By Fr. Stavros Akrotirianakis, May 31, 2108
My Spiritual Father (the priest who I go to confession to, who also serves as a mentor and confidant) has taught me many things over the years. One phrase he has used that I always try to remember, in prayer, worship and other things is: “Eighty percent of life is just showing up.” In other words, eighty percent of the effort we make in doing something is just showing up. And “showing up” is a necessary pre-requisite to any kind of success we can expect to have.
Eighty percent of the effort in worship is getting in the car and going to church. What trips people up when it comes to worship, I believe, is not what happens once we are in the pews. It’s what happens before we get in the pews. It’s going to bed early on Saturday, getting up early on Sunday morning, getting dressed and driving to church. One of these things going wrong is going to distract us more than if the priest is off-key or the choir is singing a tad bit too slow.
Eighty percent of the effort in prayer is setting aside time and praying. What trips people up in prayer is not what to say or how long to pray, but making the time and setting aside the distractions enough for prayer to happen daily.
Once we show up at church, there is a possibility that something good is going to happen in worship. There is zero chance of something good coming out of worship if we do not show up to worship. Of course, merely showing up does not guarantee a great experience. There are plenty of times I show up and don’t get much out of worship. However, there are plenty of times I show up and get a lot out of worship. Showing up gives me a much better shot at a moving worship experience than staying home.
The same is true for prayer. There is zero chance of a moving encounter with God in prayer if we never pray. There are times when I pray and don’t get much out of it. However, there are times I pray that are so moving, they are indescribable. These don’t happen every time out. In fact, they are pretty rare. But if I don’t pray, they never happen.
Something good happens when we “show up” in prayer and worship. How is that? Well, let’s say a person runs for an hour and burns up 500 calories. They will burn 500 calories running hard for an hour whether they are “into it” or hate it. Run a certain distance at a certain speed and one will get a specific result. The same goes for praying. Something good happens in prayer even on days we aren’t as “into it” as we are on other days. The lesson here is “show up” to pray and worship, even when you don’t feel like it.
This is important because faith is more than a feeling. And we pray for more than how it feels. Prayer is about a relationship. It’s about being with God. I don’t always feel like being around my wife or my son. I have days when I am upset or frustrated with one or both of them. But that doesn’t stop me from spending time with them, or being kind to them.
Many people stop praying precisely at the moment when prayer has the chance to become richest. Just like many marriages end at the moment they could become strongest. In both bases, it’s because the feelings are gone. Thus, the challenge in both marriage and in prayer, is to learn to show up for both even when we don’t feel anything.
We learn to love (God and others) when we feel nothing. Again, because is not merely a feeling. Love is the root of any authentic relationship. And an authentic relationship requires an obligation. If there is no obligation, there is no authentic relationship. This is why marriage is such a fundamental relationship, because it creates obligation. Couples who live together and are unmarried don’t have an authentic relationship, because they have taken the obligation out of it. When they don’t feel like being together anymore, they split. In marriage, however, in the way that God intended for it to be, there is an obligation, so that when there are no “feelings” on a particular day, or month, or even year, the people keeps showing up and works through their challenges.
We are all “married” to the Lord through baptism. Thus, in accepting the Lord, we enter into a relationship where there is obligation, not only feeling. We are still supposed to show up for prayer and worship even when we don’t feel like it, even when we don’t feel particularly close to the Lord, even when we don’t feel like we’re getting much out of it. Because that’s what an authentic relationship is-it is showing up, even when we don’t feel like it.
So don’t worry if your “feelings” aren’t as strong as they used to be, or as you wish they were. Keep showing up. When we show up, there is the possibility for something wonderful, powerful and beautiful to happen. When we don’t show up, there is no possibility for these things.
Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to Thy name give glory, for the sake of Thy steadfast love and Thy faithfulness! Why should the nations say, “Where is their God?” Our God is in the heavens; He does whatever He pleases. Their idols are silver and gold, the work of men’s hand. They have mouths, but do not speak; eyes, but do not see. They have ears, but do not hear; noses, but do not smell. They have hands, but do not feel; feet, but do not walk; and they do not make a sound in their throat. Those who make them are like them; so are all who trust in them. O Israel, trust in the Lord! He is their help and their shield. O house of Aaron, put your trust in the Lord! He is their help and their shield. You who fear the Lord, trust in the Lord! He is their help and their shield. The Lord has been mindful of us; He will bless us; He will bless the house of Israel; He will bless the house of Aaron; He will bless those who fear the Lord, both small and great. May the Lord give you increase, you and your children! May you be blessed by the Lord, who made heaven and earth! The heavens are the Lord’s heavens, but the earth He has given to the sons of men. The dead do not praise the Lord, nor do any that go down into silence. But we will bless the Lord from this time forth and forevermore. Praise the Lord! Psalm 115
Show up in prayer, today and every day! Eighty percent of (Christian) life is just showing up!
~Fr. Stavros Akrotirianakis, St. John the Baptist Greek Orthodox Church, Tampa, FL, http://greekorthodoxchurchtampa.com/.