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You Do You - A Review of Present Over Perfect By Shauna Niequist - Part 2

A photo of the cover of the book present over perfect
Present over perfect

There’s a passage in the Bible where God says to the snow, “Fall on the earth.” He then says to the rain-shower, “Be a mighty downpour.”


I discovered these passages as I continued reading Shauna Niequist’s Present over Perfect and like Niequist, something changed in me when I read those words.  Everything God created has its own unique purpose, job, and place.  Rain does what rain does and snow does what snow does.  Snow is not expected to be rain or anything else but snow, and do you know what that means?  Snow doesn’t compare itself to rain.  Snow doesn’t say to itself, “What I’m doing isn’t enough!  I need to do what I do AND what rain does!  And while I’m at it, let’s see if I can do what wind does and what the sun does!”  I find it interesting that my children have this figured out already; when they’re home, it’s not uncommon to hear one of them say, “Hey, you do you.”  I wish that was a thing when I was younger.


As I followed the natural course of my life, there is no doubt that I got caught up in what everyone else was doing and how they did it.  This doesn’t mean that I couldn’t think for myself but after I got married and started juggling work with raising children, I began comparing myself to my friends who were navigating similar challenges.  To me, they seemed to be doing more and doing it better while making it look easy.  This constant comparison brought with it the feeling that I just couldn’t do enough or do it well enough.  It’s important for me to share that I have incredible friends.  They are kind, generous, and inspirational, and the pressure to keep up never came from them.  It was something I did to myself.  The self-inflicted pain came from a pressure to be more, and sadly, I do know that I wasn’t alone.  But another sad truth is that I’m sure that I fueled the epidemic because I would step up to the challenge.  Women, in particular, are under pressure to be everything to everyone and to serve it up perfectly while making it look easy.  I was no exception but the key word here is “was” and I am enjoying the benefit of a new revelation.


This past Thanksgiving, I was given the gift of having all of my children at home with their significant others, providing an opportunity to do something we hadn’t done in years.  Each one of my children was born during the holidays and I couldn’t remember the last time we were able to celebrate together as a family, so I decided to throw one big birthday party.  In the past, this opportunity would have brought great excitement, but it also would have been accompanied by a flurry of activity and frantic shopping, decorating, and stress.  I would have been sure to have a formal sit-down dinner with unique treats at each place setting.  What would I cook?  Had I bought enough gifts?  Is the house clean enough?  What will I wear?  The list of to-dos would get longer and longer and I would become exhausted with the work that was necessary to throw the perfect party.  Worse than that, I knew that after the party, I would be wiped out and sad because in all of my efforts to make everything perfect, I would miss the party itself.


With my fresh perspective and my new need to just do me, I felt released from the pressure to be over-the-top and overwhelmed.  I was excited to let go of the list and keep it light.  We would have Mexican food and set up a simple buffet and let people serve themselves.  I put the kids to work, including the boyfriends; one made shrimp tacos while the other collected wood for the fire.  I chose to forgo what my kids refer to as a “civilized dinner” in the dining room in favor of a spot on the floor in front of the fireplace where we held plates on our laps.  We played games, opened presents, and laughed.  I wore jeans and a t-shirt and slippers.  The house was clean enough, the food was simple, and simply delicious and yes, there were enough gifts: one for each.  I still smile when I think of that day.  I was present and that is what made it so perfect.


Over the past few years, fatigue was the reason I made some early, necessary changes.  Being too tired to keep up and to say yes to everything forced these changes but now, after reading Present over Perfect, I am enjoying a more active approach to the change.  Saying “no” is now coming from a place of choice and is no longer accompanied by a sense of failure.  I’ve also experienced that saying “yes” now brings positive expectation and excitement instead of dread and the pressure to make everything perfect.


In Present over Perfect, Niequist shares her own stories that tell how she turned away from a frantic lifestyle to one that was calm and more meaningful.  She is a woman who, in her own words, “had to learn to author her own life” and she does it with honesty, humility, and a refreshing sense of humor.  I can’t think of a better time of year to share Present over Perfect with our PT360 friends and if any of this sounds familiar, I would recommend picking up a copy to help you get through the holidays.  It is a gift to your heart and to your soul and one that will continue to give as you learn to just do you and become more present in life.