The Book of Common Courage: Prayers and Poems to Find Strength in Small Moments

Reviewed by:

Connor Salter, Professional Writing alumnus from Taylor University, Upland, IN.


The Book of Common Courage: Prayers and Poems to Find Strength in Small Moments


K.J. Ramsey



Publication Date:

January 17, 2023




224 pages


Psalm 23 is perhaps the best-known Bible passage in the world. The best-known single verse is probably John 3:16, but it’s hard to name a set of verses more popular than the ones which begin “the Lord is my shepherd…” They have been reprinted in devotionals, children’s books, plays, and other media for centuries. While many think of Psalm 23 as light inspirational fare, K.J. Ramsey suggests that it is inspiring because it doesn’t ignore the darkness. She provides of series reflections on the psalm’s phrases—“he makes me lie down,” “for his name’s sake”—in the form of photographs, poems, messages to the reader, and diary-like entries from her own life. Many of these reflections describe Ramsey’s particular story, as a female therapist with chronic illness who left a particular church when other congregants treated her poorly. She encourages

As mentioned above, Ramsey’s journey with chronic illness—learning to accept it’s okay to seek professional help, fielding asinine questions from Christians who treat long-term illness as evidence of spiritual doubt, learning to see God’s blessing even in terrible times—informs this book’s approach. She refers to herself as a “trauma-informed licensed professional counselor,” and has told bits of this story in her book This Too Shall Last. However, This Too Shall Last was about helping readers understand the spiritual questions that arise from “where is God in this pain?” and didn’t delve much into her particular experiences. Here, she writes a little more directly about her pain. There is a poem about her last week at a church she was leaving, serving communion, and the last person who came to receive it “was the man who made my life hell… And with one deep breath, I was given a choice. I could extend mercy even to him.” This subject seems like a dark choice for a book about Psalm 23 (especially one published by the Zondervan Gifts division, which releases books for holiday presents and the like).

In truth, there is a difference between lament and rant. There is also a tradition of teachers who do what Frederick Buechner called “stewarding pain,” using it as an opportunity to empathize with others. Authors like Henri Nouwen (The Wounded Healer) and Dan Allender (Leading with A Limp, also Redeeming Heartache with Cathy Loerzel) have given instruction on how teachers can use lament, honesty, and empathy to steward pain for good purpose. Ramsey masterfully follows this tradition, stewarding her pain to create meditations on giving grace even to those who hurt us, and recognizing that God ensures pain is never wasted. Many of her best reflections speak again and again about the idea that God is in the business of turning a painful moment into an opportunity for growth, empathy, redemption in some form—“all your wounds can become wellsprings.”

In summary, Ramsey shows that the beauty of Psalm 23 is that it’s inspiring because it faces the darkness. It refuses to ignore the valley of the shadow of death or the possibility of danger. It shows how God is with us in those moments, his rod and staff providing protection and comfort. Her reflections, tying her personal story of pain and exhorting readers to see the need to recognize their pain, and see how God works with the pain to create something new, invite readers into a truly inspiring story.

A wonderfully crafted book that shows readers how find new riches in a Bible passage they thought they knew.


Rating (1 to 5 stars):

5 stars

Suggested Audience:

Christians seeking devotionals or reflection books about Psalm 23, or great books about growth after suffering.

Christian Impact:

Ramsey talks plainly about the pain she has experienced at church, but never treats Christian community as something inherently corrupt or something that can just be dropped. She highlights the need for continued spiritual growth, for communion with the saints, and shows how recognizing past pain has to be part of growth. Her discussion about spiritual renewal, as discussed above, is honest yet deeply inspiring because she refuses to pretend pain hasn’t happened in the past.

NOTE: ECLA readers who enjoy this book may enjoy the following:

The Book of Common Courage: Prayers and Poems to Find Strength in Small Moments


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