Present Over Prefect – Leaving Behind Frantic for a Simpler, More Soulful Way of Living by Shauna Niequist could be described as a memoir, but in truth, the book is so much more. Throughout its pages Niequist recounts story upon story to uncover what lies at the heart of her journey – there must be something more in life than endless striving, travel, and speaking opportunities.
The crux of Present Over Perfect is Niequist’s personal account of discovering a sense of worth, purpose, and place, by deliberately slowing down and being available for her family. Along the way she wrestles with striving to meet other’s expectations and the temptation of ‘working’ for God’s love. On this second point Niequist writes: “It’s about rejecting the myth that everyday is a new opportunity to prove our worth, and about the truth that our worth is inherent, given by God, not earned by our hustling” (p. 105.)
The power of Niequist’s book lies in the way it takes all threads of life, relational, professional, and spiritual, and filters them through the lens of finding our value based on who we are rather than what we do. It is this multi-faceted view that brings real beauty to the book and implores the reader to ask whether their life is based on meeting others expectations, and drives us toward a life of being rather than doing.
An image beautifully highlighted in Present Over Perfect relates prayer to salad dressing. Our lives are, just like salad dressing, comprised of vinegar and oil, the sharp and the sweet. Niequist notes the tendency to ignore our disappointments, hurts and failings in prayer in order to get to the good bits. Yet God pleads to sit with us through the vinegar moments of life. This is such a wonderful metaphor.
At times Present Over Prefect makes some gender generalisations. These primarily concerned how the sexes identify and understand themselves. I didn’t feel these added value to the piece as a whole. However these were sparing and easy to overlook.
Present Over Perfect is an easy to read book that packs a powerful punch. In some ways the book has a prophetic voice as it calls into question our society’s value of productivity and efficiency often at the expense of relationships. Perhaps the best summary comes from Niequist as she writes: “This body and soul will become again what God intended them to be: living sacrifices, offered only to him. I will spend my life on meaning, on connection, on love, on freedom. I will not waste one more day trapped in comparison, competition, proving, and earning. That’s the currency of a culture that has nothing to offer me” p. 131.
“This journey has been about love, about worth, about God, about what it means to know him and be loved by him in a way that grounds and reorders everything” p. 17.
“We were all raised to build, build, build. Bigger is better, more is better, faster is better. It never occurred to us, in church-building or any other part of life, that someone would intentionally keep something small, or deliberately do something slow.” P. 39.
“To be sure, finding your purpose can take a long time to figure out, and along the way it is tempting to opt instead for the immediate fix, of someone’s approval. But the sweet rush of approval, the pat on the head, can often derail us from real love, and real purpose.” P. 45
“The longer I practiced this new way of praying, of listening, of dwelling deeply in God’s love, the more I began to feel truly present, instead of being hijacked a thousand times a day by my wild mind. I feel all here, collected together in a wide-eyed and able way. Simple presence. Wholeheartedness. Patience. Lack of paralyzing fear” p.59.
“I’m learning, though, that the God who loves me isn’t just looking for apologies and report cards. He wants me to bring the vinegar so that I can taste the oil. He has all the time in the world to sit with me and sift through my fears and feelings and failings. That’s what prayer is. That’s what love is” p. 61.
“Many of us who have found ourselves to be useful in Christian service have found ourselves unable, if we’re honest, to connect with God in any other way. We do for him, instead of being with him. We become soldiers, instead of brothers and sisters and daughters and sons. This is dangerous, damaging territory, and I’ve spent too much time there” p. 70.
“Your family and your very self are included in the kingdom you wish to serve, and if they are not thriving, the whole of your ministry is not thriving” p. 128.
Disclaimer: I have received a free epub copy of the book in return for this review.
Shauna Niequist can be found online at shaunaniequist.com/