. Some sense of her presence? Some elusive magical feeling of divine connection? Whatever it was, the more I looked, the more I couldn’t name what I was looking for.

Take Advent for instance (being quite topical and all). I was trying (that word again) to work out what a right and proper way was to mark this season of watching and waiting. I read numerous reviews of Advent themed books in the Church Times and nearly hit the ‘add to basket’ button. But didn’t. I found any number of very insightful and prayerful courses on the Internet inviting me to walk these four weeks with them. I was tempted and very nearly signed up. But didn’t. Something held me back. And it was this notion of trying.

Now I’m not saying you should never try. We all need to try sometimes. And maybe an Advent course will be right for me next year, or the year after. But not now.

I decided to go with the natural rhythm of my day which is nicely panning itself out as I grow in my faith and in my confidence that I do in fact belong and am not a total imposter. (This doesn’t count as trying because it’s becoming a bit like breathing – essential but you don’t have to make yourself do it). And my rhythm begins naturally with the Community Obedience of my Third Order as I connect with Christ and with all the saints and angels.

And I love now to say Prayer in the Day and Prayer at Night on the Time to Pray app published by the good old C of E (and no – I’m not on commission). They are gently walking me through Advent...

In Prayer in the Day from the ‘Salus Aetuna’ I read...

By your first advent justify us,

By your second, set us free:

And I long to be set free from so many things but here I am praying for it and it might well happen.

And then the final prayer for the day...

Keep us Lord

While we tarry on this earth

In a serious seeking after you,

And in an affectionate walking with you,

Every day of our lives.

‘Serious seeking’! Isn’t that just wonderful? Richard Baxter wrote that in 1691 for people like me who are still seriously seeking. And affectionately walking although lot of the time, I think God is carrying me as I walk.

Then I say Night Prayer at the end of the day, half asleep and sometimes the phone falls out of my hand and slides across the bedcovers but I am still saying it and the words are now so familiar that I keep saying it...

Heal our wounds,

Calm our fears

And give us peace.

And I drift off to sleep, feeling safe and held.

This is the opening and closing of my day. And here in Advent I weave joyful, thoughtful, encouraging, supplications around these two reference points to keep the season. I play Handel’s Messiah wherever I am in the house. It just shouts ‘Advent’ to me especially the bits about Christ’s incarnation and birth. I follow the Cathedral Music Trust’s Advent calendar where they cleverly post a different choir singing a carol every day. Today it was New College, Oxford singing ‘Tomorrow shall be my dancing day’ and very fine it was too.

And I’m following the Traidcraft Injustice Advent Calendar where I am invited every day to take an action to make the world a better place. Today I was asked to sign a petition to end cages for hens and read about the plight of Beatrice, raised in horrible confinement but rescued and now ‘living her best life with other rescued hens.’ I felt tearfully moved by this and wondered what her best life looks like. I think hens, being natural foragers probably want nothing more than a wide-open space to scratch around in the grass, a safe warm clean bed at night and some treaty food like a bag of mixed corn. That’s Beatrice living her best life. Some girl.

And every Sunday in my cathedral church, we light another Advent candle, hold our breath and wait for the dawning of the light. And in these darkest of days as we approach the winter solstice with yet another little rabid Covid variant threatening our normality (remember that?), we take comfort in those oh so familiar words, ‘The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.’

And I know I can just let go, stop trying so hard, and let the light shine.

A very happy Christmas and a peaceful New Year to all my readers! Thank you so much for reading my blog. You are really my companions on the journey. If you would like to subscribe to my site and receive updates when I post, please follow this link and scroll to the bottom of the page...


I am sitting at breakfast in Christchurch NZ, reading your blog. So encouraging to hear how you are weaving Advent through your day in a relaxed manner. Your comments about trying too hard resonate with me. I am choosing both to continue my spiritual practices and to choose not to entertain those thoughts that what I do is not enough. I am enough.

Jan 13, 2022
Replying to

Thank you so much. We are indeed enough and I try to remember that each day!

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