The Next Right Thing

It’s Monday morning – grocery shopping day. And as most Mondays go, this one proves to follow the general flow of crazy. We stumble through breakfast – one cup of milk spilled, one child in tears because we’ve run out of raisins to put in her oatmeal. I grumble through the routine of getting everyone dressed, only losing patience once or twice – “What do you mean you still haven’t put your socks on?! What have you been doing for the last ten minutes???!” And then the final task of squeezing into shoes and jackets, heft kids, buckle car seats, and click everybody in. One last dash into the house for the forgotten van keys, and we are on our way. After a laborious trudge through the grocery store – baby in the carrier, one kid in the seat of the cart, two riding on the back bumper – we emerge, bags bulging, to re-click and buckle into the car, drive back home, and tumble back into the house, the week’s grocery mission accomplished. 

Only… re-entering the house seems like it could be the straw that breaks the camel’s back, as I am full-face confronted with overwhelming chaotic disorder. The counters are covered with dirty breakfast dishes, the dishwasher stands open still full of last night’s clean dishes, waiting to be unloaded before it can be of any service to me. The floor is covered with grocery bags, spilling out their contents. The children are picking their way through, shedding shoes and jackets as they go, and plaintively beginning to beg for lunch. Panic rises slowly to cloud my eyes, and I am sorely tempted to run – where does one small, tired mother begin when everywhere I look is a mini disaster zone?   

Allow me to digress a moment – I promise this is related – but one of my favorite musicals is Fiddler on the Roof, a story of a Jewish family in Russia in the early 20th century. In one poignant, heart-breaking scene, a beautiful wedding celebration is turned to chaos as a gang of anti-Semites sweep in, destroying the food, the gifts, scattering the dancing, chasing away the guests, until all that’s left is the bride and groom and their family, standing in the midst of total wreckage. As the family surveys the damage in stunned silence, the father Tevya steps forward and in a symbolic act, picks up one single overturned chair and sets it back upright – one small, yet essential first step towards making things right again.  

My life is, of course, in no way comparable to what the Jewish people faced at that time, and I am by no means putting my small moments of chaos and disorder on that level in any way. But that scene, the moment when Tevya, surrounded by wreckage, stands up one single chair, often comes to my mind on a Monday morning. The need around me feels so overwhelming and if I think about everything that needs to be done at once, I’ll run away. But what I can do is pick up one single can of food and put it away. And then another one. And then attend to one hungry child. And then another one. And while the chaos feels beyond my strength, I don’t need to tackle it all at once, only take one small step at a time, do whatever small next thing is in front of me. 

The need around me feels so overwhelming and if I think about everything that needs to be done at once, I’ll run away. But what I can do is pick up one single can of food and put it away. And then another one.

The messy disorder caused by grocery shopping with young children is a trivial example from my day to day. But I’ve heard it said that when you don’t know what God’s will is for your life, just do the next right thing (an idea articulated by Elisabeth Elliot long before Disney picked it up for Frozen 2). Truth be told, as a young mom, I often feel like I don’t know what God wants me to be doing in the midst of diapers and endless laundry. What does my life really mean right now? What are the most important things I’m supposed to be focusing on? I so deeply want to see my children grow to be loving, mature, thoughtful, God-following, men and women of character – what am I supposed to be doing now to get there? The world beyond my small family circle is even more overwhelming. Where am I even supposed to begin as one small individual to make a difference to break the patterns of pain and brokenness, injustice and hatred that plague our communities, our nation? The need is so great, and I am so small, so limited. What can one mom with a small army of children do?

I don’t have the answers to any of these questions. Answers rarely come in a simple form; life is far too complex. But I do find comfort in God’s gentle reminder that he is in control. He knows and he sees – my children and each of their small needs and every need of the world beyond. Frail human that I am, I am not capable to understand and fix it all, even if I tried. But what I can do is continue to be faithful to each small next right thing he puts before me. To love and serve those in my neighborhood, my community, each individual that God puts before me and calls me to love. To teach my children to the best of my ability to be those men and women I want them to be who love and respect every human life and do justice – which some days starts as small as teaching them to love and do justice to that brother who is stealing their toys and the sister who is driving them crazy. And most importantly to sit every day and turn my face toward heaven – to soak in the Word that alone can heal the brokenness and chaos that starts within my own heart, my own life. To storm the gates of heaven that the God who sees, who knows, and who alone can bring full healing and redemption, would come and make all things right. 

This article (c) by Sarah Williamson was first published in The Lois Project

The Lois Project is a group of Christian women from various cities, countries, and church backgrounds who feel a common call to be disciples on mission in all seasons of life. Most of us find ourselves in a season of care-giving as mothers, grandmothers, mentors, or teachers. 

Many of our writers are part of an international, ecumenical Christian community called The Sword of the Spirit. Although we come from Catholic, Orthodox, or Protestant traditions we seek to foster unity among these groups and work together. 
Instagram: @theloisproject

Photo credits: Caedy Convis Photography

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