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“Over many years, and through many struggles, the Lord has … taught me, and is teaching me, how to live a grace-paced life in a world of overwhelming demands.”

Are you overwhelmed? Are you close to, or at, burnout? Is everything just too much? Many women find there is a time in their life where they ask these questions. Shona and David Murray experienced their own burnout, and found refreshment and healing through trust in God’s sovereignty, care and love—and by facing the reality of their over-paced lives and the limits of their physical bodies. This volume for women is a companion to David’s Reset, written for men and reviewed by Matthew Payne. My husband also found Reset very helpful and shared it with the men on his staff team. Shona’s own story is one of burnout with young home-schooled children while working as a doctor and with a husband in ministry. Her experience may be unique, but she speaks situations that many of us are familiar with. Refresh includes single women and those without children, but the main focus feels as though it is for married mothers.

Are you overwhelmed? Are you close to, or at, burnout? Shona and David Murray experienced their own burnout, and found refreshment and healing through trust in God’s sovereignty, care and love

I have read this book twice in recent years. Once a few years ago on long-service leave, and now in the middle of COVID-19 isolation. I am not on the brink of burnout, nor am I currently overwhelmed by demands. For me in many ways, this current season has been one of lower output and fewer deadlines. However, it’s been a time to allow for reassessment and reflection. Where might cracks be appearing? How close are we running to the edge? What level of busyness do we want to return to? We watch others around us take stress leave and need professional help, and consider our own frailties at the same time. So, whether you are currently struggling with the pace of your life, or just want to be aware of what the warning signs might be, this book is worth reading.

Ten Gym Stations

It is structured around the concept of ten stations at a gym, the first being “Reality Check”. Murray provides a process for readers to assess their own state, asking questions to flag warning signs in physical, mental, emotional, relational, vocational, moral and spiritual areas. Then you consider how wide, deep and long you have had symptoms in each area. Her analysis is that if you have warning signs in a couple of areas, and particularly in spiritual or moral areas, you need to address things straight away.

She encourages women to analyse their situation and the effects of their lifestyle, noting the main areas of danger which include idolatry, materialism, debt, indiscipline, diet and perfectionism. She starts with a helpful reminder of God as creator, and who he has made us to be as wonderfully amazing, complex and limited humans, who are affected by sin in all areas.

Then comes an exploration of the value of sleep, noting that sleep proves our trust that God is sovereign and that we are finite. I appreciated this chapter for I am increasingly convicted of the theological importance of sleep, and it is something that can often be ignored. Another chapter examines resting, stopping and relaxing, encouraging time out in each day, the week (a day of rest) and the year (vacation). As she notes: “Every Christian wants to know God more; few Christians fight for the silence required to know him”.

She expounds the need for regular exercise, and also a healthy diet. There is detailed consideration about medication for depression and other mental health issues. Murray is a GP and I found her to be balanced and wise, she concludes it is a blessing of God for those who need it. She encourages women to consider what fills up their tanks and what empties them and to wisely manage both, so that we can find purposely find refreshment and be aware of depletion.

She encourages women to consider what fills up their tanks and what empties them and to wisely manage both, so that we can find purposely find refreshment and be aware of depletion.

There is time spent thinking about our identity. Both in Christ and as a forgiven sinner; as well as in our relationships, and the unhelpful identities we may give ourselves that may need tweaking. Part of our identity includes acknowledging our weaknesses as well as our strengths and how they are redefined through Christ.

One gym station reflects on the weights we carry through life:

By the time we are 40, we are carrying mortgage and credit card debt, work problems, husband and children worries, healthy issues, church conflicts, car repairs, and healthcare premiums, and on and on it goes… The weights accumulated imperceptibly; they multiplied a little every year until life slowly yet inexorably crushed us. Now, our minds are frazzled, our hearts are pounding, our bodies are breaking down, our relationships are straining, our sleep is declining, our quality of work is suffering, and our happiness is a distant memory.

She considers the idea that there are two ways of operating: the well-planned life and the summoned life, challenging women to see that planning, having a purpose and making appropriate decisions are preferable to living entirely in response to circumstances. But we still need to be able to respond to situations, and so we seek balance. To figure out what this might looks like she considers purpose, planning, and pruning, and how purpose is particularly needed in five areas: our spiritual, family, vocational, church and family lives.

Towards the end, there is encouragement for women to prioritise their relationships: with God, our husbands, our children, friends and older women, noting all are important and probably should operate in that order.

I appreciated Murray’s wisdom, grace and honesty throughout. You can tell that she has lived the overwhelmed life and has experienced major burnout and depression. Yet she has learnt from it and found a better way forward. That better way is multifaceted. It is spiritual refreshment and a willingness to sit at our Lord’s feet. It is a recognition that sin plays a part in all aspects of our lives. It is acceptance that we have limited bodies that need care and maintenance. It is allowing our community to come alongside us and be with us in our struggles.

The key is to grasp that pacing ourselves is biblical, whereas living the fast, frantic life is not. It takes faith to believe that and to follow through with it. To live it is in fact a dying to self—a dying to our self-will, our self-sufficiency, and our self-image. Have you understood frantic living versus grace paced living in that way before?

Murray offers wise words and advice that we would do well to heed.

God’s calling to each of us is unique, and he takes great delight in us when we serve him in it … He does not demand burnout. He rejoices to see us taking biblical care of the bodily temple he has gifted to us and is delighted when we live conscious of our weakness and in total dependence on his daily refreshing grace.

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