Week 6 Day 1: When Life is Very Difficult

Week 6: Create a Solid Garden Plot
Workbook Exercise: My Rule of Life

Watch: Week 6 Day 1: When Life is Very Difficult
What has sustained you through challenging seasons in the past?
Click here to write your answer.
Share: Invite and join with others #GrowRule

Transcript of Video:

In this phase of growing a Rule of Life, we’re looking at how we can grow a Rule which will help us through all the seasons of life. I had the great joy of living for several years at our country monastery, Emery House, where I’m sitting now, and during those years it was particularly wonderful to sit every day in our chapel looking out over the beautiful countryside and as the months passed, seeing the trees change and everything take on the color of the changing seasons. And in the summer particularly, and perhaps the spring, it was particularly beautiful and it was a joy to be out in the gardens helping grow fruit and take care of the property. But I remember when the New England winter came, everything changed and it became really quite bleak and cold and I really didn’t want to go out at all. And in a kind of interesting parallel, I think growing a Rule of Life is very similar to that, that at times it’s actually very easy to live the life of faith. Prayer comes to us naturally, we feel drawn to God, and we look at God’s creation and our hearts are filled with joy.

But there are other times in our life when life becomes more barren, more bare. Perhaps we have experienced a bereavement or a change in our plans or our hopes. In those times, it’s much more difficult to embrace life. But actually, in my own experience, it is exactly during those times when having a Rule of Life in place becomes so important. It is then that we really need to turn to those rhythms, those disciplines which we have grown and established, because they will uphold us and they will support us and strengthen us when we feel that life is very, very difficult.

There is a hymn, which I love, which we sing at Easter. Most of the hymns at Easter are joyful hymns. There is one which is in more of a minor key and you will probably know it, it’s called “Now the green blade rises, from the buried grain.” And the underlying imagery of that hymn is that, when we look out at a wintry scene, it seems that everything is dead, but actually underneath the surface something actually very powerful and wonderful is happening and something is slowly growing and when spring comes it bursts out to life again. And that hymn talks about particularly those times when the fields of our heart are dead and bare and we feel really quite desolate. But it’s at those times, when we remain faithful to our commitment to our Rule, it is precisely then that we can experience the wonder and the miracle, as the hymn puts it, of love coming again like wheat which springs up green.

I think this phase of looking at our Rule of Life encourages us to think of the rhythms of our own lives. The rhythms, the summer, the winter, the spring, the autumn of our own lives and how we can maintain our life of faith, our relationship with God, our love for God, during those difficult times and to ask who can companion us during those times and who can help us to cultivate the garden of our lives through every season.

– Br. Geoffrey Tristram


  1. David Damon on October 10, 2021 at 16:14

    I went through a very long period of “wilderness” in which God seemed very distant. At least, he seemed more distant than my first number of years as a Christian. Looking back on this time, several things sustained me. One thing was a deep belief in Christ’s return to renew and rule Creation. Even though things were bleak and dry for me, intellectually I held on to my belief that at the end of it all, all would be well. Another thing I held onto was the story of the nation of Israel, wandering for 40 years in the desert. Talk about a wilderness period (!) At the end of their time there, God raised up Joshua who led the people out of the wilderness into the Promised Land. This story encouraged me. Last, towards the end of this wilderness time in my life, I remember reading a book about Mother Teresa and the challenges she faced in her walk with the Lord. She endured many years of distance from God, of feeling isolated; but despite this carried on her incredible work of serving the poor. This testimony really hit me. I remember thinking “what am I complaining about? Look what Mother Teresa dealt with.” About 2 years ago I really came out of the wilderness period and I still rejoice in this regularly. Just like Brother Geoffrey said in this message – even though all we can see is barren and bare and wintertime, remember that below the surface God is doing a powerful work that is just awaiting spring to burst forth.

  2. Niki on March 24, 2021 at 07:16

    The still quiet presence of nature. I daily take my dogs to the preserve regardless of the weather. Every season and ever condition the still quiet is there. It is what connects me to spirit when I doubt or am discouraged.

