Skill #10: Show Up

GirlsWalkingAwayonBeachMany years ago we had a group of women friends who gathered at least monthly for fun, food, and support. We ranged in age from about 40-60. One of these girlfriends was dating in midlife and had been involved with a man about a year and a half. She had also recently built a spectacular home nestled in the woods along a river and was very invested in creating a beautiful garden sanctuary. One Saturday in early spring, her ‘manfriend’ experienced a health crisis and ended up in the emergency room. With his family far away, she was loyally by his bedside in the ER when the news came that he would urgently need a cardiac surgical procedure first thing the next morning. After the crisis passed, she later sheepishly confessed to us that her first thought was, “but I have bulbs to plant.”

“But I have bulbs to plant” has become our signal which means “I’m not sure that I’m ready to show up for this.”

Crises and other messy events in our lives rarely occur at convenient times.

How often have you thought, “Not now.” “I have something important scheduled.” “What about 2 days from now when I get past this (important fill-in-the-blank)?” “Why couldn’t this (crisis) have happened last week?” We then tend to challenge ourselves with a quick criticism like “How could you be so selfish?” “What’s wrong with you?” The fact of the matter is that these thoughts are perfectly normal.

Emotions and reactions to events are not neat; they’re messy, too. What you DO with them is what really matters. If you respond in a perfunctory way, you’re not really showing up.

One definition of ‘to show up’ is “to allow to be seen”. This implies a closeness which strikes fear in the hearts of many people. Rather than allowing others to see them—to see their true self—some people find it safe to maintain emotional distance. It’s likely that they want a meaningful connection but have enough shame internally that it seems safer to hide. Showing up and being seen requires honesty, genuineness, and vulnerability to make ourselves emotionally available—fully present in mind, body, and spirit. Simple in theory but challenging to make happen. As such, it’s common to only partially show up.

When was the last time you can say that you were completely present; not drifting off to your ‘bulb planting’?

There are many challenges: When we multitask, we are not fully present. If we are preoccupied with our electronic devices, we are not showing up. If we are racing busily through our lives, we are not even available to show up. If we hide our emotions and are not honest with ourselves and those close to us, we are not fully showing up. If we are simply playing a role we cannot be authentic. And if we do not face our fears, we are running from ourselves and not able to show up.

Showing up is what happens in real, intimate relationships whether with friends, family, partner, or any relationship that is worth having. It might even be with a colleague, a student, a neighbor, or a customer—someone who is not particularly close, but for whom you might make a difference. Perhaps that individual will remember you as someone who “really listened and understood” or “someone who was there for me.” That would be a fine impression to leave. Perhaps you remember someone like this in your life.

Henri Nouwen (1932-1996), priest, professor, and author wrote, “More and more, the desire grows in me to simply walk around, greet people, enter their homes, sit on their doorsteps, play ball, throw water, and be known as someone who wants to live with them. “….to listen to their stories and tell them your own and to let them know with words, handshakes and hugs that you do not simply like them, but truly love them.” Nouwen notes that in order to do this, he has to set aside his own agenda to be useful or significant but rather to engage in the “simple ministry of presence.” To fully show up. What a gift.

It turns out, though, that the gift of our presence we give to others is, in the end, a precious gift we give ourselves.

So Show Up because Life is Messy and Life is Marvelous.


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