Refresh: Embracing a Grace- Paced Life in a World of Endless Demands, by Shona and David Murray. Wheaton: Crossway, 2017. 198 pages. Paperback. $14.99. Reviewed by Cherith S. Guichelaar.
I sometimes think we do not get to know each other as we ought. Perhaps this is not on purpose, but simply because it feels too uncomfortable. It is out of most people’s comfort zone to say, “I’m broken. I’m struggling to lay it at the cross. I don’t understand why, but I feel emptied. I feel like a bad Christian. Does God even understand?” Maybe it is hard to say these things because we feel it is even harder to be on the listening end. People just won’t understand. Or worse, they won’t know what to say. But, how could they when I hardly know what to say? And maybe that’s why I felt compelled to write a book review of sorts on Refresh. I say “of sorts” because I realize this is not exactly a typical review. But being encouraged myself by the book, I wanted others to have opportunity as I did to say, “She gave me words. She understands.” And others do understand. Maybe not everyone, but there are those who do. And above all, God understands. And He is glorified as the Limitless One when we bring Him our limitations.
I thought I was dying of an incurable disease. I had convinced myself that something was desperately wrong. Everything matched up. At least that is what Google told me. I had gone to the doctor a number of times, and although they were not finding anything, I knew that they were missing something. It hit me one night as we were setting up the Christmas tree with our kids. We have all these ornaments with our family pictures in them. Each year we add a new one to the collection and we smile as we look back at how our family has changed and reflect on God’s faithfulness to us throughout the years. What was supposed to be a joyful time with family left me enveloped with sorrow and emptiness. As I looked at all the pictures, I couldn’t help but think, “This will be my last Christmas walking. Lord, please help me to find joy in this pain.” Later, as I sat watching my husband do a puzzle, asking him for the thousandth time if he thought I was dying, I started to hyperventilate. I couldn’t control myself. I was dying. God was punishing me for being such a bad Christian. That moment changed everything for me. For us. It set us on a path only God could have ordained so perfectly.
My husband gently listened and after we knelt to pray he said, “I came across a video the other day. Do you want to watch it with me?” I could hardly think past the aching in my body, but somehow we did end up sitting together watching a video on anxiety. Anxiety? That is not what I had. I had an incurable disease. Anxiety means I am weak, not trusting. Anxiety is just a nice way of saying I’m crazy. Yet, as I watched and listened, I felt understood. It brought a sense of relief, but also a sense of overwhelming sadness. If only I had known five, eight, ten years ago, I would not have wasted so much time. Where do I go from here?
And that’s when I came across the book Refresh by Shona and David Murray. And refresh my soul is exactly what it did. Shona was like the older, wiser friend I had never met, but yet I knew she understood. She was the minister’s wife who was supposed to have it all together, yet she was falling apart. She knew she was blessed beyond measure, yet was struggling to lay her burdens down at the cross:
I felt I was a bad mother, a bad wife, a bad daughter, and a bad Christian. Guilt over a myriad of tasks not done—or poorly done by my standards— suffocated me. And despite running at top speed, the finish line was never in sight (21).
Eventually, when I finally crashed on the rocks in March 2003, David and I decided to call in my father, an experienced pastor of fifty years who would surely be able to find my spiritual problem. However, when he heard my story, he was convinced that it was not so much a spiritual problem as a mental and physical problem with spiritual consequences. He said that due to many factors, including burnout and longterm stress, my body was run-down and my mind was broken. The normal physical and mental processes were disrupted, and as a result, the most precious thing in my life was profoundly affected—my relationship with the Lord (24).
Shona took me through ten stations of the ‘refresh gym’ that led me to feel encouraged in my relationship with the Lord and those around me. With biblical truth sprinkled throughout the pages, she helped me acknowledge, by God’s grace, what different life circumstances and lifestyle choices had contributed to the helplessness I was feeling. Through my reading I was impressed with my need for sleep, exercise, and healthy eating habits. I was especially struck by her insights on sleep. She says, “I believe my sleep is one of the best illustrations of my rest in Christ. I refuse to believe the lie that I must be known for my sacrificial service to Christ rather than by my resting on Him” (53). In her book, Shona addresses the use of medications/antidepressants, which I found insightful and enlightening. She also sets forth the importance of biblical friendships to encourage us in our daily walk. After reading, I simply sat with thankful heart for those kindred spirits who have cheered my way. The book also gave me opportunity to reflect on how I define myself and re-orientated my thinking to who I am as God’s blood-bought child. I left my reading with a sigh of relief as I felt God caring for me, helping me prioritize my life, telling me that by grace, as I rest in Him, I will effectively fulfill my callings to His glory. I was able to confess with surety “God owns the gym and is himself the trainer. His athletes are handpicked and very dear to him” (34).
So maybe you are just plain burned out and need a wake-up call to slow down. Or, could you be one that has opportunity to use this book to be the hands and feet of Christ to a fellow believer? Or, maybe you do not know it, but just maybe you are struggling with that scary word “anxiety,” or even “depression”—terms that seem terrifying but are very often misunderstood. Perhaps this book could help water your thirsty soul. Maybe it will help you be a little more open in your struggle, knowing that others have been there too. If it can help even one lonesome sheep move from a place of fearing God’s wrath to quiet rest when they read the command in Philippians 4, “Be careful for nothing,” my heart will rejoice. I will be thankful. If even one can say, “Yes, God is commanding us not to be anxious; but He is not an angry Father when He commands it. On the contrary, He is the one who understands that the anxieties will come. And this Father of mine, He will give me peace that passes understanding.”
Lately, there are these still small moments where I find myself pausing from my morning duo of devotions and coffee. I pause to look near my feet where I hear my children going back and forth between the giggling and squabbling that siblings constantly do. And I look at them with different eyes. With the eyes of a mother who is present. With the eyes of one who has been gently gathered and carried in the bosom of her Shepherd. I find myself pondering, asking, “Why this way Lord? Why did You bring me through this fire? Couldn’t I have learned a different way?” And I hear Him gently whisper back to me, “Cherith, My strength is made perfect in weakness.” And that grace is enough for today. And for the first time in a long time, I understand this. And I am thankful. I find myself at rest, cheered to run the race God has called me to run. And God used Shona’s book Refresh to help bring me here.