I often tell my students that showing up is half the battle.
If you show up to my class, you won’t get a zero. You might not get an A—you might not even get a D—but you won’t get a zero. Because if you show up, you’ll probably overhear something useful. You’ll probably, maybe, turn in a paper if it’s due. You’ll do an activity or take part in a discussion. You’ll do more than nothing, at least.
And suddenly, even if you didn’t really plan to be, you’re involved.
Exercise works the same way. Even though I’ve found a routine I enjoy now, some days it’s a struggle to get started. I don’t want to sweat. I’m tired. The thought of curling up with a book sounds more appealing than anything that will ask me to move my body and make myself breathless.
But I know myself and I know that, if I can only push myself into exercise clothes and get the routine started and do a warmup, I’ll do at least five minutes. And if I do five minutes, since I’m there, I’ll decide I should at least do ten or fifteen. 90% of the time, I finish my whole workout. But even if I don’t, I’ll have done a lot more than nothing.
Sometimes all God wants is for us to show up.
I’ll be honest: my prayer life of late has been scattershot. That’s because I’ve been busy, and stressed, and struggling. And when I am busy and stressed my prayers turn into incoherent machine-gun fire: all over the place, sporadic, and desperate. Hi God, help. God, today is a mess. God, please take care of [intercessory request]. God, please help me handle this person. God, I don’t know what I’m doing. God, what are you planning?
Everything, everywhere, all at once. And at the end of the day, when I’d otherwise normally have my more integrated prayer, my brain is fried. I lack the ability to marshal any coherent prayer, any burst of worship, any anything. So rather than try, I often simply give up.
The other evening, I was sitting at my computer, thinking, I should pray. Or something.
Because I know that I need it. God is the only thing getting me through some of these days. But I was still sitting there thinking, Maybe tomorrow. Because I was tired. And I have the internet. And God is, believe me, very aware of everything going down right now, so what do I have to say that I haven’t already said and he doesn’t already know? I’m too burnt out to read or focus or Scripture.
But then, a tiny revelation:
What if I just showed up?
Nothing to say, in particular. Nothing in mind. Nothing to read, nothing planned. Nothing other than this: it’s my love for you that brings me here because I know with You is where you want me. I don’t know what to say or what to do right now because I’m tired, but I’m here. I want to show up for you.
And what would it mean, if I did that consistently?
I went and I sat for fifteen minutes in quiet. I journaled a little. I thought about Scripture a little. But mostly I just sat with God and I prayed this prayer:
I’ve told you so much about what’s on my mind, and what’s going on. You know. And you know what I want, and you know what I need, so there isn’t much else to say about that, but I’m here.
I’m here because you are here.
I’m here because I want you to know I love you.
I’m here because I want to be close to you and I don’t always know how.
I’m here because I want you to know that here is where I choose to be.
The thing that no one tells you is that there is nothing romantic, spectacular, or revelatory about just showing up. You show up whether you feel like it or not, whether it’s raining or not, whether your day’s been good or not. You show up not out of obligation but by choice, because you understand your participation is necessary in this process and sometimes your will and God’s grace have to combine to make your participation happen on a particular day.
You show up because God always shows up.
And you show up because when you show up, the world tilts a little on its axis.
I had a student once who confided in me why he had a bad habit of skipping class. “Sometimes I forget the assignments or whatever,” he told me, “and when I come to class I’m like, oh crap, there’s this whole world of stuff I’m supposed to be doing and I’m like, who wants to be reminded of that?”
He was so honest. Showing up to class reminded him of a whole world and a whole universe he wasn’t making the effort to participate in. Showing up for God is like that, too. It resets your understanding of cosmic significance. Showing up and being forced to confront our suffering God, our loving God, our God of sacrifices, makes it harder for us to dwell on how mad we are about traffic, for obvious reasons. It’s a spiritual realignment. Sometimes a painful one.
Anyway, my point isn’t that showing up is going to open the heavens (although God says consistent presence and banging down the door is a laudable trait for the seeker). It isn’t always going to put you emotionally or spiritually where you wish you were. It may not transform a particularly garbage day. But God will reward you showing up with His own presence, always, whether you sense it or not. Your showing up will matter in a way that, down the road, will surprise you.
Can I share one more student story?
I had a student once who was terrified of failing out of my class. So she showed up to everything. Office hours, classes, extra sessions. She turned in papers weeks in advance and worked on them for weeks after. She was everywhere, all the time. I got a little tired of seeing her emails in my inbox.
At the end of my class, she came out with a D.
(You thought it’d be a better grade, huh?)
She came out with a D and when I passed out grades, I expected resistance. I expected her, actually, to try to negotiate me into a not-D because she had done all the showing up even if the work wasn’t up to par. I had my arguments and points ready. Instead, she was ecstatic.
“Oh,” I said, when she shared her delight about her D, “you seem pretty happy.”
“This is the first class I ever finished all the way through,” she told me. “I never finished one before. I never showed up for all the assignments and tests and everything. But this one I did.”
Showing up didn’t turn her into an amazing student. But it turned her into a person who showed up. And a person who shows up is capable, I think, of an awful lot.
Become a person who shows up.
God can do a lot, just with that.