Contrary to appearances, though, life is never problem-free for anyone. Challenges typically occur, but the lessons learned help us to grow and develop as we face and rise up to them.
It is easy to be a nice person when things are going well, when we are happy and 'the wood is green' (Luke 23:31). At such times, energised by the oxygen of contentment, life is much less complicated.
It is when confronted by ill health – ours or that of others – a crisis, loss or misfortune that we tend to find out just how resilient, courageous and faith-full we really are – or aren't.
Practising the wonderful virtues of charity, patience and generosity when, in the midst of hardship, we feel anything but virtuous, requires tremendous effort and resolve.
It certainly doesn't help to discover in times of trial that our energy-sapped behaviour has become less than perfect and we are behaving below the ideals of the person we thought we were or would like to be. Consequently, we can become disheartened or suffer a sense of disappointment and failure.
Nobody is perfect, however. God only expects us to do our best and to meet the challenges of life step by step, in manageable chunks, even if we make a complete hash of things in the process.
He knows the extent of our strength, even before we have tested it ourselves. He doesn't have to test us. Nor is he waiting in the wings ready to deepen our woes. Quite the opposite. God is there encouraging, healing, helping and loving us – and asking us to come to him, 'all you who labour and are overburdened, and I will give you rest' (Matthew 11:28).
This same gentle God invites us to be gentle to ourselves, to lean on him and rest in him. God wants to shoulder our anxieties, pain, exhaustion and weariness.
It can be hard to pray when we are experiencing trials. Cardinal Hume used to say that on those occasions when we want to pray but are too tired, ill, distressed or bereaved to do so, then the very desire to pray is in itself perfect prayer. It is also a great consolation during those times to be able to rely on the prayers of others. To pray for people is a privilege; to be prayed for is the greatest gift.
As we look to the celebration of Christmas, we acknowledge that Almighty God chose to reveal himself to humanity in a stable in Bethlehem as a weak and helpless infant, totally dependent on others. Surely that shows that it is OK to be vulnerable; and that weakness does not mean failure but rather that there is room to grow and become all that God has created us to be.