I’ve been name dropping this book for a while now and several of you said you’d definitely like a review of it, so here we go!
I saw this as well as The Best Yes by Lisa Terkeurst on sale at Hobby Lobby of all places when I was in the mainland so I snatched up both since they’d been on my to-read list for a while now. It admittedly took me a while to get through this book, but not because the book was slow or I didn’t want to read it – just because I’m a tired pregnant mom at the moment!
As with most books, I approached this with skepticism. I had never read anything by Shauna Niequist, so I didn’t know what to compare her against or what her background was. She explains that she is a busy working mom who travels to speak at conferences a lot and also has a huge love of food, most of her other books being about food/entertaining.
At first, I was slightly annoyed that the sections this book were broke down in did not translate to anything concrete for me without just reading it first. The book is broken into six parts: Sea-change, Tunnels, Legacy, Walking on Water, Living in Time, and Throwing Candy. Being a person who likes to “know what to expect” when they read, this list of the parts of the book was disappointing to me because I had no idea what I was about to read.
But I have to say that that is about it when it comes down to things I didn’t like about this book. And once I reached the end of it, the way she organized the book fit very well with her overall style. I had no problems with it when I was done, but it was just not what I was expecting on my first crack open.
When it comes down to it, I wholeheartedly loved every single aspect of this book. I will most likely read it again, it was just that great. If there was a book that lives up to its hype, this is it, people.
Niequest holds nothing back. She is an amazing writer, speaking so beautifully but not in a lofty way that I’d laugh at or can’t relate to. She admits her faults without hesitation and as a perfectionist, workaholic type, I related to everything she had to say. She admits that she has “trust[ed] my ability to hustle more than God’s ability to heal” for a long time (pg. 27). She goes quite in depth into this issue for her in a way that really made sense that no other author had quite done for me before. As a Christian, of course we know that God can do all, but why do we keep “hustling” then?
She writes on page 31,
And I’m so tired. I miss my friends. I sleep terribly. I snap at my kids more than i want to, and then I lay in bed at night feeling guilty about it. I spend more time asking my husband for help with the dishes or the kids than I do asking him about his life and dreams and ideas.
Who wins, then? I handled it all! I showed them! But who is “them”? Who cares? Whose voice am I listening to? What am I trying to prove? What would happen, what would be lost, if I stopped, or if I slowed down to a pace that felt less like a high-speed chase all day, every day?
I could highly relate to this passage, as I’m sure many busy people and moms can too. The ultimate theme in this book was that we are all doing too much, believing the wrong things about why we try so hard, and a balance in our lives desperately needs to be restored.
A big point she made that resonated with me now as a mom (and didn’t pre-mom) was that “I want less of everything” (pg. 32). I used to be so tied up in doing more, having more on my plate, keeping up with more, more social activities, etc. But now that life seems to be at hyperspeed since I had kids, I want less of everything too. Again, her theme here was that less is actually more, despite how backwards that can seem to us who have been striving our whole lives.
She really undoes a lot of thinking that I know I believe, like thinking that having a clean and organized home is going to deliver some kind of happiness that has yet to be found. She writes, “if I push enough, I will feel whole. I will feel proud, I will feel happy. What I feel, though, is exhausted and resentful, but with well-organized closets” (pg. 37). That spoke so much truth to me because that’s exactly how I feel so much of the time.
She continues to talk about idols we make in such a refreshing way. Usually when I read about idols in Christian books, it’s hard to relate to or it bores me somehow. She was so real and honest about it though, and her writing draws you in that it felt new to talk about such an “old hat” subject.
She also has a chapter on “The Word that Changes Everything,” which is what inspired me to write this post. That word, of course, is no. She says that she is a constant “yes-er,” but her “yes-ing” was really saying no to a lot of important things in life. I know so many of us can relate to this. It was a short chapter, but very profound for me.
About a third through the book, although I was loving the writing style and fresh, raw feel of her words, I did start to question how the rest of this book would go. Some parts of me were confused if this was just a book for her to work through her own issues, almost more a self-help memoir if you will. There was a chapter called “A Wide and Holy Space” that made no sense to me. It was about her church and I guess basically how great it is. There wasn’t really a mention of that I, as the reader, need this too. It was just kind of about her personal experience with her church, and I didn’t relate to it at all.
I think by this point in the book, I had heard enough of her story and was wondering if there was ever going to be a “how to” part on how to apply this to my own life. But I think I was a little too impatient and didn’t let the book unfold enough. She did eventually get to what her “less of everything” living looks like now, it was just at the end of the book. The book never did have a step-by-step guide on how to make this happen – to have a more soulful, less busy, less striving – way of life for yourself.
I came to the conclusion that everyone’s lives are so delicate, so different that there wasn’t any one formula she could offer that would satisfy everyone. And that just wasn’t her style. She didn’t write this to make a simple “ten steps to have a more peaceful life” kind of book. There are plenty of those kinds of books out there, but this is not it and I was okay with that come the end. The closest she came to giving you flat out instructions for living were saying “This is who I am, this is who I’m not, this is what I want, this what I’m leaving behind” (pg. 101). I found just that sentence so refreshing and helpful, because then anyone can apply it to their own life in the ways they see fit. And truthfully, it goes with everything else she has said up until this point, that the work has to start with you. No one else can do this for you, not even a really good book like this!
Other topics she opened up about are self-hatred, not being a “good” Christian, being a pastor’s daughter, managing a very busy traveling work schedule with her husband and kids, the inability to just sit still/enjoy stillness, and so much more.
A good quote to sum up this book as a whole is,
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 (pg. 130).
Overall, Niequest hits home for me continually on the subject that so many women struggle with: am I loved? Am I worth it? If I stop trying to be perfect (however that looks in your life), will I still have value?
And she finds that her life not only still has value but has abundantly more value because she’s stopped striving, because she’s choosing to let her life be a little rough around the edges. But it makes her a little softer around the edges as a person, mom, employee, daughter of the King.
Another thing I truly loved about this book is all the literary quotes she used throughout. Sometimes books that use a lot of quotes from other books seem out of place or like they’re just trying to seem cool, but all the quotes she used fit and added a lot of value for me.
If you’re looking for an interesting, very well-written read that deals with struggling with perfectionism, not being good enough, or just having a jam-packed life that you’re so tired of being on the hamster wheel for – read this.
Questions for You:
- Do you like more abstract books or ones that give you ten steps to “solve” things?
- If you read this, what did you think?