And now that you don’t have to be perfect, you can be good. —John Steinbeck
Currently reading Shauna Niequist’s Present over Perfect each morning as a devotional. It is molding me, shaping me, making me think (even early in the morning hours), and causing me to think differently about how I choose to spend my time. Time filled with to-do lists and trips to the store and work and house work and wedding festivities and dinners and exercise and service projects. And all in all, my soul and mind knows that these things, in and of themselves, are not bad in fact they are all good things with positive outcomes, but they don’t feed my soul. They are ultimately not live-giving. They are mainly, energy taking.
The practice of simply being, the practice of silence and finding room for quiet in my life, is an honest-to-goodness struggle for me. I like my days planned out, structured, and when I fall into bed each night, I like to rewind over my accomplishments for the day.
Below is an excerpt from Present over Perfect in which Shauna explains for us the meaning behind her coined phrase, and book title. It’s a reminder, and a bit of a warning, depending on which one we choose. And we choose daily.
“The phrase present over perfect was one I first held tightly to a few Christmases ago. I remember the moment: the table was a train wreck of wrapping paper and unfolded laundry, half-eaten cookies. My mind was running with all the remaining tasks that needed to be done—gifts bought, cards addressed, bags packed, deadlines reached.
To put it plainly: my desire for beautiful, sparkly Christmas moments was edging out my ability to live well in my own actual life, and I recognized this feeling as one I’d grappled with all my life. I want things to be spectacular, epic, over the top, exciting and dramatic. But in order to force that beauty and drama into otherwise ordinary moments, you have to push and tap dance and hustle, hustle, hustle.
I was faced with a dilemma—one so many of us face quite often: I could either wrestle my life and my kids and my house and our Christmas into something fantastic, something perfect . . . or I could plunk myself down right in the middle of the mess and realize that the mess is actually my life, the only one I’ll ever get, the one I’m in danger of missing completely, waiting around for fantastic.
That Christmas I chose to be present over perfect, and that’s still what I choose today. Some days I do it better than others—it’s still a tremendous temptation for me to spin out into achievement or efficiency or performance instead of dwelling deeply in life as it presents itself each moment. Indeed, sometimes I can get a little obsessive about pursuing non-perfection just perfectly. But the endeavor itself is transformative: my marriage, my parenting, my friendships, and my connection to God have all been enriched in countless ways along this journey.
This isn’t about working less or more, necessarily. This isn’t about homemade or takeout, or full time or part time, or the specific ways we choose to live out our days. It’s about rejecting the myth that every day 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.
It’s about learning to show up and let ourselves be seen just as we are, massively imperfect and weak and wild and flawed in a thousand ways, but still worth loving. It’s about realizing that what makes our lives meaningful is not what we accomplish, but how deeply and honestly we connect with the people in our lives, how wholly we give ourselves to the making of a better world, through kindness and courage.
Let’s talk for a minute about perfect: perfect has become as near a dirty word to me as hustle, prove, earn, compete, and push. Perfect is brittle and unyielding, plastic, distant, more image than flesh. Perfect calls to mind stiffness, silicone, an aggressive and unimaginative relentlessness. Perfect and the hunt for it will ruin our lives—that’s for certain.
The ache for perfection keeps us isolated and exhausted—we keep people at arm’s length, if that, and we keep hustling, trying trying trying to reach some sort of ideal that never comes.
I’ve missed so much of my actual, human, beautiful, not-beautiful life trying to force things into perfect. But these days I’m coming to see that perfect is safe, controlled, managed. I’m finding myself drawn to mess, to darkness, to things that are loved to the point of shabbiness, or just wildly imperfect in their own gorgeous way.
I’m drawn to music that’s more earnest than tidy, art that’s more ragged than orderly, people who are just a touch more honest than is strictly appropriate for the situation. I’m finished hustling for perfect. It didn’t deliver what they told me it would.
And so, instead: present. If perfect is plastic, present is rich, loamy soil. It’s fresh bread, lumpy and warm. It’s real and tactile and something you can hold with both hands, something rich and warm. Present is a face bare of makeup, a sweater you’ve loved for a decade, a mug that reminds you of who you used to be. It’s the Bible with the battered cover, the journal filled with scribbled, secret dreams. It isn’t pretty, necessarily—it isn’t supposed to be.
Present is living with your feet firmly grounded in reality, pale and uncertain as it may seem. Present is choosing to believe that your own life is worth investing deeply in, instead of waiting for some rare miracle or fairy tale. Present means we understand that the here and now is sacred, sacramental, threaded through with divinity even in its plainness. Especially in its plainness.
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 across 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.”
“It’s about realizing that what makes our lives meaningful is not what we accomplish, but how deeply and honestly we connect with the people in our lives, how wholly we give ourselves to the making of a better world, through kindness and courage.” .. Oh, the first time I read that sentence, I reread it, and then underlined, and went back a 4th time and highlighted it in neon green. How often do I, seeking approval and perfection, miss connecting with people and circumstances around me? I am so me-focused, or task-focused, so future-minded, that I forget to stop, pause, breathe, and be present in the NOW. Connect with that person in the here and now. Be totally present.
Present is when we find the supernatural that God puts in our lives each and every day.
Present is investing in you. Your everyday, plain little life. Plain can be wonderful, and perfectly imperfect.
Present is seeing the need around you and being willing to join Him in the efforts and work around you. Stretching you in ways you never thought possible.
Present is saying that word of phrase to that friend or colleague that feels forgotten, rejected, lost. They need to know you care and hear a word from their Father.
Present is being still. And letting Him lead.
Let’s choose Present over Perfect. Let’s find the stillness and quiet in every day life, the good stuff that we see, feel, touch, smell on a daily basis. Let’s be open to possibilities and opportunities He puts before us. Let’s live in this moment, the moment that He gives us that is right now, and stop focusing on the future, or dwelling on the failures of our past.
Let’s be a generation that is present. Together.