Book Review: Present Over Perfect by Shauna Niequest

“This is a love story, like all my favourite stories. It’s a story about letting yourself be loved, in all your imperfect, scarred, non-spectacular glory. And it’s about the most profound life change I’ve yet encountered.”

There are many Christian books that I could have chosen for this book review. These include, Nicole Nordeman’s “Love Story”, Kay Warren’s “Choose Joy” or Cathy Le Feuvre’s “William and Catherine” which beautifully depicts the faith and love shared between the founders of the Salvation Army.  However, the book that has had the greatest impact on me recently is “Present Over Perfect,” written by Shauna Niequist. 

When the book arrived, I read it within a couple of days and proceeded to order the accompanying study guide, DVD and every other book Shauna had written. She writes with an honesty about the Christian journey that I have not really seen in many books. Often Christian authors write from the point of view of an expert or share their experiences once they have navigated a challenge and everything is sunshine and roses. Shauna writes from the middle. She writes in the midst of change and at the point where she doesn’t yet know what the end point looks like.

At the beginning of the book Shauna reminds us of the kind of life God has invited us to lead.

“God hasn’t invited us into a disorderly, unkempt life but into something holy and beautiful - as beautiful on the inside as the outside.”

1 Thessalonians 4:7(MSG)

Through her words we are encouraged to value being present in situations rather than focusing on perfection.

Shauna describes perfect as the drive to “hustle, prove, earn, compete, and push.” Perfection very much relies on how things look on the outside, our need to live up to the expectations of others and a desire to reach the unrealistic standards that we set for ourselves. In our quest for perfection we can often forget that God doesn't require perfect. There is no need to earn His love as we are saved by grace and not by works. 

Present is living in the here and now. Seeking out a life that is grounded in Christ and filled with peace and an assurance that we are loved. It’s about valuing the tending of our souls as much as we value activity and recognising that God calls us to a deeper relationship with Him. So often, we can neglect our spiritual growth as we get lost in “doing” rather than “being.” 

“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 world 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 driveways on windy nights. This is where life is, not in some imaginary, photo-shopped dreamland. 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.”

I’m aware that the book speaks specifically into the mid-life season that I’m currently in, and as a result I’m bound to feel an immediate connection with it. However, I do feel that this book relates to anyone who has felt the pressure to say yes in order to avoid disappointing others, or has faced a season in life where they have felt lost. Shauna shares personal stories that help us to realise that we’re not alone in this journey.

“The bad news is that there is no finish line here, no magical before-and-after. Probably you will not always live in this new, brave, grounded space. Let me be clear with you: I don’t. I still get pushed off centre, thrown into fear and proving, wound up into a tangled mess of expectations and opinions of who I should be and what I should do.

But there’s good news, too: if we just keep coming back to the silence, if we keep grounding ourselves, as often as we need to, in God’s wild love, if we keep showing up and choosing to be present in both the mess and in the delight, we will find our way home, even if the road is winding, and full of fits and starts.

We will find our way home.”

Kay Moorby