Book Review: Niequist’s “Present Over Perfect”

“Stop. Right now. Remake your life from the inside out.” (17)

The line was advice a friend had given Shauna Niequist, advice she turns into an invitation, offered over and over throughout the pages of Present Over Perfect. And for my part, I accepted, again and again as I made my way slowly through the chapters, soaking in the sweet words of hope, the silly encouragements toward joy.

I turned the final pages early this morning while sipping coffee in my hammock, breathing deeply the balmy honeysuckle air. That’s how I began today, a Wednesday — a workday. It’s impractical and lovely and I having been making a habit of starting workdays this way. It’s one of many small, life-changing habits I have been cultivating, inspired in part by Niequist’s story.

I have read dozens upon dozens of Christian living books over the course of my life, but few have spoken to me as deeply as this one. It’s one of those that I truly believe God wanted me to read right when I read it. Early in the book, she notes:

Years ago, a wise friend told me that no one ever changes until the pain level gets high enough. That seems entirely true. The inciting incident for life change is almost always heartbreak — something becomes broken beyond repair, too heavy to carry; in the words of the recovery movement, unmanageable. (24)

I was recommended Niequist’s book in the midst of my own Sea Change. My life is very blessed in more ways than I can list, but it’s had its sticking points, its recurring cycles of disappointment and hurt followed by the need to prove my worth to the world and especially to myself. As I found myself once again repeating history, history I thought I’d finally outgrown, I realized something inside me was broken more deeply than I have wanted to admit. Despite growing up in church, despite Christian college and a year of seminary, despite reading the Bible cover to cover multiple times — I still struggle to feel God’s love.

It’s hard to even type the words. It feels ungrateful when I know all the theology. But somehow, like so many women, I have grown out of the little girl singing “Jesus Loves Me” and into a woman who thinks more often about being a good soldier than being God’s beloved. Christianity itself can become part of this programming, as it tells us that it’s more blessed to give than receive, to pour ourselves out for the hungry, to pick up our crosses and die to ourselves. And this is indeed to what we have been called, but not at the expense of forfeiting our own souls. Niequist calls us to stop running, to return to our essential selves knowing we are enough, knowing we are deeply loved.

It’s cliche, but reading Niequist’s story really did feel like sitting down with a good friend. Her transparency creates a safe space for self-exploration. She encourages without shaming, and she dives deep while keeping her style light and accessible. I have no doubt that this will be a title I read again and that I recommend to people for years to come.

Thank you Shauna!

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