Michelle Martin

Showing up

October 21, 2012

Woody Allen famously said 80 percent of success is showing up. He’s wrong. It’s got to be closer to 90 percent, maybe more. And not just showing up, but showing up every day, over and over again.

That’s what I was thinking about this weekend as Teresa was learning to use the potty. Potty training is like so many of the things babies and toddlers do: like walking and talking, it takes patience and persistence, and when they finally get it, it’s exciting. Everyone smiles and claps and there might be candy involved.

Soon enough, though, it’s just what is expected. No more parties and parades. And then Teresa (and most other young children) realize that maybe they’ve been had. Why should they walk when there’s always a big person around to carry you? Why struggle to find words to explain what you need when a sustained existential howl brings someone running? Why stop what you’re doing to use the potty when mom or dad is always there with a fresh diaper?

From a non-2-year-old perspective, the rewards are obvious: Traveling on your own two feet offers the possibility of getting where you — not someone else — wants you to go. Speaking your mind makes it far more likely that you’ll get what you want instead of what someone else thinks you need. And not wearing diapers means not wearing diapers.

Getting over the hump of the first success, with the sense of accomplishment and the exciting newness of it all, to the long haul of just doing it each and every day isn’t easy, and it doesn’t just apply to the toddler set. My husband’s family tells a story about his second day of kindergarten: When his parents woke him up and told him it was time to get ready for school, he said he didn’t have to go. He already went the day before.

Needless to say, he went. And he went in to grade school, high school and college, and then on to work. Getting up and getting something done had become a habit, like it does for most of us.

Faith must be a habit, too. Like so many other parts of life, there are the celebrations of the new: white dresses and blue ties on First Communion, the anxiety of coming face-to-face with the bishop at confirmation, the joy of a wedding celebration.

Those moments are wonderful, but all too soon, they give way to cold Sunday mornings and weekends where you are thankful for the luxury of multiple nearby parishes with varying Mass schedules. Prayer can be heartfelt, but easily falls off the to-do list if it isn’t inked into the schedule of things that you do every day, like brushing your teeth and telling your spouse and children that you love them.

There’s a reason it’s called “practicing” our faith; like going to school, it’s not something we do once, do it perfectly and never have to do it again. Like all the other things that we somewhat mature humans have to keep doing, over and over, when it comes to our relationship with God, we have to keep on showing up.