The Christian author on using fiction to bring readers into an encounter with God.
Minister and author Sharon Garlough Brown is co-founder of Abiding Way Ministries, which provides spiritual formation retreats and resources. Her fiction series Sensible Shoes is a unique collection of contemporary novels that traces the lives of four women who meet at a spiritual retreat center. The fourth and final book in the series is An Extra Mile (Intervarsity Press): The women are navigating both deep joy and devastating loss—can they find equilibrium in the midst of all that has changed? In this interview, the author shares the inspiration behind the unique series, the most challenging part in writing the final chapter, and what readers can learn from the ladies of New Hope Retreat Center.
What can you tell us about An Extra Mile?
An Extra Mile is the fourth and final book in the Sensible Shoes series, which follows the journeys of four women who meet at a retreat center and explore the practice of spiritual disciplines as ways to draw closer to God. It takes place during the seasons of Lent and Easter, and the characters are invited to ponder what the death and resurrection of Jesus means as they navigate their own sorrows and challenges.
As with the other books in the series, An Extra Mile includes prayer exercises that invite the characters and readers to encounter God and see themselves more clearly. All of the books are about community, and the bonds of community are tested in this book.
Would you share how the series came about?
In September of 2008 I began leading a weekly group for 12 women at our church. I wanted to introduce some spiritual disciplines that have deeply impacted my life with God, practices that have helped me pay attention to the presence of God and to the movement of the Spirit in transformative ways.
Each week we explored an ancient Christian practice—like prayerfully reading the Word (lectio divina), the prayer of examen, and praying with imagination. We practiced silence, journaled, and listened prayerfully to one another’s stories.
The women grew to trust each other deeply, confessing sins and naming sorrows. We watched God work in profound ways to bring about healing, transformation, and freedom.
In one of our first meetings, one of the women in the group looked around the circle and commented, “Everybody here is wearing really cute, but sensible shoes!” The phrase stuck, and we began to refer to ourselves as the “Sensible Shoes Club.” God was leading us through the unpredictable and sometimes treacherous terrain of the inner life, and we needed sensible shoes for the journey. We also needed one another.
As we walked together, I sensed there was a story to tell—not a story about our particular journeys, but a story about the power of the Spirit to conform us into the image of Christ. I began to wonder what would happen if I created four characters who meet at a retreat center in order to learn ways to walk more closely with God. And so Meg, Hannah, Mara, and Charissa emerged from my imagination.
What were your goals in writing An Extra Mile?
Since many hard and heartbreaking things unfold in Barefoot (the third book in the series), I wanted to provide a place where my characters and readers could grieve their losses. An Extra Mile is a book which gives space for lament and which doesn’t rush the characters through their grieving.
But because we are people of the resurrection, the Spirit is also at work to bring new life into desolate places in the characters’ lives. I wanted to explore the tension between grief and hope, death and resurrection, and to give my characters permission to name the hard things so they could be open to meeting God in the midst of the losses.
Click through to discover what Sharon says was the most challenging part of writing the novel…