  3. Lisa Bartoli-DeAngelis on April 7, 2019 at 18:00

    I would have to say my family has sustained me throughout my life when times where difficult. We are a close family which I thank my parents and grandparents for. They gave us a good foundation and a lot of love. We lost out mom in 2017 and Dad is 2012 and miss them so much. But in troublesome times …I think about what they would say to help me or guide me. This helps to me to know they are always their for us and gives comfort.

  4. Sue on April 18, 2017 at 06:51

    I have always had difficulty maintaining a routine or rhythm- I get restless and bored easily,so slip away from anything habitual.however as I have got older,I am learning the power and beauty in having a structure.
    In difficult times, reading advice or stories from others who have experienced difficult things, talking to friends or family I trust, walking or getting out in nature,spending quiet time so I can think about and process what has happened, writing down my thoughts and reactions, and listening to music have helped.
    I wish I could say prayer, but for me when times are tough, God seems far away- it’s only when things get better that it makes sense – so I like Br.Geoffreys comments about building a sustaining framework or habits for these times.
    Probably regular sleep and eating help, too, though often I find it difficult to do this if I am very distressed

    • Chioma A. Nwaogu on February 8, 2021 at 18:42

      I like to think that being open in the sight of God and letting myself appear bare and without help anywhere else except at the hands of God and God’s mercy in letting me survive no matter what may be at stake. A sort of handing over and surrendering can enhance ones case with God. I always have a firm belief that God can make all things possible, and so I need to rest, for the blossoms of God’s anointing to take place. In letting God take over, helpers begin to come, because at the end of the day, God just does not burst forth upon, but sends major helpers and players in our situation.

  5. Jaan Sass on February 2, 2017 at 10:28

    What has sustained me? sometimes it has been my tenacity to get and face the messes that I have created. The biggest thing that has helped me has been friends and prayer. Friends who help me get the the professional help I needed and stood by me in horrible seasons of my life. The office has given me stability over the years or calm in the middle of my storms a pause if you will. Without it I do not think that I would have listened.

  6. Roderic Brawn on March 19, 2016 at 10:46

    I have always been involved in music and in the church. My parish family and my involvement in musical activities have kept me going. If I am not playing my trumpet enough I tend to get a little silly.

  7. Jeff Lowry on March 16, 2016 at 09:15

    In The Anglican tradition we have the saying “the comfortable words”. Beyond the fact that they are indeed comfortable, for me, making them comfortable is comfortable. Reading and hearing God’s word and the words of the BCP helps to sustain me when times are wintry. I fear that the “mega churches” with all their flashy options (i.e., light shows and coffee bars) only serve to get people in the doors. They do not serve to give them a foundation when times get wintry or even rough. I have seen people who attend such churches when they have been in crisis. It seems to me that without the foundation of God’s word – day in and day out – they return to the cultural norm of trying to fix things on their own and it is usually in a state of near panic (because there is nothing on which to take a firm grasp).

    • Ruth West on March 19, 2016 at 14:40

      Robert, I heartily recommend a book I just finished, RADICAL by Platt, written by a mega-church pastor. I feel as you do about mega-churches, however, this pastor gave an inspiring, challenging view of Jesus’ message to us as disciples.

      • Ruth West on March 19, 2016 at 14:41

        Sorry, Jeff, I don’t know why I called you Robert. Forgive me.

        • Linda on June 16, 2016 at 07:55

          I agree with Jeff. It isn’t just mega churches. I was raised Protestant and I did not get the foundation either. I learned lots of scripture. But the word does not wash the mind without daily practice and applying to life. The BCP helps me do that. Also this study, slowing down, learning how to nurture oneself, eating well, believing bible promises, meditations on God, a more worshipful and peaceful liturgy at church. I used to be a compulsive eater. I started this study and the compulsion fell off. Strongholds just fall off!

  8. Robert on March 15, 2016 at 20:00

    Thank you, Brother Geoffrey, for a beautiful reflection. We all have our wintry times, but I do think a “rule” helps me to try to follow a regular habit of meditation every morning before breakfast and to say my prayers at night despite my moods. Praying doesn’t always “feel good,” but I believe it is good. We spent two glorious sabbaticals in the other Cambridge. The winters weren’t so cold, but it got dark by 3 o”clock. And that, at first, depressed me, but we learned to make a fire, sit with out children, drink tea and tell stories. That too became a rule.

