Present Over Perfect (A Review - Two Stars)



1.5/5 stars.


I have never read anything by Shauna Niequist, but I see her books everywhere.  So when I saw "Present Over Perfect" available for review, I thought, why not?  

Niequist is known (to me) for her food memoir, so I knew this book would be a bit of a departure, but I was excited to give it a try.  However, I would not recommend this book.  As so many books I have read lately, I felt this one had positive and negative elements, but the negative elements outweighed the positive for me, whether I am looking at this book from a biblical perspective or just the enjoyability factor as a new reader. Here are my thoughts.

Negatives

I started this book and about a fifth of the way through I realized I was just going to have to plow through without really enjoying it.  The main reason I couldn't enjoy it was because it felt a little schizophrenic to me - not Niequist, just the book.  Was this supposed to be a memoir or a self-help book?  I couldn't figure it out.  For so much of the book Niequist seemed to be just going on about her own internal struggles, like a memoir, with little practical advice for her readers.  The book seemed selfish to me, in a way.  If I had read other books by Niequist and was interested in her as a person, I might have really enjoyed getting an inside look, but mostly I was just annoyed because I had no background on the author to frame all this personal stuff.  It felt like reading a stranger's journal of innermost thoughts.  There were occasional gems (I'll quote a couple lines I liked below), but mostly I just kept thinking, "yes, but where is the value here for me?"  That sounds a little selfish, but then again, as a reader I'm the one who could potentially be buying this book and spending hours of my life on it.  There should be something in it for me.

I did not like this author's mention of "centering" prayer and deep breathing. The idea of "centering" is a very New Age concept and not biblical at all. I was more likely to give the author the benefit of the doubt and assume she meant simple meditation on Scripture, but then she started talking about her "spiritual director" (shouldn't that be God and His Word?) and "which God she prays to", which for the author was a mix between the Father and the Holy Spirit, not Jesus. Um, what? They are all ONE God, you don't get to pick and choose. At this and other points in the book, she uses language that suggests that God changed as her view of Him changed, and the way she expressed it could be misleading. I feel like she missed the boat on communicating that no, He's been the same good God all along, regardless of how she viewed Him before. 

Overall I got a sense of a New-Age, fluid version of Christianity from this book, and it bothers me how easily we are letting New Age philosophy into our churches and lives. These ideas are not in line with the Bible, and it's not okay. That's another point - there was little mention of Scripture in this book, aside from a couple verses Niequist uses to explain her own journey. Definitely no explanation or reference to the Gospel, which I always find disappointing in Christian non-fiction.  She quotes many people and talks about "spiritual" this and that, but she doesn't back up any of her main points or principles with God's Word, which is our only firm grounding in the world. The more I think about it, the more it bothers me. Niequist almost talks about God and Christianity as some sort of phsychological "savior", instead of the truth - that God became a man (Jesus) and died to pay the price for our true problem (sin) and to save us, not from poor self-esteem, but from an eternity apart from God in Hell. That truth isn't even alluded to in this book at all. 

Positives

While many of the chapters in this book felt like a waste of my time, there were a few that I actually appreciated - mainly the ones that actually related to the title of the book, giving thoughts on how to be present in our lives while letting go of our ideas of perfection.  Unfortunately there were probably only two or three chapters that I felt were somewhat valuable to me as a reader on these topics.  These are a couple quotes that I thought were actually useful things for me to think about.

"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." 

"I gave myself away indiscriminately. Be careful how much of yourself you give away, even with the best of intentions. There are things you cannot get back, things that God has not asked you to sacrifice."

I thought she touched on some good points here, but it was too brief.  She quickly went back to the personal reflections, which I found disappointing, because it was not what I was looking for when I started this book.

Conclusion

Overall, I wouldn't recommend this book.  As someone who was new to this author, I did not enjoy this book, I was disappointed by the New Age undertones, and unfortunately I won't be picking up one of her books again.


Note: I received a digital copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for this review.  This is my honest opinion.

Second Note: I felt a lot of the themes that Niequest tried to address in this book were things that I had already read about in other books, and they were addressed by other authors in a more effective way for me.  Since I can't recommend this one, I thought I'd say that "The Best Yes" by Lysa Teurkherst was really helpful to me in learning to say no; "Breathe" by Prsicilla Shirer was a really useful Bible Study on the biblical value of rest; and ironically, a secular fiction book called "What Alice Forgot" by Lianne Moriarty was a fun book (warning: some language) that really got me thinking about how busyness was affecting my life.  I would recommend those ones to you if the title of "Present Over Perfect" is what interests you.
You may also like:
Alaina Beth said...

I don't want to get into semantics but centering prayer and spiritual direction are actually hundreds of years old Christian spiritual disciplines. The mystics soon after the time of Christ practiced a form of centering prayer. To be honest, lots of New Age religious ideas have been stolen from Christian mysticism from the early dawn of Christianity. Spiritual direction is a practice that is similar to Christian counseling, but is different in that it is only about spiritual life. The idea of spiritual direction is about needing other people to help guide and direct, people who have specific training and who have proven that they have the gift of ministry. It is probably the same thing as you would consider meeting with your local pastor, it is just a more high church definition of the same term. I also don't believe every sermon needs to preach the gospel message overtly to be a wonderful depiction of God's love. I don't have any stake in this book, or in Niequist (I myself did not like one of her other books due to writing style), but I don't think it is an accurate description to call this New Age religion or New Age ideas.

