The Spirituality of Showing Up

by | May 31, 2012 | Blogs

When my alarm drags me out of sweet slumber, I have one thought: I hate everything.

Shaking off sleep I’m still 45 minutes away from being ready to face the world.  No matter how much I want to change the number on my scale, I’m ready to ditch the gym today.  “I can just do it later?” I grumble.  The gym will still be there, and my schedule’s flexible.  As tired as I am, I would have a terrible workout.  I’d be slow and sluggish; it wouldn’t be worth the effort.  Wait… now I remember, I felt a tweak in my hamstring last night.  Yes, that was definitely it.  There was a serious twinge somewhere between the couch and the refrigerator.   I shouldn’t take any chances.  Tomorrow, tomorrow’s the day…

Of course, there is no tomorrow. The litany of excuses will be just as impressive and there will be just enough truth in the excuses to make them dangerous.  I will be tired, most likely tired enough that the workout won’t meet my (admittedly grandiose) expectations.  Though the excuses will be impressive, they still can’t hide the truth that lies underneath all the indecisiveness: I really want to go, and I know it’ll be worth it.

The parallels between a healthy spiritual life and a healthy exercise routine are eerily similar.  We can all find reasons not to do the daily things that make up a healthy life of prayer.  Ugh, church on Sunday, every Sunday?  I’m just not sure I have the time this week.  Besides, I’ll probably sit next to the family with the screaming baby.  Even if I go, I’ll be so distracted by my project from work that I won’t be able to concentrate.

Prayer?  I don’t have 30 minutes to give today.  I’m tired, and I’m pretty sure that if I sit down for some quiet time I’ll just find a new distraction.  Maybe I’ll be more rested and focused tomorrow. Like the excuses we make for not going to the gym, there might even contain a grain of truth.

I might go to church only to endure bad music and a worse sermon.  I might sit down for some quiet prayer and spend all my time fighting distracting thoughts about my fantasy team’s starting lineup, or the mind blowing fact that someone actually approved a Jersey Shore spinoff featuring J-Wow, Snookie, and Snook’s baby.

Just like my excuses for not exercising, my excuses for not attending to my spiritual life aren’t going anywhere.  I’ll be busy tomorrow, and I’ll have things on my mind tomorrow. Some mornings I might be tired, achy, or unmotivated, but I need to go to the gym anyway.  Some days I might be lethargic, distracted, or preoccupied, but I need to pray anyway.

My spiritual director calls it the “spirituality of showing up.”  When all else fails, the most important thing is to make sure that I do something.  Even if it’s not my best spiritual workout of all time, it’s far better than nothing.

Anyone who’s tried to get in shape knows that getting fit isn’t about individual workouts, scattered here and there over time.  Most people only see results when exercise becomes part of a routine.  Just the same way, a “good” or a “bad” experience of church or of personal prayer doesn’t make or break a spiritual life.  Our relationship with God grows over a long time, not an instant.  It starts by just showing up.


Matt Spotts, SJ   /   @mspottssj   /   All posts by Matt