Books: Present over Perfect, as reviewed by Amy Kellestine

Shauna Niequist is a wife, mother, blogger, author, Christian, and workaholic. Present over Perfect is her fifth novel and in it she details how her desire to keep those around her happy lead to her own breakdown and breakthrough.

She shares example after example of how she felt burnt out, disconnected, and unable to be the kind of mother, wife, friend, and ultimately Christian she wanted to be because she was too busy meeting (and likely exceeding) the expectations of everyone around her. She speaks of the stress and anxiety she felt from being constantly overloaded and her inability to say ‘no’ and set boundaries for fear of disappointing others. Chapter after chapter, she outlines the ups and downs on her journey to heal the cavernous void of lack within her by slowing down and doing less.

Each chapter opens with a quote like “Busyness is an illness of the spirit,” from Eugene Peterson, and the entire book opens and closes with much-loved poems by Mary Oliver: Wild Geese and The Journey, respectively. The chapters themselves read like blog posts, each with their own moment of awareness, anecdote, or offering.

Christian or not, Shauna’s story is one we can all relate to. Personally, I immediately connected with the author’s experience of perennial exhaustion and the belief she held that hard work is the answer to all problems and that rest and relaxation are only for the weak and feeble-minded. Additionally, I could relate to her crippling sense of obligation to follow through on commitments, especially when it was at the expense of her own health and relationships.

The book doesn’t offer a specific ‘step-by-step’ formula for overcoming addiction. However, there were a number of Shauna’s approaches that I took note of. The first is the importance of having community of those who can support you in your goal of doing less and being more. Another is to use guiding questions to keep you on track. For example, “What can you lay down?” or “How can we make this simpler?” Finding time to connect with nature and meditate, with a sense of all-encompassing love, rounded out my actionable takeaways. I also very much appreciated how she articulated the “difference between forsaking a friendship or family relationship and speaking the truth about our limitations” as she realized that the world didn’t end when she admitted her reduced capacity.

In our human experience, we all know what it is like to feel disconnected, from family, from friends, from ourselves and our own priorities, from nature and from Source. When the feelings of fear, anxiety, anger, and loneliness (among many others) surface as a result, we are drawn to anesthetize ourselves. And literally anything, from alcohol to work, from drugs to volunteering, can be used to numb the pain we feel.

And it is easy to fall into the trap of thinking that an addiction to work or volunteering – especially when the work is in the form of a helping profession or the volunteering is for a noble cause – is justifiable, required, or even expected.

However, the real work we have to do is to slow down, so we can feel and witness (and ultimately release) the pain. In this way, we can move closer to the truth – that we are enough. And we are loved, because of who we are, not what we do.

Amy Kellestine headshotAmy Kellestine is an educator, engineer, Arati life coach and entrepreneur living in Edmonton, Alberta. She spends her free time camping, gardening, and volunteering for causes such as Cystic Fibrosis and nature conservation. She is a devoted mother, who is passionate about helping others and writing.

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