The year 2020 promised so much. It began with a wonderful holiday with my eldest daughter and only grandchild. It was such a joy observing my 18-month-old grandson, Arthur, experience the sea for the first time – a beautifully intense and precious time.

Then everything changed.

As the world was confronted with a pandemic, I had to reduce almost all social contact as my elderly parents belong to the high risk group. Yet I found glimmers of hope and discovered God’s hand in things. Gardening, which had always been a chore to me, became an oasis of peace and purpose. Lockdown also meant that I now had more time for treasured conversations with my elderly parents. At the same time, it was incredibly difficult not to have contact with my grandson – for five long months! It is impossible to put into words the ecstasy I felt as restrictions eased and I was able to give him a huge hug on his second birthday. I now know how blessing actually feels.

Shortly after my grandson’s birthday, I embarked on a walking holiday and spiritual retreat with three friends. Hence, I write these words from the beautiful Iron Ore mountains not far from my home town Chemnitz, in Germany. This walking retreat is a kind of pilgrimage for me and my friends – an annual affair where we walk 15-20 miles a day along remote trails, drinking in the wonder of God’s creation. The stories, prayers, laughter and lessons we share are just another way that God reminds me that he is present. Always.

Our devotional reading today is about ‘Herzensfrieden’ – letting go, and finding inner peace. Today’s topic is an appropriate one as myself and another of my three friends have been carrying a burden around with us the past few weeks – one much heavier than the rucksacks on our backs. We turn to prayer, and tears run down my face as I sense God’s presence and touch on my life. Continuing in an attitude of prayer, each of us lay small rocks and stones in a pile, an act of worship that symbolises our letting go of the things that burden us.

I stand up, shoulder my rucksack and walk from the shade of the trees into the sunlight. The uphill walk continues, but I have more of a spring in my step, friends by my side, and a peace in my heart, a ‘Herzensfrieden’.

It is this that comforts me as I pilgrim my way through the rest of an extraordinary year.

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