Woody Allen is famously quoted as saying, “Eighty percent of life is showing up.” For many, this is an example one of those cheesy motivational quotes found on posters of soaring eagles or sunsets over mountains, feel-good lines that don’t stand up to actual reason. For many, glorifying the act of showing up is akin to awarding “participation ribbons” to every kid in Little League, downplaying what really matters, skill and hard work, ultimately lowering our expectations and standards so that we’re all winners. Showing up, for many, is worth very little.
It may surprise many of you then to hear that I find this line is a perfect one to describe my experience of prayer life since the beginning of novitiate. Prayer, as I have found it, is an act of fidelity.
Even for someone who has been a Christian all my life, believed in God, and found prayer to be an important practice, I have often struggled to find prayer to be a consistently fulfilling experience. Sometimes, I would finish empowered, overjoyed, and enlightened about God, myself, and the world; other times, I would leave having spent 20 minutes thinking about what I was going to do next, or worse yet, focused entirely on the question, “What the heck am I doing wasting my time with this?” Because of this, prayer time was never among my highest priorities, and my commitment to it was sporadic at best. This was the case even up through my Postulant year into Novitiate. I intellectually knew that prayer was a good thing to do, but for one reason or another (too busy, bored, tired, distracted, etc.) I could still go days without intentional time for prayer.
This all changed during novitiate. While I knew that I could not control how tired, distracted, interested, comfortable, or happy I was going to be during prayer, nor could I affect the outcome of the experience, I knew that I could control my attendance. Within the first couple weeks of novitiate, I made a commitment to quietly sit in the chapel for 30 minutes a day. All I had to do was show up. And let me tell you: a lot of mornings, that’s all I did. There were days that getting out of bed to sit in a cold chapel was the last thing I wanted to do. There were days when I could have spent that time doing “more important” things. There were days when I was angry at God, my brothers, or myself, and didn’t want to deal with them. There were days when showing up, literally, was all I could have done, and yet, in the past I wouldn’t have even done that.
What I came to realize was that showing up, having fidelity to prayer, was in fact a prayer in and of itself. I found that it offered an insight into God’s fidelity to me, that God was always there, showing up for me, not because I deserved it, was particularly enjoyable to be around, or offered a fulfilling experience, but because of his commitment to my life. Showing up, even when I didn’t want to, offered me the opportunity to return that love, to emulate the God who had never failed to love me.
The reason I believe I failed to experience much in my prayer life before this point, and why I continue to struggle at times, is because prayer is something that requires a lot of work, commitment, and practice. For me, eighty percent of that experience is showing up, and so that’s what I do. I prayer Morning and Evening Prayer each and every day, no matter how busy, and find thirty minutes a day for Lectio Divina. Do I always enjoy it? No, but I can tell you one thing: the more I show up the more I enjoy it. In the same way that one does not pick up running and immediately enjoy it or is able to run well, prayer is something that needs to be entered gradually, worked at, and persevered.
In the end, what more is there for us to do but show up? We are always and already in the presence of God so there is nothing more we can do to call his attention; God is constantly offering us more of his grace than we can surely handle so there is no need to earn anything; and we are certainly not in control of what God may or may not be preparing us for, so there is no use in trying to assert our will over his. All we have to do and all we can ever do is show up and take part in the work of our God. Fidelity. That’s my prayer.