Choosing Present and Complete
A few days ago I woke up thinking about the title of Shauna Niequist’s book, Present Over Perfect.
I read it in late summer. I then took the book with me on a trip to read a second time. I rarely read a book twice. Almost never. But there is something about Niequist’s writing that seems like I am reading my own life. On the first read, I am busy thinking, “Me, too; Me too” and so relieved that she names the stirrings and sins and sorrows, that I need a second read to process and remember the whole of it. I mentioned here that I’d come back to it in a blog post; there was so much I wanted to say.
This isn’t that post. This is just about her title.
The commercial swing set on the playground of the church of my childhood had high metal poles and belt seats, much like the ones in public parks today, and I could fly higher swinging there than any other place in town. Both thrill and fear were present.
Last week was like swinging there.
One person I love was brave. Publicly brave. That sounds inspiring, but bravery means choosing to do something hard that other people are not doing - to step out in front, first. Before the inspiration is the loneliness and the agony of decision. I stood nearby both scared and inspired, unsure how to support other than constant prayer.
Another one that I love told a beautiful redemptive story, to me and a few hundred others in the audience. I was awed and tears of gratitude came easily that day.
I got a rejection email from an online publication to whom I had submitted work. My piece did not stand out among the two hundred other essays they read. I was disappointed, then chastising myself for not being realistic. Rejection is part of the publication process. Still, it stung.
Another one I love graced me with hours of presence, which left me happy and full.
One person I love baited me - twice! At first I was angered, then just exhausted. It takes a lot of energy not to bite the hook. And to keep loving. And to set boundaries.
I met two out-of-town friends for lunch, girls I hadn’t spent significant time with since my college days thirty years ago. We told each other our stories. Their beauty, chiseled from surviving tremendous difficulties, was breath-taking. Their stories gave me strength - which I would need to deal with distressing news coming at me the next day.
Another person I love ignored me, which left me sad, empty and wanting.
A neighborhood of friends enveloped me on a special day and celebrated with me.
It was a week of swinging high in the wind and scraping my feet on the bare dirt beneath.
To be present, to choose to be present to our lives, means all of it - the beauty, celebration, gratitude, wonder, happiness, and courage and the anger, grief, fear, rejection, loneliness, and emptiness. This is what real life looks like. As Niequist says, “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.”
When I pretend I’m not sad, deny my exhaustion, squelch my anger, and cover my fear, I lie to myself and everyone around me. And I miss the heights of gratitude and wonder and courage and beauty when the swing takes me skyward.
Am I advocating spewing to the world every dark and mean thought? No. But tell someone, even if only the pages of your journal, your best friend, and Jesus. Especially Jesus.
Accepting that I’m a human being who is afraid, who grieves, who feels anger and emptiness, who chooses poorly sometimes, who has unrealistic expectations of herself and others - it’s called being human. That is what it means to be present to my life.
Perfect - as we define it - is an illusion. It’s a magazine cover, an Instagram post, a carefully crafted piece of someone’s imagination.
Perfect, as God defines it, is wholeness. Completion. All of it. And completion is found in one place.
For by a single offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified. (Hebrews 10:13 ESV)
Present Over Perfect? Yes, Shauna Niequist! I want to be present to my life. And the only kind of perfection I seek has already sought me.