Caravan Sonnet said...

I so appreciate your words and your honest opinion. I have to admit that I love Shauna's books, but was not impressed with this one either. You described perfectly how I have felt about the book. Thank you so much for sharing honestly!
Blessings,
Rebecca :)

Gina babybluemom.com said...

So glad you reviewed this because a lot of my college friends are reading it. I read her Bread and wine booked and liked a lot of it but do not agree with her theologically on many issues. I think her Bread and Wine book would have for sure given you a lot more about who she is and where she has come from. But like I said I am glad I do not have to jump on the bandwagon and get this book since it does not have much to offer. I thought Dr. Horton's book Ordinary was phenomenal and accomplished way more than this book ever would.

Bekah said...

Thank you so much for this review. I have read her work before and have loved it. I was really looking forward to being able to read this book, but I am alarmed and saddened by the negative points you bring up. I have noticed the same trends in reading, and there are a number of quite popular authors I refuse to read, because I fear they fall too far into that category in their teaching, and I want to protect myself. Thanks for helping me know that as much as I want to read this book, I should say no.

kelseylynae said...

THanks for this review. I actually requested this book for review the day it was released and ALL the copies were already gone. I was really disappointed. But now, I'm thankful I waited and saw this review. I agree that the New Age stuff just makes my hair stand on edge a bit-- people now are not taught a lot of biblical spiritual disciplines, and they clearly want them/need them, so they sub in other stuff. I liked "The Best Yes", though I found it a bit redundant. I wrote down "Breathe" and will probably check that study out instead of this title. Thank you. ["What Alice Forgot" is on my list already :)]!

Callie said...

I actually don't agree with Christian mysticism either, from hundreds of years ago or today. It makes little difference to me how old a practice is - what I look at is whether a certain practice is in line with Scripture, and "centering prayer" and Christian mysticism is not something I believe the Bible supports. I understand that a "spiritual director" would be something like a mentor, but I don't like the term and believe our first direction spiritually should be from God's Word, the Bible. God's Word is the only inerrant source of direction, and we should look to that before fallen people to direct us into truth. I agree that not every Christian book/message has to present the Gospel overtly, but personally, it bothers me to have a book talk so much about God's love and not mention the what Jesus did on the cross or the Gospel at all.

Callie said...

I'll have to check that one out!

Callie said...

The "ordinary" book, to clarify, ha! :-)

Callie said...

I am in the same boat as you Bekah - I know of several popular authors that are a little iffy in their theology to me, and it makes me sad, but I avoid them too to protect myself as well. Thank you for commenting!

Callie said...

Yes, I can see why you thought "The Best Yes" was a little redundant, haha! Sometimes I think authors are just trying to fill their page quota when maybe a shorter book would suffice. :-) Definitely check out "Breathe", I really appreciated it!

Lindsey said...

Thanks for your honest review...I often feel like the party pooper when I'm not super excited about some popular authors, like this one. Glad to know I'm not the only one and that I'm not crazy for wondering why we're so easily backing away from such simple things as the Gospel. And I just ordered The Best Yes yesterday, so glad to know you recommend it.

Anonymous said...

I just started reading after a recommendation from someone I trust. Within the first few pages I felt convicted I should have researched more before purchasing. I will be returning it as a result. I agree with all your points and feel like unless you are a very mature Christian with solid theological teaching, this book will very easily influence you. I feel like I could read it and discern the truth and falseness, but I do t plan I wasting my time.

InspirationClothesline said...

Callie, Having finished the book myself now and completed my review I wanted to head on over and respond to your review. I am shocked, and yet not completely ;-) , to see we had such different experiences with this book. That being said I always appreciate your candor and desire for people to be pointed to the Gospel and Scripture. I did some research about the "centering prayer" and use of a "spiritual director" and do truly believe that in this situation, and feeling like I do know a bit of where the author comes from, they are in line with Scripture. We just differ on this evaluation. I have a dear friend who has had a Spiritual Director for many years, and having read several documents about the use of Spiritual Directors and after asking lots of questions, I found that the goal of a Spiritual Director at least by definition is to point you to the Lord's voice, Scripture and to what God is speaking through the Holy Spirit into your heart and mind. I also believe that Niequist uses centering prayer to meditate on Scripture and the truth of the Lord. All that said I also understand that you are cautioning readers to think critically about all books, especially it seems the more popular culture ones, before just ingesting and believing everything they read and in that arena, along with always coming back to God's Word as the ultimate truth in our lives. I completely agree and so appreciate your words and heart. I also agree that this is definitely not a typical "self help" book, and really shouldn't be read in that light. I loved when another BookLook Blogger mentioned that it was a book she kept putting down, at first she felt that was a negative point but then realizes that maybe it was the kind of book that was best read that way with lots of self-reflection. To me the real inspiration I garnered from this book was in my own "in between moments" as I turned to prayer and Scripture that supported what I believe God was speaking to my heart and just happened to be inspired by Niequist's experience. Anyway, was very interested by your review and as always I so enjoy reading your take! I look forward to reading your review of "Uninvited!"