  9. susan zimmerman on March 14, 2016 at 20:28

    …deferential friendship sustains but as Pierre de chardin said there is a time when we shall go over to God…finally our “…last position of deference…where we are finally just swallowed up…into God…the one who loves us!

    …out experiences of barrenness prepares us for this and we should take quite seriously

  10. Russell on March 14, 2016 at 14:59

    I have a tendency to despair, to hypochondria, to fear. These emotions and irrational thinking can sweep me away into panic. Routine has been a form of sustenance for me. Just taking my time to go through the regular activities of a day, even if I am rigid with fright and trepidation, knowing that “I’ve done this” and lived through it, can keep me from sinking into the blackness. I find myself often saying to myself, “This is all right. This is the way it should be.” Acceptance is a kind of sustenance, feeling that I do not have to do anything about a given circumstance except to get to the other side of it. When anxiety attacks, praying that God will hold me until it is gone has sustained me. Worship and music have provided me with a sustaining warmth and safe harbor in challenging season.

  11. Eugene Wright on March 13, 2016 at 22:18

    God’s love has sustained me all trough very challenging seasons of my life. I have always looked to God as my creator and preserver. I believe that God provides for me in due time and I have always believe in Jesus Christ our Lord. My faith in God through Jesus Christ, holds me up all day long. I believe that with God , all things are possible.

  12. a city monk on March 13, 2016 at 20:17

    These days it is like having family in hospital in a crisis. My rushing off to bear witness days are behind me. So turning to the past that is filled with lots of heroic grand gestures reminds me of the grace and mercy that sustained me, well beyond anything that I could possibly will power my way through. Minus the grand gestures then, minus the
    the temptations to pride and vain glory…

    the grace and mercy of God…
    Scripture gives me reminders of when the Lord pours down grace and mercy — but it isn’t caused by me, they are pure gifts.
    What do I do that then reminds me of God’s faithfulness and the abundance of God’s love for us.
    The via positive… a way of praise and thanksgiving.
    a mystagogy for the anawim…

    so easy to say! so easy to forget! It isn’t as much a what as a how…

    a therapeutic return to simplicity?

  13. Kristi on March 13, 2016 at 19:38

    What sustains me now is my love of others, faith and a nurturing of myself which I did not possess many years ago. My faith has strengthened & deepened over the past few years and I only want that to continue. Physically caring for myself better than ever has also made a huge difference. Exercising, eating clean and continuing on a quest of spiritual growth carries me through all seasons even when they are challenging.

  14. gwedhen nicholas on March 13, 2016 at 18:10

    My God given good friends and my family have sustained me through hard times. It was because of them that I survived a break down which pretty much incapacitated me, and I lost everything…my husband, my children,and our family home. Fortunately, since I fell away from God at that time, my friends and family really rallied round and gave me the support I needed, which along with medication, have brought me back to health and to God.

    • noelle mcfarland on March 19, 2016 at 19:56

      I’m not good with words. somehow god always knows what is in my heart and stop the tears. I always feel better when I pray for others. I wonder sometimes how I can still be loved. but then I remember what JESUS did for all of us.

  15. Debbie on March 13, 2016 at 18:04

    When I am at my most despair. I put my self in God’s hands and and trust he has a plan. Despite how hard and scary life can be. God is with me and will get me through it.

  16. Stan on March 13, 2016 at 16:50

    I am with Robert about walking. It lets your mind wander and your head can magically clear. Music is also a very powerful gift: Playing the piano with no sheet music has allowed me to shed my tears thru my fingertips. And just sitting back and relaxing with some very ambient and spiritually uplifting music can totally whisk me away from my troubles, and I will emerge with a smile on my face, feeling cleansed.

    When I had the most difficult time of my life, I started having thoughts of suicide. I really had no idea how to escape from the black hole I’d fallen into, and giving up seemed the only choice. Somehow, I reached out to God, and I was able to sit back, close my eyes, and actually step outside of myself. And I found myself able to contemplate my situation without the burden of my own emotions. With much thought and consideration I was slowly able to make out the path ahead of me that I had to follow, and that path was the gentle path of just letting go, with the wisdom and optimism to move on. And the experience left me a much more gentle and loving person.

