Shauna Niequist has sold 1.3 million copies of such books as Bittersweet (2010) and Present over Perfect (2016), which dealt with seasons of change, healing from trauma and grief, and overcoming life’s hurdles. Now, the author is returning to familiar ground, but with a deeper sense of personal pain in her sixth trade book, I Guess I Haven’t Learned That Yet (Zondervan, April 12). Her latest title digs into overcoming change, particularly related to her father, former megachurch pastor Bill Hybels, a cross-country move, ongoing health problems, and the stress of raising children during a pandemic in an 825 square foot apartment.
“I’m in this funny place in my life where I just keep saying over and over, ‘I guess I haven’t learned that yet,’” Niequist tells PW. It’s what she told herself each time she faced a new challenge, and it helped rid her of the pressure of expectations. “The only way I could get started on this book was to walk through it as a learner and a listener with curiosity,” she says.
The main source of trauma for Niequist is what she describes as a “cataclysmic shift.” In 2018, a number of women affiliated with her father’s Chicago-based Willow Creek Community Church accused him of sexual misconduct. However, Niequist’s book doesn’t discuss the controversy around Hybels—in fact, there is no mention of the allegations against her father by name or the resulting investigation. Rather, Niequist focuses on her own story.
In late 2018, Niequist, her husband Aaron and their sons Henry and Mac left behind their close-knit community of family and friends in the Chicago suburbs to move to New York City, where Niequist and Aaron enrolled in a MA program at General Theological Seminary. “It was a really dramatic shift we encountered,” Niequist says of the move. One of the first challenges she faced was enrolling her children in school. Back home, the strong sense of community made her feel safe; she knew exactly where her children would be and who they’d be with. In their new school, the process felt abrupt and impersonal—all that was required was a birth certificate to get them set up the next day. “That felt like our first big hurdle, like we’re living on a different planet,” she says. It made her realize that there would be a lot of stark differences in her new life.
Another shift she experienced was in her faith practice. “I grew up in a non-denominational Christian church in the Midwest. It was a church that my parents started—so I was used to being right at the center of it,” she says. When she made the move to New York City, she joined a much smaller church. Though it took some getting used to, she’s found joy in taking on a new role. “All of a sudden I have the tremendous luxury of getting to be a parishioner and a normal attendee,” she says.
Though there have been bright spots, the upheaval took its toll. “The most challenging thing has been the compounding changes and traumas,” she says. Not long after she arrived in New York, Niequist found out she was going through early menopause. Soon after, the pandemic hit, and her children were no longer able to attend school. She was also facing chronic pain. "It felt like whack-a-mole, once you get one thing sort of almost stabilized or you learn how to handle that, then there’s something new,” she says. Soldiering on through the deluge of challenges gave her “resilience fatigue.”
Carolyn McCready, executive editor at Zondervan who worked on several of Niequist’s past works, notes that though I Guess I Haven’t Learned That Yet was born out of pain, it’s not just “a slog through the land of disappointment.” Through the editing process, she found Niequist’s faith life and spiritual outlook to deepen, adding: “There are really beautiful sparks of joy in the book.”
If readers take one message away from her new book, Niequist hopes that it is: “You’re not alone.” And she’s careful to say that this work is not prescriptive. “I’m not writing as an expert, a guide, or a pastor, but a fellow traveler, holding out my hand so that we can walk together,” she says.
Niequist will be doing major press appearances, along with a book event at the 92nd Street Y in NYC with Savannah Guthrie on May 4, as well as an event in Nashville in April, according to the publisher.