Callie said...

Thanks for taking the time to respond, Alex! I appreciate your viewpoint! I can't speak to exactly how Niequiest uses centering prayer - I just know the term is from a New Age concept, which is something we need to be very careful with as Christians. I don't think meditation, from a Scriptural perspective, is to be focused on anything but Scripture. I understand what you are saying about a "spiritual director", but I have to say, I hate the term, haha! It sounds too authoritative, like we're allowing too much authority to a fellow human as opposed to God's Word. What happened to "mentor"? I did find it interesting how you responded to the rest of the book! Even beyond my concerns above, I just could NOT get into it! I couldn't figure out what I was supposed to be getting out of it. I think that part might have been different if I had already been a Niequist fan. :-) Really enjoying Uninvited so far, can't wait to read your review!

Inspired said...

I totally agree about the term "spiritual director!" When I first heard it used I was defiantly taken aback and I'm not totally convinced I would ever use one. And I know that my previous exposure to Niequist, in her writing and speaking, is what leaves me trusting her judgement a bit more then someone may if this was their first exposure to her! It's definitely her most polarizing book.

Unknown said...

I do understand some of your concerns over scriptural "meat" and a feeling toward New Age/Post Modernism themes. I have never read anything by this author prior to this book. However, I don't think you need to know her prior work as much as you need to be where she is at in this memoir style book. I found myself relating to her time and time again. I have read "The Best Yes" and completed the "Breathe" study, but I found the rawness of this author's personal experience to be exactly what God is currently using to propel me towards much needed change in a way those books had not. Having said that, revisiting the "Breathe" study is on my list now that I have this new perspective. I will add... I do have a fairly solid background in scripture and doctorine. As much as it spoke to me...and I could fill in the blanks of "prayer and scripture" and "spiritual mentor/accountability" for "centered prayers" and "spiritual director"....I also can see where a person without a solid foundation could need more biblical input in those areas. I just think for the person (like me) who has found herself way out of whack when it comes to my time and my reasons for spending my time....this book was more real. Not to diminish the experiences of Tyrkest and Pierce for the examples they used in their respective books...but they just were not as relatable to me. I think that is a reason this book is resonating to a larger audience.

Unknown said...

Everyone has their own journey and relationship with God. While I agree that we have to protect ourselves, I also believe that this kind of judgement is what pushes people away from Christianity and forming their own relationship with Christ. I understand this was a review and that it required your honest opinion, but she was being completely transparent about who she is. Which in all honesty is needed in help bring more people to Christ. We are all different and our stories and journeys are not all going to be the same. Sometimes us Christians try to pretend to be so perfect that we forget that we are all broken. Thanks for your review and opinion.

Callie said...

Ely, thank you for the thoughtful comment. I agree that we all have our own testimonies of how we came to believe in Jesus and in growing afterward. However, I do not feel it is judgemental to point out parts of a book that are not biblical. As Christians we do need to be on guard and have discernment, and compare the words of teachers to God's word. The Bible tells us to compare what we hear and read to Scripture. It's not judgmental to do that, especially with those speaking (or writing) from a position of prominence. I'm not criticizing the author personally, I am questioning the teachings she is encouraging that are not in line with Scripture, and also giving an honest review of the book.

Anonymous said...

I read this book in January and I had the same thoughts... so much talk of love and God, while completely forgoing any mention of Christ's sacrifice on the cross and His resurrection. Shauna is certainly allowed to tell her story, but what disturbs me is that this is being sold as a self-help and now Bible study. WHAT?? The Christian publisher seems to be more focused on author popularity and sales than on the Gospel -- freedom in Christ.

Unknown said...

I just finished this book and was looking up reviews because I was so disappointed. Your conclusions were the EXACT same ones I had. There were several things I didn't agree with theologically and this book never mentioned the hope of the gospel in our desperate search! Thank you for bravely sharing this!

Anonymous said...

I am currently reading this. I have had the same feeling many here have expressed. Too much focus on her own self discovery while leaving little tangible resource for the reader. I have have read two of Shauna's other books and have enjoyed them, so I was excited for this. It is two-fold for me. I can read this and be encouraged to take a deeper look at my life, my choices, my frantic and reevaluate etc...but I also caution my heart to be guided and directed by the Holy Spirit as the one who orders my steps and directs my heart as I submit it to Christ etc. Too much focus on "self empowerment" I think. I'm going to finish but keep a sensitive heart to what the Lord would say to me in it and that's it. It's not the bible.

Heather said...

I haven't read this one yet, and I'm glad I read this review before I wasted money on a book that could potentially be very disappointing. I have read her book Cold Tangerines. It's actually one of my favorite books. I didn't notice anything theologically warped about it. But I would be interested to hear what your thoughts on that one.

© Through Clouded Glass. Design by MangoBlogs.