Book reviews: 'Reset' and 'Refresh'

by Greg Feulner  ·  May 20, 2022

Summer is here, a time to pause for vacation or just soaking in God’s creation. But can we spare the time?

Life is busy, and the accompanying stress of work and time commitments, finances, health, and relationships can be overwhelming. Work and service are good, but with too many obligations and without proper self-care, we sometimes find ourselves going too fast for too long on too little.

Consider these common symptoms of burnout: sleeplessness, cloudy thinking, exhaustion, anxiety, depression, apathy, relationship conflict, indecision, feeling overwhelmed or hopeless. It sounds like the everyday experience of many in modern society.

Have you been swept up as well?

In such a fast-paced culture, some have made constant busyness such a part of daily life that they don’t even notice it. Then one day they’re in the hospital with a life-threatening health issue caused by years of unchecked stress.

This is what happened to David Murray.

After teaching and counseling for years, David realized he was living a fast-paced life in a burnout culture. He was neglecting essential gifts from God, such as rest and recreation, and was doing serious harm to his health. While he was “burning out,” seemingly serving his family and for his ministry, in the end it harmed his family and ministry and almost cost him his life.

His wife, Shona Murray, after working for years as a family medical practitioner in their native Scotland, had separately reached an intensely dark place of doubt, depression, and despair.

What had gone wrong? How could they get back on track again?

Fortunately, God has graciously given us instructions on avoiding such burnout and how to reset and refresh. Using Scripture, various studies, and personal examples, David and Shona show in their books Reset (for men) and Refresh (for women) what a “grace-paced life” looks like, why such a life is honoring to God, and the benefits such a lifestyle brings.

Getting back on track

Reset and Refresh were designed to complement one another, offering guidance and insight that would be beneficial for men and women of all ages and situations in life. Husbands and wives are encouraged to read the books together, chapter by chapter. Married couples may also benefit from reading the book suited for their spouse to better appreciate the unique challenges men and women face with burnout.

Using the imagery of repair bays called “Reset Garage” and “Refresh Gym,” David and Shona walk the reader through crucial steps for recovering from (and preventing) burnout. Following the same basic structure, the repair bays in Reset Garage and Refresh Gym include reality check, review (or replay), rest, re-create, relax, rethink, reduce, refuel, relate, and resurrection.

Don’t be thrown off by the playful imagery of repair bays in a garage or gym. What is contained in these chapters is a store of precious theological and practical value. David and Shona’s insights come from decades of combined experience as a husband, father, counselor, pastor, and professor (David), and a wife, mother, and medical doctor (Shona). The goal of each repair bay is to reveal where a problem might lie and to guide and instruct the reader in “lasting change,” not just getting out of a bad habit only to return to the cycle again.

How do we do this? The first two repair bays are foundational: reality check and review. We must first and foremost determine whether there is a problem or not and assess the damage before we can hope to repair it. The chapter in Reset offers a checklist of over 50 telltale signs that we might be burned out. If we have at least five of these, says David, that should get our attention.

The reality check repair bay is followed by its corollary: review. After an assessment, but before beginning the necessary repairs, we must take what we learned about behavior patterns in a reality check and pinpoint the root cause(s). With these two things—assessment and review—the man or woman of God can begin making the necessary changes to put them back on track.

Why is so much attention devoted to preliminary assessment? If our understanding of the problem is off, the solution will also be off. The assessment and review repair bays are essential for maintaining a healthy and balanced life and are meant to be returned to monthly, quarterly, and yearly. David and Shona offer a pattern that should become part of daily life. As God’s children, we are running a race that requires endurance. The instruction and guidance through these repair bays give “a clear sense of why and where we are running.”

Throughout the book, especially in the “rethink” repair bay, we are encouraged to reassess our assumptions about who we are and what we should be. On every page of their books, David and Shona challenge the reader to think, “Is God magnified in the patterns of my life, or am I magnifying myself?” In seeing God correctly, “not only does God look different, but the whole world does—including the person in the mirror.”

The everyday things

Skillfully drawing out the theological significance of everyday practices, the remaining repair bays cover sleep, diet, exercise, relationships, and time management. We may be prone to overlook and ignore the events that make up each day, seeing the Christian life as one that is only concerned with “spiritual” matters, as if physical and spiritual are somehow unrelated. But we, as physical and spiritual beings, are God’s creation, formed—body and soul—for His glory. Who we are and what we do in the body matter. To the extent that we fail to grasp this, we misunderstand our purpose and lose direction.

