As the season of advent approaches, many of us will be looking to find a new resource for daily readings and reflections. A couple of years back I wrote my own Advent devotional, Advent Treasure, and I’m so grateful to those of you who read it and found it helpful. Looking ahead, I want to commend a brand new Advent resource which is just beautiful in every way, and definitely ranks as one of the best I’ve ever read. It’s called Contemplating Christmas and it’s written by my dear friend and fellow writer, Abby Ball. I had the great privilege of both designing and endorsing this book, and here’s what I said:
“Christmas can be a time when life gets overwhelming as the world piles more and more ideals of perfection and happiness on us. Abby Ball’s new Advent devotional is a warm and inviting counterbalance to these unsettling messages. It’s a place to sit down in the silence and to find God there with us when our lives are less than perfect. Abby’s words are lyrical and beautiful, and welcome us into a place of authenticity and vulnerability, where we can admit to the difficulties of life while finding hope in this great and enduring story of love come down. Contemplating Christmas is a lavish feast, a gentle rest and an enticing journey to joy, and it will soothe your weary places this Advent season.”
Today I have Abby here on the blog, answering questions about her life and her writing and this amazing new book. Abby is also kindly giving away a copy of Contemplating Christmas to a lucky winner – just sign up to my mailing list in the link below, or if you’re already on my list drop a message in the comments. Either way, buy this book – it’s going to make your Advent season all the more hopeful.
Hi, Abby, it’s so lovely to have you here today. Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I’m a primary school teacher and my favourite thing about teaching is story time! I love reading with children and helping them develop a passion for books. I got married last April to my amazing husband, Tim, and we currently live in Somerset with our cat, Otta.
What led to you writing Contemplating Christmas?
I really love Advent and for several years I’ve been giving away a short Advent devotional on my blog. It’s proved to be really popular, so I wanted to offer my readers something more in-depth to help them get the most out of the season.
One of the many things I love about your book is that it is not afraid to face up to the difficult, messy side of life, and to invite readers towards honesty and vulnerability. Can you tell us a little about this side of the book?
Absolutely. I feel like there are a lot of cultural and spiritual expectations that surround how we celebrate Christmas. We’re supposed to be celebrating with the perfect family, the most beautiful decorations, the most expensive presents. We’re supposed to be in awe and wonder at the birth of Jesus. We’re supposed to be incredibly happy all the time. But for a lot of people, Christmas can highlight some of the struggles or suffering we’re facing. We might have a dysfunctional family, or be grieving a loss. We might have a chronic illness that doesn’t take a break for the holidays. I wanted to write a book that acknowledges the pain and difficulties we sometimes face, and make room for people like me, who can find Christmas to be a bittersweet time of the year.
I think Advent is a really good season for us, because it’s a season of waiting. It’s a season for acknowledging the ways that life doesn’t always look like we might want it to. But it’s also a season of hope, where we find out that all is not lost. Sadness doesn’t cancel out joy; the reality of suffering doesn’t mean we can’t find love or peace right where we are. The birth of Jesus means that God is always with us and we don’t have to face anything alone. He came to us once, as a baby, and can come to us again in all the ways we need him to.
Many people feel worn down at Christmas. What advice would you give someone who is struggling to feel part of all the sparkle?
Firstly, be honest about it. You don’t have to pretend everything is ok when it isn’t. Make sure you’re talking to your trusted people about what’s going on and how you feel. Sometimes even just acknowledging that can be a huge relief.
Secondly, be very gentle with yourself. Do the things you know will help – journal, go for a walk, rest, drink enough water. Make sure you’re speaking kindly to yourself, too. We can be our own harshest critics sometimes, but having needs is not a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of being human. You don’t have to have it altogether all the time. Let yourself off that hook.
Finally, look for the small things that spark joy for you. We often imagine joy is only found in the big, exciting ‘Christmas morning’ moments of life, and so we think it’s out of our reach when we’re suffering. But I think joy often feels more attainable when it starts small. So I try to focus on the small things that bring me pleasure in this season – the glow of fairy lights or candles, the taste of a mince pie, the sound of a familiar carol. Small joys won’t erase your pain, but they might help you carry it with a little more ease.
And finally, where can readers find more of your writing – and do you have any future projects in mind?
You can find all my writing at abbyball.substack.com. I’m thinking a lot about how we manage transitions and find hope for the ‘in-between’ times – those moments where what went before is over, but what is coming next hasn’t quite emerged. So I’m mulling over those themes for a future project.
Do you want to win a copy of Contemplating Christmas? Just sign up to my mailing list here. I send occasional newsletters with reflections and news about my books and other writing. You’ll also get a free book and some printable poem prayers. Do drop a message in the comments to enter if you’re already on the list.A brilliant new advent resource from Abby Ball – Contemplating Christmas – Interview and Giveaway Click To Tweet