The Secret Is Showing Up

People talk a lot about “being your best self” and “doing your best work.”

Those are, in a lot of ways, ideas I can get behind. Solomon said, “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might; for there is no work or device or knowledge or wisdom in the grave where you are going.” (Ecclesiastes 9:10). We get one go-around in this physical life; there’s no sense wasting time with shoddy, half-hearted, lazy work. If you’re going to do it, give it everything you’ve got.

But I also have a problem with these ideas of “best self” and “best work.” I think they can easily become shields that we hide behind—excuses to stop doing work altogether.

It happens to me a lot.

There’s no telling how many words I’ve written in my life. I do it for my day job at work, I do it for my side project here. Whatever the number is, it’s a big one.

But there’s also no telling how many words I’ve backspaced or crossed out. How many papers I’ve crumpled up and tossed aside. How many half-finished files I’ve left alone in some abandoned folder because they just weren’t coming together the way I wanted.

Even though I love writing, it is work. And I always spend at least some of that time in my own head, doubting what I’m doing.

Is this my best work? Is it good enough? Am I good enough?

And there’s the trap—because it can always be better. Always. And from a purely objective standpoint, only one single project in my entire life’s anthology will really count as my “best work,” and I have no idea what it is or if I’ve even written it yet. I won’t know the answer to that question until after I’m dead. So the questioning and hemming and hawing and self-doubt winds up accomplishing very little, because the secret to any project is never being your best self and doing your best work.

The secret is showing up.

That’s as complicated as it needs to be.

It’s enough to show up and do good work. Consistently. Over and over again. That’s where growth comes from. That’s where progress comes from. Consistency in the things we find important.

And in the process of all that, we wind up producing our best work and developing our best selves. But asking ourselves—interrogating ourselves—over and over about whether what we’ve done and who we are is our absolute, inarguable best is an absolute, inarguable waste.

“Do it with your might” doesn’t mean “make it a masterpiece every time.” It means give it your best shot. Show up and try. It doesn’t have to be perfect, it doesn’t have to be the best thing you’ve ever done.

Show up. Do good work. Move forward. Lather, rinse, repeat.

“Best” is an ideal. It’s what we’re chasing after. We “go on to perfection” (Hebrews 6:1)—it’s not where God expects us to be every step of the way. That’s not how this works, and we sabotage ourselves if it becomes our expectation.

* * *

But there’s another aspect to all this. Showing up is the secret, yes—but we can’t show up for everything, all the time.

There’s too much. Try and show up for all of it, and you’ll accomplish none of it.

So we pick and choose instead. We have to decide what we’ll show up for. And that’s true for everything—in our professional lives, in our home lives, in our hobbies, and most importantly, in our spiritual lives.

Bible study? You have to show up for that.

Prayer? You have to show up for that.

Meditation, fasting, fellowship? You have to show up for all of them.

But it doesn’t need to be your best Bible study every time. Or your best prayer. Showing up consistently is so much more important than doing something excellent every once in a while. And the great big ironic paradox is that waiting for your work to be excellent is the best way to keep it from ever being excellent. We get there by showing up. One step at a time. One day at a time. Choosing to be there for the things that matter, choosing to try rather than hiding and waiting for the kind of perfection that’s just beyond our reach.

Paul tells us, “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 15:58).

The Greek word for “abounding” means “overflowing.” We are to be steadfast, immovable, and abounding in the work of the Lord. We don’t get there by waiting and hoping to become our “best selves” and do our “best work.” We get there by overflowing in our dedication to show up and try.

* * *

You might be wondering why Sabbath Thoughts has been inactive for so long. Last week’s post was the first new post since August of last year, and it’s only one of three that I’ve written in the past 365 days.

There’s a long answer and a short answer.

The long answer is that it has been an absolutely crazy year. Our van broke down and needed major repairs—twice. We had colds. We had COVID. Our waste line clogged and flooded—twice. The first time ruined the flooring in a third of our house, so we replaced it on our own—slowly, over the course of multiple months. Between two kids, we worked through potty training and sleep training and sleep regressions and all sorts of developmental milestones. We made multiple road trips to visit family. We signed up to help out with an assortment of other projects. It’s been a lot.

The short answer is that I was busy showing up for other things. And for the most part, I don’t regret those other things (except for maybe a few late-night Netflix binges). I made the choice to take care of other things, to spend more time focused on family, and to use my limited cache of spare time on other hobbies and projects. And in all honesty, I was getting a little burned out. I kept telling myself I’d get back to writing Sabbath Thoughts, but every week that went by without writing a new one made it easier and easier to let it go for another week, and another week, and…

All the same, it serves to drive home the point that you make progress on what you show up for. I stopped showing up for Sabbath Thoughts, and the site got stagnant. Something would have been better than nothing, but the longer I spent away from it, the more pressure I felt to make sure the first new post was “worth it”—whatever that means. I wanted it to be my best. Every time I tried to write something, it was never quite what I wanted it to be. Never quite good enough.

And so here we are.

I want to start showing up for this site again. It means a lot to me, and many of you have expressed that it means a lot to you, too. I don’t know if that means a new post every week, but I’m going to try to make sure something goes up every week—even if it’s an older post. They might be shorter than usual, they might not be as insightful as I want them to be—I don’t know. But I do know that I want to show up consistently, because this is something worth showing up for.

I might not be able to offer you my best self or my best work, but I do know this:

I want to show up and try.

Until next time,

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