When a Practice Stops Working For You

I went for a walk yesterday afternoon, just as the sun was beginning to go down. Kaya has a cold – nothing serious but enough to make her really whiny – so when she asked to get into the pushchair in the hallway mid-afternoon, I took it as a sign and we headed out together.

There are lots of small parks nearby but I miss the wildness of the countryside, and so we headed up the hill towards Nunhead Cemetery, a tangled wilderness of Victorian graves and trees and brambles. There were a handful of dog walkers wandering through, and we only had twenty minutes until the gates were locked, but I pushed Kaya slowly up the central drive towards the ruined chapel and felt able to breathe a bit more deeply again.

These afternoon walks used to be a daily occurrence a year ago. Kaya was around five months, and not keen at all on sleeping in her cot. So I’d bundle us both up and we’d walk out into the Luxembourgish countryside, escaping the city for a moment of peace in the fields. She’d fall asleep pretty quickly and I’d listen to podcasts and sing old hymns into the cold air and feel a sense of peace enfold me again. I called those walks a spiritual practice.

But I stopped because my girl grew up and our days looked different. We stepped into a new season.


Five years ago I learnt about the practice of choosing One Word to guide you through your year. Rather than setting goals and resolutions (which for most of us rarely hold beyond a few weeks), the idea was is that your one word will set your intentions, guide your decisions, and help you remember what you desire most for your year.

That first year, my one word was life changing. BRAVE helped me settle into a new foreign country. Brave forced me out of my comfort zone and gave me some amazing experiences. Brave held me up and gave me strength after the miscarriage of our first baby. It was an impactful and inspiring practice.

This last year, I picked a word, and then after a few months, it lost its spark. I don’t know how to explain it any other way, but that it stopped resonating for me. It caused me more confusion and heartache to think about it than it helped. And so I stopped thinking about it.

I don’t really mind. I’ve come to realise that spiritual practices are only good for as long as they continue to bring you into a deeper connectedness with God, with yourself, and with those around you. When they stop doing that, perhaps there’s an adjustment to be made, but perhaps that particular practice has simply offered all it can to you for now. You might come back to it in the future, you might not.

I’ve had lots of people ask me what my one word will be this year. Apparently the Pastor of our Luxembourg church even referenced me in his sermon this past Sunday when he talked about it. I know how powerful a practice it can be, and so I still regularly recommend it to friends.

But I’m not choosing one word this year.

I’ve thought about it a lot, mulled over some possibilities. But nothing stands out. No word has chosen me.

Instead, I carry a sense of intention into this new year. There are a few themes that have been revolving in my mind, themes I know I want to sit with for a while, around the idea of seeds, of nurturing, of gentleness and what it means to live in the tension between enough and desire.

I’m leaning in to that space at the same time as I’m counting down the days until this new baby arrives. And I’m embracing the practices that feel good and life-bringing and soul-watering. The rest I’ll pack away for now, until the day they feel useful again. Life is too short to feel guilty about spiritual practices that aren’t working for me.

Can I encourage you to do the same? The One Word practice has become a little trendy in the past years, which is great in that it brings the idea to a wider audience. And it can be a powerful tool in your life’s walk to discover more of yourself and more of the divine. But maybe not. And that’s OK too.

Or maybe it’s another practice. Something everyone in your church or community is doing, but it just doesn’t resonate. If I was sitting across from you right now I’d tell you that you are FREE to chose how you live, what spiritual and life practices you embrace, and what you leave for others. And that it’s natural and normal for some practices to have a season of usefulness in your life. For that we thank them, and then we look around for the next opportunity – what way is God going to speak to me in this season?

However you chose to begin this new year, may the practices you pick up bring you a greater sense of connectedness with your life’s purpose and with the One who made you and loves you deeply.