After a four-year semi-hiatus from the gym in order to pursue my doctoral degree, along with four gazillion other people in January, I returned to the gym. I knew going back would be difficult. It was worse had than I had imagined. I was out of breath, sweating, my were muscles shaking…and that was only the first ten minutes.
Between transitions I chatted with another newbie like me. “I am so not good at this,” she breathlessly admitted. “Me too,” I said. “But you don’t have to be good at it. You just have to show up.”
Those familiar words I have often spoken to myself resonated anew in my heart.
My time at the gym has never been about mastery. I am okay that I am not flexible enough to do a proper downward dog; or strong enough to hold it for three minutes (I have never done that!). I am okay that I don’t have enough endurance for one hour of spin or use only one riser in step class. I don’t have to be good at any of this.
Most days, just showing up is a good day. Just showing up means I am moving in the direction I most want to go. (What I really want to be able to play in the park with my grandkids and carry my groceries up the stairs by myself.)
In the same way, often we don’t pray because we think prayer is primarily about saying the right words in just the right way. We think prayer is more about a proper method or technique and we are sure our prayer will not be” lofty” enough. We think that in order to pray we have to feel good, centered, reverent, and worthy of praying. Simply, we pray only when we feel like we can be good at it.
Prayer can be as simple as a sigh, or one word or cry for help honestly spoken. (Perhaps these are the most authentic prayer we pray!) Sometimes prayer, without any fanfare, is simply turning our hearts toward God throughout our day. We don’t have to be good at it. We just have to show up.
We don’t read the Bible because we don’t understand all of it. We don’t read it because we think we think we have to analyze, dissect, and master a text in order to read it properly. We don’t read it because we get bogged down having to read three chapters (and one Psalm) in order to check off the box. Simply sitting with the text, however, even just one verse, and allowing it to saturate your heart and so that it becomes life-giving to our soul is enough. We don’t have to be an expert in exegesis. (You don’t even have to know what that is!) You just have to show up.
We don’t sit in quiet, unhurried space with God because we are absolutely convinced we can’t be still long enough and quiet enough without having an agenda or a prayer list or a Bible study plan. (Ten minutes sounds like an eternity). We might not even be able to imagine what it would be like to let go of our own efforts to manipulate, manage and make progress in our spiritual life. How do we give up our expectation for “something happen” and give up our need to accomplish something?
There need not be flashes of insight or life-altering revelations. Of course it will take time to push beyond the distractions and noises of our minds but the key is to give ourselves the chance. Even when we our times of silence and solitude are fraught with distractions, inner restlessness, preoccupations, boredom, or personal anxieties, I think just our showing up pleases God. You don’t have to be good at it. You just have to show up.
The spiritual life (and so much of life) is not about getting it all right but doing those things that are congruent with our deepest desires and knowing that showing up is a good day.