In the past three weeks, I’ve been reminded often that one of the greatest things we can do to make our lives meaningful and significant is to just keep showing up. I was privileged to be in Germany when a good friend, Peter Reid, was celebrating his 50th birthday party. About 10 of us gathered around a big table, beginning at 4:30 in the afternoon, with conversation continuing until well after midnight (I love European parties, which consist, so often, of just food, drink, and excellent wide ranging conversation). Peter and I have been friends since 1993, and though we see each other rarely, our love of Christ and teaching has bound us together.
I spent an afternoon with my Austrian friend Hans Peter, ski touring up to a hut where we enjoyed a hot drink and some apple strudel, talking about faith, family, our children, “the church”, and much more. I’ve been coming to Austria to teach since about 1995, so “HP” and I have seen our friendship grow, slowly over the years, through our shared work and fellowship.
This past Sunday, back in Seattle, the church I pastor gave a gift to our family as a way of marking our 15th anniversary of leading that community. All three snapshots were meaningful, but surely this local one affected us the most, because 15 years ago we moved from the mountains to the city, from itinerate teaching, to getting rooted in a single community. I well remember that when I interviewed for the job here in Seattle, I wrestled with whether I could commit to five years! That we’ve been here 15 is as much, or more, a testimony to the marvelous grace filled community that is Bethany, as it is, any endurance on my part. They’ve allowed me to learn ‘on the job’ as our church has grown into territories that are, for all of us, uncharted. They’ve forgiven. They’ve loved and encouraged us often. I don’t think we’d have made it this far without all those elements.
But it’s also true that my wife and I have learned simple secrets which, taken together, have enriched our lives more than we could have imagined:
1. Start by showing up consistently – “The journey of 1000 miles begins with the first step” is wisdom. Thumb through the Bible and you’ll find stories of God inviting people to show up: Abraham for a journey that would result in a nation, Joseph for a calling to save that nation from destruction before it began, David for leadership, Jeremiah for a ‘truth telling’ extravaganza, Paul for a traveling ministry. Each of these people showed up, not just once, but step after step. If it’s true that the journey of 1000 miles begins with a single step, it’s also true that step one is easier than step 46,298. But this, of course, is what matters: that we show up on Tuesdays that are raining, when there’s nothing special about the day, and learn to be fully present in spite of the absence of any big thrills or challenges: this is living. I’m coming to discover that learning to show up with God, friends, neighbors, church, is at the heart of wisdom.
We live in a culture that is addicted to the supra-normal. In other words, it’s easy to check out of our day to day living, while we wait for the next big thing: the concert, the football game, the hot date, the trip to somewhere. But these are the exceptions. Daily living is where the richness of life is ultimately mined, not in huge gold nuggets, but it tiny slivers randomly appearing. We’ve gotta’ keep showing up.
2. When you show up, look for next steps – The danger in adopting the ‘showing up’ mantra is that it’s possible to be present and still absent, because in our showing up, we’re only trying to maintain – to keep our job, or friendship intact. The best showing up looks for opportunities to take next steps, as leaders, parents, friends, spouses, neighbors. There aren’t always opportunities to take next steps, and surely sometimes things will slide backwards a bit. But I’m convinced that if we keep showing up and look for next steps, there will be enough “next steps” available to us, that we’ll be able, over time, to make progress. Showing up, after all, isn’t the same thing as being “stuck”.
3. When you feel like quitting, don’t – Of course we’ll be bored at times, or disillusioned, or tired. When I feel like quitting, though, I’m reminded of a favorite verse in the Bible: “you have need of endurance” (Hebrews 10:36). None of us needs endurance until we feel like quitting, so that feeling like “I’m in too deep” means that my need for endurance has arrived, and that puts me in a good company with people like Jesus, Peter, Paul, Esther, Bonhoeffer, and countless anonymous others. Of course there’s a time to fold, a time to quit finally, a time to walk away. That’s a subject, perhaps, for a different post. I’m convinced though, that are culture teaches us to quit too soon, and the loss is all of ours.
4. Inhale along the way – Those who feel like quitting often find the strength to continue by looking for splashes of color along the way: a good conversation, a spectacular sunrise, great coffee, or wine, or an inspiring book. If we’re easily encouraged, our endurance comes a bit easier as well and, just like training for a marathon, endurance begats endurance, and it gets easier to keep showing up.
Then suddenly, we walk up one morning and find we’ve been in this marriage 31 years, or this church 15, or teaching at these schools for 15 or 20 years and we smile: “where did the time go?” we ask.
Where? The answer’s found in the third snapshot: the rubber band ball that I started in order to remind me how little steps compound and become valuable. Each day the paper came we added a rubber band. The paper came in plastic bags some day, so it appeared no progress was made. Some days we forgot. Then later, we cancalled the paper for a while; then started it again. Now we get it online except for Sunday, and it only comes with a rubber band on dry days (lol…see you in August “new rubber band”). But I keep adding rubber bands to remind me that building slowly and faithfully, showing up with God, each other, and our callings, looking for joy in the common days, is a good way to live.
I welcome your thoughts…