Shauna Niequist is no stranger to the concept of breaking your back for ministry. She is the author of a handful of best-selling books, a mother, the wife of a famous ministry leader, and the daughter of Bill and Lynne Hybels. You might say she’s got big shoes to fill and even bigger ministry goals to accomplish on her own.
Yet Niequist’s latest book (and personal life lesson) is all about being “Present Over Perfect.” Niequist recently joined us on the ChurchLeader’s Podcast and our conversation with her was refreshing. She refers to this concept as “showing up anyway”—even if you don’t feel you look stellar or have everything on your task list done. Show up anyway.
About halfway through the interview, we ask: “What about the leaders who feel they thrive under pressure? Are there some leaders who are always going to be the go, go, go type?”
In response to this question, Niequist offered a story involving her father, Hybels. The moment came after Niequist realized she had built a life that was “too heavy for me to carry.” She realized all the things she had committed to and goals she had set were not allowing her to experience healthy rhythms of rest and commitment to the most important people in her life—her family.
One day after putting her baby down for a nap and visiting with her father, Niequist confessed, “Dad, I can’t live like this anymore. I’m so tired I’m almost afraid of what I’m doing to myself. I have wanted so badly to work the way you work; to have the capacity you have…and I just can’t.” It was then that Hybels put his hands on Niequist’s shoulders and said some very comforting words. “I am so relieved to hear you say this. I’ve been so worried about you. I’ve been watching you live a life that you were not made to live and I’m going to help you get back to where you want to be.”
After that watershed conversation (along with several other instances which can now be seen as guidance from the Holy Spirit), Niequist realizes “God gave my dad a particular capacity and a set of skills and a set of limitations that are really different than my set of skills and limitations.”
Put succinctly: We should not compare ourselves to others. For one thing, expecting to work the way her father and mother work was completely unrealistic. Niequist remembers her father telling her, “We’re empty nesters. You have a baby and a toddler. Don’t ever try to work the way an empty-nester works.”
One of the greatest freedoms for Niequist has been learning to say “This is it…this is what I have to offer and no more.”
Niequist offers a sort of litmus test for knowing when to say yes to things and when to say no (something every leader must learn to do!). She says where she used to fuel her motivation to do things with fear, obligation or competition, she now uses love as her fuel. So now she asks herself, whenever a new opportunity presents itself:
“Can I do that thing and maintain a deep sense of love—for the work I’m doing, for my family, for the people who sit around my table, for my community—then the answer is yes. But if saying yes to that thing would push me out of love and groundedness—into proving and competing and fear—then the answer is no.”
A key has been learning that the more time she spends in silence and prayer, the better she can identify what she is using to fuel herself.
This article features just a small snippet of the wisdom gained during our time with Niequist. She shares more in the full interview.