Hello precious souls!!!
After some refueling this summer, I’m thrilled to be back in action on the blog! Throughout the fall, I’m going to be featuring a series of “Brazen Voices” — women who have impacted me with their words and their ways, women who I want you to know and read.
Today, I’m bringing you an excerpt from my friend Shauna Niequist’s brand new, already bestselling book, Present Over Perfect: Leaving Behind Frantic for a Simpler, More Soulful Way of Living. This book is confession. That’s what I kept thinking as I read it. It’s an aching, vulnerable, gorgeous confession of how Shauna realized she got it wrong — how she got caught up in a lifestyle that didn’t actually produce and the ways she’s choosing something slower and quieter and simpler now. I don’t know a woman who wouldn’t benefit from reading this book. It’s incredibly personal, subversive in its message, and beautifully written. (And one of you will be lucky to win your very own copy!)
And so, here are Shauna’s brazen words . . .
This last weekend was one of the sweetest yet, and part of it, certainly, owes itself to my new learning: Memorial Day Weekend in the past has been frantic shopping and cooking and menu planning, guests upon guests, plans upon plans time and places and texts, a chaotic effort to ring in the summer season with one more drink, one more ice cream cone, one more boat ride before falling into bed.
And this year, none of that. We stayed on the beach for hours, because there’s something about the beach that just brings out the best in little kids—imagination and sand and sun and yelping and tumbling around, all the good stuff. We went to bed early knowing that, with all the fun, it would take the little boys some extra time to settle down. We stayed in our pajamas till eleven on Sunday, my cousins, their kids and mine, their parents and mine, all sitting around the Blue House kitchen table, a box of donuts from Golden Brown Bakery and a pot of coffee. We made s’mores and played with sidewalk chalk. We had breakfast tacos from the farmer’s market and kept the kids happy with bowls of strawberries outside on the lawn. It was slow, and it was simple, and it was sweeter than I can remember, because it felt more like a glass of water than a firehose. Pride, for years, has told me that I am strong enough to drink from a firehose, and gluttony tells me it will all be so delicious.
But those voices are liars. The glass of cool water is more lovely and sustaining than the firehose will ever be, and I’m starting to trust the voices of peace and simplicity more than pride and gluttony. They’re leading me well these days.
The more I listen to myself, my body, my feelings, and the less I listen to the “should” and “must” and “to-do” voices, the more I realize my body and spirit have been whispering all along, but I couldn’t hear them over the chaos and noise of the life I’d created. I was addicted to this chaos, but like any addiction, it was damaging me.
Here’s what I know: I thought the doing and the busyness would keep me safe. They keep me numb. Which is not the same as safe, which isn’t even the greatest thing to aspire to.
If you’re not like me—prone to frantic levels of activity, swirling chaos, fast-moving cycles of over-commitment and resentment—then you might press your face up to the glass of my life with something like wonder and a little confusion. “Why don’t you,” you might suggest gently, “just slow down?” I understand the question, but I find it’s a little bit like asking people who are ruining their life and health with their addiction to alcohol why they think they’re so thirsty.
The stillness feels sort of like walking on the ceiling—utterly foreign. What makes sense to me: pushing. Lists. Responsibility. Action, action, action. What’s changing my life: silence. Rest. Letting myself be fragile. Asking for help.
This weekend at the lake, Friday and Saturday were clear-skied and gorgeous, and we played outside absolutely all day long, morning till night. Sunday, though, and Monday were cloudy, storms moving through, showers on and off, and that cloud cover fell over us like a soft blanket, slowing us down, urging us toward naps and movies and coloring books. Lake life has those invitations to rest and slowness woven right into the fabric of our days—rain showers that send us inside, nightfall that lays us down. But so many of us, myself chief among them, have forsaken those natural rhythms and stayed at full speed, through the night, through the storms. . . .
It’s raining now, and I love the sound of the drops falling on the awning outside my window, love the smell of dirt and water, love the way the rain necessarily slows everything and everyone down just a little.
What kept me running? That’s the question I keep returning to, the lock I keep fiddling with. I was highly invested in maintaining my reputation as a very capable person. I thought that how other people felt about me or thought about me could determine my happiness. When I see that on the page now, staring back at me in black and white, I see how deeply flawed that idea is, how silly even.
But this is what I’ve learned the hard way: what people think about you means nothing in comparison to what you believe about yourself. Essentially, my identity then depended on outward approval, which changes on a dime. So you dance and you please and you placate and you prove. You become a three-ring circus and in each ring you’re an entirely different performing animal, anything anyone wants you to be.
The crucial journey, then, for me, has been from dependence on external expectations, down into my own self, deeper still into God’s view of me, his love for me that doesn’t change, that will not change, that defines and grounds everything.
I bet it all on busyness, achievement, being known as responsible, and escaping when those things didn’t work. What I see now is that what I really wanted was love, grace, connection, peace.
When you decide, finally, to stop running on the fuel of anxiety, desire to prove, fear, shame, deep inadequacy—when you decide to walk away from that fuel for a while, there’s nothing but confusion and silence. You’re on the side of the road, empty tank, no idea what will propel you forward. It’s disorienting, freeing, terrifying. For a while, you just sit, contentedly, and contentment is the most foreign concept you know. But you learn it, shocking as it is, day by day, hour by hour. You sit in your own skin, being just your own plain self. And it’s okay. And it’s changing everything.*
Thank you, Shauna, for these gutting words that hit right at the center of things for so many of us. Ugghhhhh. Thank you!
I’m giving away a copy of Present Over Perfect to one lucky winner. To enter, just leave a comment below about what was meaningful to you in this excerpt, and the winner will be randomly chosen and announced this Friday!
And stay tuned for more “Brazen Voices” posts coming to you throughout the fall.
So much love to you all,