When you’d rather not show up

by Jess Fankhauser

Or maybe a better title is: When showing up is hard to do (and why you should do it anyway)


I believe one of the most important lessons we can begin to learn in our twenties is how to show up and keep showing up.

Most of our lives aren’t lived in the grand, dream fulfilling, picture perfect moments. Most of life is lived when we show up in our everyday moments and contexts over and over again.

When I graduated college, I had the sense that now my life as I dreamed it could really get started. Maybe you can relate. I thought I had arrived at adulthood and everything would be great. I would be in control of my life—I could work where I wanted, do what I wanted, hang out with who on wanted, go on vacation when I wanted.

Sure there are aspects of that reality. And yet, my life has also become interwoven with stories, experiences and commitments that I never imagined. It has been more like a roller coaster with joy and grief running on parallel tracks at the same time. There are seasons where work has been challenging that ran parallel with family and community life that was great and vice versa. There have been seasons where grief and loss have been overwhelming in my life while close friends experienced some of their greatest joys and vice versa.

There have been years where the last thing I wanted to do was to keep showing up to church as a single, female twentysomething. There have been years where I wondered if I had somehow missed something that everyone else had figured out. As I looked around it seemed everyone around me had a deep sense of calling and joy to their work and communities and I was struggling to show up everyday.

In the same way, there have also been moments where it was easy to show up, seasons where I loved waking up everyday. Times where I’ve been overwhelmed by the support and encouragement of a community and a sense of sense of unity that we’re all in this together.

But overall, it has been a lot harder to show up and keep showing up in my twenties than I ever thought. And I’ve found that it’s in these hard moments when I don’t want to show up, that I have a choice and an opportunity to grow. The growing doesn’t come in always making the right choice or handling something perfectly, the growing comes in choosing to simply keep showing up one day, hour or moment at a time. And some of my greatest growth has come when I showed up long after I wanted to quit.

If I’m honest, I would have loved for this to be a post about what I’ve already learned. But the truth is I’m still learning. I thought I was getting better at showing up, I thought it was getting easier and that the rhythms of good and hard things had become more predictable and expected.

But recently, I was caught by surprise again at the seemingly hardness of it all.  I find myself asking the same questions again as I navigate a foster parenting season that feels especially hard. Is this worth it? Will it always be this hard? Why should I keep showing up? I find myself fighting to maintain a sense of control I never really had over the decisions of what the future will look like for the kids in my care. I find myself questioning my ability to show up for the grief of more goodbyes and future hellos. I don’t want to have to trust God with their futures; I want to control them myself (even though I know I can’t).

For me it’s in these moments of hurt, pain, confusion and loss that I want to simply stop showing up. I’d rather numb the pain than keep living in the brokenness. But even more than that, what I want is to follow Christ into the brokenness of our world rather than around it, because I recognize that same brokenness in myself. I keep trying to show up because I’m convinced that showing up in our own brokenness to a life lived with others amidst their brokenness in our broken world is what it looks like to truly live.

Every single time it’s going to feel easier not to show up. Your flesh is going to long for convenience and self-protection. You’re going to want to seek the easy way out. You’re going to want to stop showing up.

Right now all I want is for life to not be messy anymore. I want it to feel good and easy. And in these moments Wendell Berry has a poem that I’m drawn to over and over again. He writes,

I go by a field where once
I cultivated a few small crops.
It is now covered with young trees,
for the forest that belongs here
has come back and reclaimed its own.
And I think of all the effort
I have wasted and all the time,
and of how much joy I took
in that failed work and how much
it taught me. For in so failing
I learned something of my place,
something of myself, and now
I welcome back the trees.

forest 3Berry’s words ring true and remind me I want to be a person who is able to keep showing up. I want to be someone willing to put in the work to make whatever little change possible while knowing all the while that the trees will likely come back.

What I’ve learned as I keep showing up in my work and family and community is that my identity is not in what I do or fail to do. It’s not in the effort and time that has felt wasted. My identity is in Christ. It’s in my pursuit of hearing and responding to his voice and direction in my life.

When my identity is firmly rooted in Christ only then am I able to move beyond a begrudging, resentful acknowledgement of the trees coming back to actually welcoming them back. It’s then that I realize how much I would have missed had I not kept showing up. And then when the trees are back, I’m able to keeping showing up to start again.

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