I had the opportunity to attend a conference this past weekend where Shauna Niequist was speaking. She has a way of making you feel like it’s just you and her, sitting across from one another, sipping on a hot cup of tea and sharing good conversation. She spoke right into my heart. Shauna shared stories of her faith and how she has grown over the last couple of years, deciding to live in the present, and choosing to live a life of purpose and fulfillment.
At any given time, I’m in the middle of three (okay, really five) different books. Shauna’s newest release, Present Over Perfect, is one that I’ve opened on several occasions. I’d meditate on one or two chapters at a time, really allowing the words to soak in and to start applying some of the principles into my daily life. I assure you, it is covered from beginning to end with highlighter, underlines, stars, and page ears.
In Shauna’s urgent invitation to live a life of experiences, she shares how she was tired of pushing for perfection. Tired of always having to check the next thing off of her to-do list. Tired of wishing precious moments away. Desperately wanting to live a more meaningful life. She shared a story of a moment that she and her son had while they were on vacation. They were snorkeling through breathtaking tunnels filled with coral and schools of colorful fish. Her son reached out for her hand, so they swam, his tiny hand in hers, and admired the beauty around them. She said that this was one of those moments where, as a mom, you just want to pause and soak everything in. But then Shauna shared that while she felt this urge to savor every single thing about that moment, she struggled to stay present. She was fighting with herself to be immersed in the moment, but she just couldn’t. Her mind was racing in a thousand different directions. You see, at the time, Shauna lived a life of business and hustle. Always doing. Always consumed. She thought that it was her comfort to be constantly going. The more the better, right? It turns out that this mentality led Shauna down a path of self-hatred, shame and regret.
I can relate to Shauna’s story. Maybe as you’re reading this, you find yourself experiencing similar feelings too.
The demands of daily life can be tiring, and redundant. Doing laundry, washing the dishes, picking up toys, putting the kids down for naps, changing diapers, making meals, taking the dog out, disciplining your toddler, nursing your infant, cleaning up spills, and the list goes on. Constantly doing. Always thinking ahead. Counting down until naptime. Never present. It’s a daily struggle for me. I’m task oriented, and impatient. I like checking things off my list. I love feeling accomplished. But you know, if there’s one thing that I’ve come to realize after reading Shauna’s book, it’s that the reason why I’m always feeling the need to check the next thing off my list is because the satisfaction of completing a task is temporary. It fleets a mere five minutes after completion. Friends, I’m learning that real satisfaction comes when we truly experience life. When we put our phones down, let the dishes soak a little while longer and fold laundry after the kids go to bed, life happens. When we give ourselves permission to do things later, we are able to find joy, pure joy, and contentment in the now.
Seeing our boys grow and develop is one of our favorite things. Chad and I joke that every ‘stage’ is our favorite, but really, it’s true. We love the innocence and wonder of a newborn, and we are in awe of watching our toddler learn new things. Our two year old recently started putting phrases together. “Mom play two” is the latest, and I truly believe that God is teaching me this hard, but oh so wonderful, lesson through my son. Those three words are music to my ears. I realize that a time will come where he will not be interested in playing with his mama, so each time I hear those sweet words come out of my baby’s mouth, I stop what I’m doing, and I am his. Fully, and completely his. God has a way of reminding us what’s truly important, and I believe that he does this on a daily basis through my son. And I am so grateful for it.
Present Over Perfect is changing the way I choose to live. It couldn’t have been released at a more appropriate time for the season that I am in right now. I am so thankful for Shauna’s words. I refuse to allow this beautiful life (that God has so generously given me) pass without fully experiencing it. This is one of those books I will undoubtedly revisit again.
Whether you’re a 20 something trying to figure out this thing called adulting, or a 60 something simply looking for a more soulful way of living, my hope is that Shauna’s words will speak truth into your heart, as they have mine, and that you will be inspired to live an imperfect, present life.
Perfect is brittle and unyielding, plastic, distant, more image than flesh. Perfect calls to mind stiffness, silicone, and aggressive and unimaginative relentlessness. The ache for perfection keeps us isolated and exhausted – we keep people at arm’s length, if that, and we keep hustling, trying trying trying to reach some sort of ideal that never comes. I’ve missed so much of my actual, human, beautiful, not-beautiful life trying to force things into perfect. But these days, I’m coming to see that perfect is safe, controlled, managed. I’m finding myself drawn to mess, to darkness, to things that are loved to the point of shabbyness, or just wildly imperfect in their own gorgeous way. If perfect is plastic, present is rich, loamy soil. It’s fresh bread, lumpy and warm. It’s real and tactile and something you can hold with both hands, something rich and warm. Present is a face bare of makeup, a sweater you’ve loved for a decade, a mug that reminds you of who you used to be. It’s the bible with a battered cover, a journal filled with scribbled, secret dreams. It isn’t pretty necessarily – it isn’t supposed to be. Present is living with your feet firmly grounded in reality, pale and uncertain as it may seem. Present is choosing to believe that your own life is worth investing deeply instead of waiting for some rare miracle or fairy tale. Present means we understand that the here and now is sacred, sacramental, threaded through with divinity even in its plainness. Especially in its plainness. Present over perfect living is real over image, connecting over comparing, meaning over mania, depth over artifice. Present over perfect living is the risky and revolutionary belief that the word God has created is beautiful and valuable on its own terms, and that it doesn’t need to be zhuzzed up and fancy in order to be wonderful. Sink deeply into the world as it stands. Breathe in the smell of rain and the scuff of leaves as they scrape across driveways on windy nights. This is where life is, not in some imaginary, photo-shopped dream land. Here. Now. You, just as you are. Me, just as I am. This world, just as it is. This is the good stuff. This is the best stuff there is. Perfect has nothing on truly, completely, wide-eyed, open-souled present. | Shauna Neiquist in Present Over Perfect
Love + Hugs,