I have to be upfront at the beginning of my review, I love to listen to Shauna Niequist speak. As a counselor, I find myself drawn to the therapeutic interventions of Dialectic Behavioral Therapy that talk about being present, experiencing life as it is now, and allowing it to help you decrease the impact mental illness can have on one’s life. This pairs well within the Christian faith as we experience God today in our lives as well as see how God speaks into our lives through prayer, Scripture, worship, and fellowship. So when I saw a book called Present Over Perfect, I knew I needed to read it.
How Shauna speaks in interviews and podcasts and conferences is exactly how this book is written. You see her vulnerability and if you listen to the audiobook, you hear the emotions even as she reads it again. She is honest and open about a lot. As a preacher’s kid myself, this is not easy to be this honest.
Further, I love that she does not dismiss her strengths, actually noting how they are important and yet get in the way. Here’s a quote from her book that illustrates this well.
[Present over perfect is] 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.
There are a lot of great quotes, I think this is what compliments her inspirational and soft-spoken nature. It makes you want to sit down and have dinner with her. But I think this is also a failure of taking specific advice from the book.
This book is not about mental health or spiritual instructions. If you are a pastor, Christian counselor, or Christian who wants to find some specific direction with life, you can read into her words, but I do not believe there is enough to be fully taught. I’d say this book reads more like an autobiography than a tool to use to learn. Unfortunately, that’s how it was pitched in a couple of different podcasts and online reviews. If you struggle with mental illness, you need to use this as a book as if you talked to a friend who can listen well but does not give advice.
I have no doubt that many people question the idea of incorporating mindfulness with Christian practices and Shaun did not explain this at all. For Christians who are new to this, it sounds like New Age ideas and I can see how something designed for good is immediately discarded. (If you want to see how mindfulness can be incorporated into spiritual formation, check out this article I wrote for KeyMinistry)
The book is short which in some ways is good, but also says something about the content. I was happy when it was over and yet wish further Scripture and explanation was given, not just “this is how I lived my life, so accept it as correct.”
Do not read this book for any specific mental health or Christian education. Not a bad read, but not for any kind of learning. Overall, I’d give the book a 2.5 out of 5.