Seldom, if ever, have I been drawn into such spiritual depth by a work of fiction. Sensible Shoes is an incredible journey with four very disparate women who come to know each other and themselves in a spiritually deep and rich fashion. I was drawn in by the characters of Meg, Hannah, Mara, and Charissa—perhaps because I could see a bit of myself in each of them. What wonderfully complex and vulnerable characters Sharon has written—so believable—to the point I wish I could talk with them and become their friend too.
Four women—each with deep wounds from their past. Each drawn to attend a series of sessions by a plum-colored flyer that stated: “Jesus says, ‘Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly’ (Matthew 11:28-30, The Message). We invite you to come take a sacred journey.”
As they gather at the New Hope Retreat Center, they each wonder why they came—and think about not coming back. Mara, with the burdens of her unhappy home and infamous past; Meg, tied to a house haunted with the voice of an unaffectionate mother; Hannah, given a forced sabbatical of nine months by her church; and Charissa, an uptight, perfectionist of a graduate student working on her PhD. Four women with nothing in common who discover the commonality we all share.
One of the exercises is to confess the wells other than that of living water they’ve drunk from in their pasts to try to find fulfillment.
She had drawn from the well of sexual gratification, but the water had been bitter.
She had drawn from the well of material possessions, but that well was filled with salt water, making her crave more and more.
She had drawn from the well of approval and acceptance, but that well was unpredictable. She never knew if there would be water or not, and even when she managed to draw some out, her bucket leaked. She couldn’t hold it. It didn’t last.
Another came to the realization that she …
… had worn her self-sufficiency as a badge of honor. For years her own pride had kept her from Jesus …
… she didn’t want to feel guilty. Because she wanted to avoid reproach and punishment. Because she wanted other people to respect and admire her. Because she knew it was the right thing to do.
But love for God did not appear anywhere on her long list of reasons and motivation for living and obedient Christian life. How was that possible?
She had been self-centered, even in her faith. Totally self-centered.
And eventually one came to the realization that,
For so many years I based my identity on how much I achieved and on what other people thought of me. I wasn’t at rest in my relationship with God. I was always haunted by the thought that I should be doing more, that I wasn’t a faithful enough servant. Then when God stripped everything away and pruned me down to a stump, I began to see all the false things I had trusted in. I finally began to understand that I have the same invitation John the disciple had: to call myself ‘the one Jesus loves.’ To really believe it in a way I never had before and to live life from that center … I’m not trying to earn God’s love and favor anymore. I’m just resting in Christ. And it’s good. There’s such freedom there.
How I’ve identified with these statements. How many of you have identified with these statements too? Put on your Sensible Shoes and join Meg, Mara, Hannah, and Charissa on their sacred journey. You’ll be so happy and blessed that you did! Five stars only because I can’t give it ten!
To embark on the sacred journey, click here: Sensible Shoes: A Story about the Spiritual Journey
Sharon Brown and I talked about how she came to write Sensible Shoes. She told me the book is drawn from real-life experience. In 2008, she asked a group of women if they’d like to be in a spiritual formation group—to grow into the Spirit. Twelve said yes. Over time they found they could be authentic, trust each other, and deal with the deep personal issues they each faced. The transformation was profound and deep and beautiful. One of them said, “To walk with God, you need to wear ‘sensible shoes.'” They discovered they needed a spiritual discipline to cooperate with grace.
Although much of the book is fiction, there is no fiction in the reactions of the women or their spiritual leaders. The book teaches there is hope, freedom, healing, and community to be found—no one needs to do this work in isolation.
I asked Sharon what she learned about Sharon by writing Sensible Shoes. She told me she had learned how to celebrate the love of God in her own life—especially as a pastor. She learned how to disentangle her professional and personal identities, coming to know herself as God’s beloved child instead of wearing herself out in anxiety-driven work for God. She realized her compulsion to rescue others and that she needed to be able to back off and trust the work of the Spirit.
Sharon was born in Arcadia, CA. She studied English at Smith College and then earned her Masters of Divinity from Princeton Theological Seminary. She’s married to Jack and they have a son, David, who is nineteen. Their ministry postings have taken them from Glasgow, Scotland, to Tulsa, OK, to Southampton, England, and they’re now in a pastorate in Caledonia, MI.
She was raised in Presbyterian and Methodist churches, but has ministered in several denominations: Presbyterian, Church of Scotland, a non-denominational church in England, and now they are with the Evangelical Covenant Church. She says they needed a “place to land” and found this church, founded in the 1800s, which has as a tenet the commitment to “agree in the essentials” while affording the freedom to disagree on the nonessentials.
Interestingly, she is a technophobe, just got her first cellphone in late May, and recently learned how to text. She says “I love all things British—especially tea. I love to read. I love to travel. I love watching movies with my family. I love to write. I’ve always loved to write.
Her second book, Two Steps Forward, which will release in September, is a continuation of Sensible Shoes, and covers the period of Advent. The book is the story of persevering in hope. The final book, Barefoot, covers Lent to Easter and is about surrendering to God and dying to self. The books are fiction books with non-fiction teaching content. The characters become windows and mirrors that the readers can look through and in to find themselves and see God more clearly.
Sharon Garlough Brown is a pastor, spiritual director, retreat leader, and author. Kathy Lee Gifford calls Sensible Shoes one of her “favorite things.” To learn more about Sharon, check out SensibleShoesClub.com.
InterVarsity gave me a copy of Sensible Shoes in exchange for my candid review.