After a long day of work, I propped my knees up in bed, a blanket draped to warm me as I read page after page of Shauna Niequist’s painful past mistakes and lessons learned.
In Present Over Perfect, she pulls back the curtain of a stuffed and frantic lifestyle, revealing the failure of her health and a disconnection with her husband and two young sons. As she flayed open the wounds for readers like me to see, God was pressing on a pressure point in my own heart.
“One friend said that a way to get at your desire or dream is to answer this question: If someone gave you a completely blank calendar and a bank account as full as you wanted, what would you do? The first thing that leapt into my mind: stop. I would stop. I would rest. I would do nothing at all. I would sleep. The thought of it almost made me weep.” (Niequist, Shauna. Present Over Perfect. Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 2016. Page 30)
When I first read those words, my heart beat faster in guilt. For those who like to live life to the fullest, biting into every tasty thing, riding every roller coaster at the theme park, and traveling the furthest; this statement is bold. Shauna was never the person to rest, to stop, to sleep. But her soul had had enough.
Something told me that Shauna and I had something in common, and our souls had something to say to the both of us. Lucky for me, I still had time to slow down the crazy train before my life spun out of control.
But first, the awareness.
I had almost made it to the end of 2016, struggling with a full schedule personally and professionally. My anxiety left me nauseous, and I was losing weight. My doctor had already told me I needed to slow down my workload in order for my stomach to regulate. (I ignored him because I didn’t want to quit growing my business).
I was mentoring a beautiful young girl who struggled with depression and anxiety and often desperately needed help. My body was infertile, but I was in denial and refused to acknowledge the truth. At nights and weekends, my computer sat on my lap while I typed out my first book. I rarely slowed down or rested except to sleep at night.
Shauna’s tears from years ago that prompted her to write the book were growing into a very hard lesson I needed to learn. Her words scared me because she was warning me that the trajectory I was on could ruin everything.
So I stopped.
From that point on, I slowed down my work, which led to later selling my business. I talked honestly with the girl we were mentoring and set boundaries to protect my health. The tea mugs in my cabinets saw more use, and I got better at sitting on the couch and staring out the front window in prayer, watching the wind blow through the palm trees in my front yard.
Here’s the thing about life, though. Once you get past something, it’s not forever conquered. A demon in the rearview can quickly become a passenger in the front seat if you aren’t careful.
Earlier this year, I found my heart reaching a frantic pace that reminded me of parts in Shauna’s book that had stunned me almost five years before. I realized that the loneliness of being a new mother and all the responsibilities that came with it had cornered me. I was reaching for social interactions, relationships, and fulfillment in a packed schedule and non-stop flow of people.
The vicious cycle struck again. All it took for me to pay attention was one day when my body shut down, haunting me with the eerie past of my mistakes.
The day was non-stop from wake-up time to dinner. I had a meeting from 9-10am where I pushed Eden in a stroller there and back. Then I had guests in my house from 10am until 1:30pm. As soon as Eden woke up at 2pm, I was driving 20 minutes away to another meeting where we talked until 4pm. Then friends stopped by for a walk from 4:30pm until 6pm.
At 6pm, dizziness clouded my vision. My body was screaming out for me to take care of it. I made up an excuse to get the guests out of my house. I walked toward the door, ushering them out of my life so I could keep from feeling like I might pass out. As soon as they left, I shoved food in my mouth and wilted at the demands of feeding Eden while Kevin made his way home.
When he did, I passed off Eden and laid on my bed, the dark of the curtains shutting out the light. For at least ten minutes, though my body was still, my head spun. I was a helicopter with whipping wings circling above my head.
The truth crystallized. This was the old Kim resurfacing.
I had to stop.
As Shauna’s mentor wisely told her, “Stop. Right now. Remake your life from the inside out.”
I agonized about cancelling my morning walk the next day with a sweet friend. It was the first step I could take to “remake my life.” I texted her and became “that person” who flakes at the last minute, but she of course understood.
The next day, I stayed in my pajamas until noon and laid on the living room floor with Eden’s toys spread around me. She climbed over and swatted at my hair, putting it in my mouth and laughing when I made a face, hair spilling everywhere. Then she did it again.
The following day started with an outrageous headache that split my head open with ringing, pounding, growling. I was paying the price, my body didn’t let me get away with my push-push lifestyle.
During Eden’s nap, I grabbed Present Over Perfect off the shelf. I reread Shauna’s book with careful attention to each page. A garage sale had the study guide that accompanied the DVD that I picked up for cheap. Even though I didn’t have the videos to go with it, the workbook offered therapy and soul-searching questions I needed to process through my own struggles with hustling and striving. I bowed to Shauna’s wisdom, her wealth of knowledge on the not-so-fun topic of striving so hard that we break.
It’s a truth that I must face and never ignore. Because the people around me who need me most; Kevin and Eden and another newborn coming- they need me to know myself, my boundaries, my health, my limits. They need me to sleep and spend time with God, and rest, and show up to my life with my whole heart and body.
My pushing and striving and filling in loneliness gaps with things that don’t last, like a short applause or another group of people knowing my name, is not worth it. Am I brave enough to stay home and take care of my daughter peacefully? Just the two of us? Can I be an invisible servant of God? Am I okay with being bored once in a while? Can I find God’s grace in this season of life where Eden is hungry and I am the hands that feed her? Is God here with me as I learn and grow and let go of other people’s notice and approval?
Yes, He is. He so is. And not for one second do I have to prove myself to Him. Not for one minute does He ask me to strive myself to exhaustion.
He knows my name, and He is the only one who matters. He will guide me and lead me in truth as I continue the battle against flesh and blood. Some days, I lose. Some days, I feel like I am falling into oblivion and no one can see my efforts.
But other days, I remember He has already won the battle of all battles, and I don’t have to do a thing to prove to anyone whose team I am on. He already knows.