Are you constantly on the move? Do you wish you could feel more connected to the people around you? Do you feel like you have settled for “busy”?
Well, Shauna Niequist knows how you feel. Her new Christian non-fiction book, Present Over Perfect, dives right into the idea that a busy life doesn’t necessarily mean a full life.
After decades of hustling to keep her life together, Shauna realized she was falling apart. What she thought was giving her meaning was actually robbing her of experiencing contentment and love. So, Shauna began to rebuild her life on the idea that purpose doesn’t necessarily come from busyness. Instead, she set out to reclaim a more still and present way of being.
The tagline, “leaving behind frantic for a simpler, more soulful way of living,” accurately sums up this book. Shauna tells her story in a natural, honest way that I couldn’t help but identify with. From the moment that I saw the opening Mary Oliver poem, I knew I was going to like this book, and it definitely has been what I needed to read during this season of my life.
Through beautiful anecdotes and water analogies, Shauna explains the mess and the beauty of this “sea-change”—the transformation from a person of productivity into a person of moments. She explains how she had to relearn what it meant to live a meaningful life and where we find our identity and worth.
She discusses the idea that business and work are usually our way of outrunning pain and heartache in our lives. We don’t want to stop, because we are afraid of what we will see and hear and feel if we do. “I learned a long time ago that if I hustle fast enough, the emptiness will never catch up with me,” Shauna says. “Hustle is the opposite of heart.”
Shauna says she was “trusting [her] ability to hustle more than God’s ability to heal.” She identifies how Christians so often get burnt out and justify their busyness in the church, and admits that she is guilty of “fake resting.” She stresses the importance of self-care and how productivity can become an idol that keeps us from loving ourselves—and the ones around us—well.
Shauna realized that her relationships were suffering because she wasn’t fully present. By breaking down her life to what is most important to her, she found some life-changing truth: “Now I know that the best thing I can offer to this world is not my force or energy, but a well-tended spirit, a wise and brave soul.”
Staying still in a world that praises busyness and mindless work is a courageous act, according to Shauna. “Sometimes being brave is being quiet. Being brave is getting off the drug of performance,” she says. I love that she talked about how hard it is to say “no,” yet how essential it is. She challenges the reader to go against what we’ve come to accept as the correct way to live and get to the heart of what’s important.
Shauna paints a beautiful picture of her life after this change. Shooting hoops with her two boys, family time out on the lake, lazy Saturday mornings with her husband. She is able to capture and experience more. What seem like insignificant moments are what she now holds most dear. But Shauna explains that this journey is a process: “What I’m learning, essentially, is to stand where I am, plain and sometimes tired. Unflashy, profoundly unspectacular. But present and connected and grounded deeply in the love of God, which is changing everything.”
While this book centers around Shauna’s faith and is written for a Christian audience, I think even those who are not religious would enjoy it because it is about simplifying and finding joy in the small scenes of life—something I think we are all in need of. Fans of Brene Brown and Elizabeth Gilbert will eat up Shauna’s words and soon be highlighting paragraphs like I did.