  17. Winifred on March 13, 2016 at 13:43

    First rest; slowly exercise and re-entering the everyday; eventually gratitude.

  18. Christina on March 13, 2016 at 13:14

    Metaphorically, In the Bleak Winter times, it is easy to put one’s Rule to one side. “I don’t feel like going to church today. I’ll have a day off!”. Then the next Sunday comes along and follows the same pattern, and so it can go. Quite soon, I come to realise that I am changing and become dispirited, grumpy, negative about so many things in my life.
    It is an effort to pick up the threads because that is not what I feel like doing. But, my Saviour needles me enough that one Sunday I return. No, there’s not a trumpet sound to welcome me back. It takes me a few weeks to pick up from where I left off.
    It is a great gift that I receive from the Beloved and my Lord Jesus Christ.
    Blessings to all the Brothers who give us the daily Word and this inspiring Lenten series, as well as all the other SSJE brothers.

  19. Robert Blessing on March 13, 2016 at 10:59

    Combining reflection and meditation while walking has brought healing as a soldier affected by war. I found I need both spiritual solitude and movement to recover from PTSD.


  20. Rhode on March 13, 2016 at 10:46

    I run to the bible. – “…when the enemy comes in like a flood, the Spirit of the Lord will raise a standard against him”. (Isaiah 59:19) -Jesus on the Cross is the standard that I picture going before me especially when I feel lost and last. He has always made a way for me to put one foot in front of the other. The balms of music, poetry and good friends are very special but the Word of God is my food and water.

  21. William Spies on March 13, 2016 at 10:21

    my fountain of faith has. now I question why bad things happen but always come back to my roots, learned as a boy and always with me.

  22. Jim V on March 13, 2016 at 08:03

    Music has sustained me in the past, playing and singing and writing.
    Mentors have, angles who have showed up in my life a challenging times and provided me hope, perspective, encouragement, opportunities.
    A big goal has sustained me and kept me going when I wanted to pack it in.

  23. Ross Bliss on March 13, 2016 at 07:58

    Just holding fast to the discipline of a rule of life sustains me even when I can’t tell that is what is going on. During periods of particularly prolonged travails, when it seems like I’m barely treading water, I can often look back and see how prayer, chapel life, and other regular patterns have actually nourished and guided me through.

    • a city monk on March 13, 2016 at 20:19

      yes… well said, and what I’m missing is the rule of life part… so, it seems God looks for me here. amen

  24. Jane on March 13, 2016 at 07:43

    Most of the year I am happily aware of God’s presence and feeling blessed and full of love for others, and so on, and then the barren time comes, usually during the winter, but sometimes even into the spring. I struggle to remember the joy filled days that I experience in other times. More than once, when I’m feeling on top of the world, I have written down how that feels and put it somewhere where I can read it when I can’t believe I’ve ever felt other than barrenness. More and more I am having an easier time recalling the joyful times, and this year the barren time didn’t last so long, maybe because I am in a small study group with some very inspiring and faithful Christians. Thanks be to God for the renewal of our joy even in barren times.

  25. Suzanne on March 13, 2016 at 07:09

    Clearly it is God who sustains me now and even when I haven’t acknowledged him or realized his grace. It is far too easy for me to slip into the pit where depression tugs and ambition is absent. The one practice I return to over and over again in my Rule of Life is to simply thank and praise God. Getting started is not always simple, but even the smallest utterance, “Thank you, Lord. It is you I praise and adore” begins to shatters the darkness. “Praise the Lord, my soul, and forget not all his benefits— who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion, who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.” (Psalm 103:2-5 NIV)

  26. Betty on March 13, 2016 at 07:00

    Knowing others love me has sustained me. Eating well exercising praying every day. I am heading home and need to keep these habits in place. Please watch over Dianne and her family.

  27. Ruth West on March 13, 2016 at 00:19

    What has sustained me? The Word, the word in the scriptures, and the Word, our Lord Jesus Christ. An awareness of His constant presence.
    Even just as there are cloudy days when the sun is not visible; so in my life during the cloudy days, I know the Son is still there. Its that belief and conscious awareness that sustains me. Thanks for this good homily. I loved the video.

Leave a Comment