Everyday Christian: Mastering the art of just showing up

I have always wanted to be a disciplined person. The idea of waking early and spending time in reflection and prayer feels romantic to me. I have signed up many times to do the Couch to 5km running program. I love making New Year’s resolutions.

I’ve always wanted to be able to do these things. But I have failed to do any of them consistently. I’ll go strong for a week, maybe two. But one morning, I’ll roll over and hit my alarm’s snooze button  instead of getting out of bed. Or the rain makes a run feel much, much less appealing. I’ve missed a day. Failed. It’s all over.

The daily readings were short, and the app kept track of your ‘streaks’. It would also — rather unhelpfully — tell me how many days I was behind. As the daily count grew higher, it became harder to imagine catching up.

And then it’s April, and my New Year’s resolutions are just words on a page.

Fuel your faith every Friday with our weekly newsletter

This has also been my common trajectory with Bible reading plans. A few years ago I committed to reading the Bible in a year, using the YouVersion Bible app. The daily readings were short, and the app kept track of your ‘streaks’. It would also — rather unhelpfully — tell me how many days I was behind. As the daily count grew higher, it became harder to imagine catching up. Failed again. It’s all over for another year.

Perhaps noting this particular all-or-nothing personality trait, my sister in law suggested I try a thing called the 5 Day Bible reading plan.

Perhaps noting this particular all-or-nothing personality trait, my sister in law suggested I try a thing called the 5 Day Bible reading plan. You still read the Bible in a year, but the schedule is a 5 day plan, not 7 days. It has an in-built assumption that I will miss a day, freak out, and stop. And so it’s no big deal. Miss two days even. I’m no further behind.

And hey — it’s May and I’m still reading! I’ve just finished 1 Samuel (I’d forgotten what a cracker of a book it is!), having already read what comes before in the Old Testament. I’m half way through the Psalms. And I’ve read Mark, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Hebrews, Colossians, Luke and Acts from the New Testament.

The beauty of this Bible reading plan is its simplicity. You just read what it tells you to. There are no questions to answer, no suggested reflections. Just the Bible. I did start out thinking this was odd – it seemed strange not to reflect in some way on what I’d just read. So I started writing one thought from the day’s readings in a journal.

I possibly don’t even need to tell you: the journalling part has not lasted.

But the Bible reading has. And it’s been a real blessing to, at the end of the day (because as the world now knows, I can’t consistently get up early!) sit with my Bible and just … read.

Because I do still love the thought of being disciplined, and I am by nature a generally hopeful person, I read books like James Clear’s Atomic Habits, too. In it, he gives a bunch of suggestions for how to, you guessed it, make habits stick.

The ‘just read’ mentality I have settled on for now is influenced by the section of Clear’s book on “the art of showing up”. In it, he outlines his “two-minute rule”, which prescribes just completing the outset of any new habit. So, if you want to play the piano, just go sit at the bench and open your songbook. Clear shares the story of a man who wanted to be the type of guy who works out every day. His “two-minute rule” was just getting to the gym and working out for just a few minutes before going home.

The idea is to (1) help put behaviour on autopilot and (2) bank a whole bunch of times that you actually did a thing you said you were going to do. Inevitably, that guy worked out for more than just a few minutes. He was there. It made sense. But, it didn’t matter if he wasn’t quite in the mood and just went home. More often than not, he stayed. And he went to the gym, regardless of how long he spent there.

It’s May and I am a person who is reading her Bible every day. Well, five days a week. Which is much more than what I did last year. Or the year before. I am sticking with a plan. I am becoming, slowly, slowly, a disciplined Bible reader.