So much attention is devoted to basic things like sleep, diet, and exercise because we are whole beings, and the solution to our problems is often an entire solution. For instance, our sleep, diet, and exercise habits affect our energy and concentration. A poor diet contributes to low energy and poor sleep. Rest ensures we have the energy to do the things God calls us to do. Rethinking bad habits trains the mind and, in turn, influences our choices that contribute to unhealthy patterns and, ultimately, burnout.

The most common factor in burnout is inadequate rest, and so, unsurprisingly, two complete chapters are devoted to what the Bible says about rest. In the opening chapters of Genesis, God rested on the seventh day of creation, providing a pattern for Israel to follow every week (Exodus 20:11). The psalmist speaks of rest as a gift from God (Psalms 3:54:8127:2). Without adequate sleep, we are lethargic and not as productive. Poor sleep has physical, intellectual, emotional, and spiritual ramifications. Our own experience, and a plethora of scientific studies, attest to this fact as well.

David warns ministers against having a Superman-like complex. God does call us to give our lives in service to Him, but He does not call us to be what only Jesus Christ is: Savior. You and I cannot do everything. We need sleep. And good rest is foundational to living a grace-paced life.

David encourages us to think of sleep more theologically than we might typically. In sleep, “we are relinquishing control … we are saying, ‘I don’t run the world, or the church, or even my own little life.’” The author does not beat around the bush: “When and how long we sleep makes a huge statement about who we are and what we believe about ourselves and God.”

David also offers practical advice for those burdened with anxiety and who have a hard time sleeping. He recommends writing a list of everything that needs to be done the next day (or that week) and mentally leaving those things to be done on that piece of paper. We can rest and pray to the Lord for peace, trusting in His care (Psalm 3:54:8Proverbs 3:24).

Fillers and drainers

In pursuit of a grace-paced life, David encourages us to think through our own “fillers” and “drainers.” What gives us energy and satisfaction? What drains us of strength and motivation? While it may be tempting to downplay the “little things” that make up a day, David argues to the contrary: Every part of the day makes a difference in our spiritual and physical health. He recommends making a list of things that fill us and things that drain us. That list might look something like this:

  • Fillers: quiet time with the Lord, conversation with one’s spouse, walks, nature, reading, writing, singing, dancing, enjoying a good meal or favorite drink.
  • Drainers: meetings, deadlines, relational conflict, criticism, late nights, intense movies, reading the news, staying inside, drinking too much coffee.

This list will look different for different people, and no one can avoid all the drainers. But what we can do is recognize what fills us up and what brings us down. This is important. Putting these fillers and drainers into words will help identify the target we are aiming for and will aid us in living each day with intentionality. For example, if I recognize that not getting enough sleep and drinking too much coffee makes me irritable and tired, I have somewhere to start. With this small recognition, I can take significant steps toward improvement.

By doing this, we find more time for the fillers, and the stress we’ve become entangled in becomes more manageable. Even if these are small steps, small steps in the right direction are still steps in the right direction. As David says, “I’ve come to realize that every activity, no matter how small or short, has some impact on me.”

It is God’s grace that empowers us. We will become discouraged at times, but we must remember God is working all things for the good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28), and it is His strength that is made perfect in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9).

What’s the result?

The books each end with a chapter on resurrection. David and Shona encourage us to take the resurrection of Jesus as a model for new life after burnout. Just as we cannot return to the old life of sin and view the power of the resurrection lightly, and just as we are called to walk in the newness of life given to us by God’s grace, we must remember what brought us into burnout to begin with and what the necessary steps are to avoiding burnout, and we must walk in them.

As David says: “When we live a grace-paced life, we not only receive more grace, we give more grace” (emphasis in original). When we humbly submit our busy schedules, hopes, dreams, and aspirations to the Father, He will give us what we need to live such a grace-paced life in a burnout culture.

Are you ready to reset and refresh your thinking and behavior regarding all of life? Pray, meditate on God’s Word, and then consider reading these books.

Greg Feulner is assistant editor of the Samaritan Ministries newsletter.