I bagged rice on a co-op line elbow-to-elbow with a peaceful woman who was the mother of five children and several foster children, and was involved in the pro-life movement. I asked how she did it, and to her credit she didn't brush off the question with feigned modesty, but said, "I do the next thing that needs to be done."
I have pondered that statement for years, the distillation of a lady's life of wisdom. Laurie is a Christian, so I know what lay unspoken in her answer: God is sovereign, and God is good. Indeed, it cannot be otherwise if one would simply "do the next thing that needs to be done."
First, if God were not in perfect control, Laurie would have to control all things, even every atom in the universe, to assure a desirable outcome. But she knows she cannot in fact control all things, not even the next two minutes, and so she concedes control to Him.
Second, she believes that the God who controls all things controls them for her good (Romans 8:28). On these twin pillars does her soul find rest.
Laurie's Bible also contains commands, rules to live by. And so, what Laurie has done, evidently, is to divide life into two categories: the things she can and must do something about, and the things she cannot and must not, for they belong to God (Deuteronomy 29:29).
Mary the mother of Jesus was hep to that division of labor. She "did the next thing" during an awkward wedding moment. Being lousy at making water into wine, she turned to her Son and said, "They have no wine," then went on her merry way to do whatever it was she was able to do herself-folding tablecloths or stalling thirsty guests. Jesus, not one to turn down people who come to Him for help while acknowledging their own helplessness, performed the harder part.
Am I too busy these days? Discouraged over duties left undone? I will preach to myself that there is only one priority-the glory of God-and under that the several duties. When these come flying fast and thick, I will do triage and decide what should come "next." It's God's problem, not mine, to orchestrate the universe and make it all pan out.
Am I fearful? Fear is a focus on phantoms of the theoretical future. But the future is God's, not mine; mine is only the present moment. I am fearful because I'm thinking I have to live the rest of my life. But I don't. I only have to live the next five minutes. To me belongs obedience; to Him belongs outcomes.
We have so far discussed in general terms. But life does not throw up "general terms"; it throws up brutal concreteness: No one's been fed dinner; Aimee is having a sixth-grade crisis; the roof leaks; unread newspapers pile up like an indictment. I will review what I know of God, and do "the next thing." His job is making it all work.
Am I depressed? The concept of doing "the next thing" is just the ticket. Granted, I am far too weak to go on with life-but I can do a load of laundry. And after that I can make the kids breakfast. And after that I can pick up the phone and call a deacon for help on balancing that checkbook. One foot in front of the other: Do "the next thing."
Have I totally messed up my life? Fine, make a list. Here are the things I cannot do: I cannot turn back the clock, I cannot cork up sinful words once spoken, I cannot take back squandered opportunities in career or love. But here are things I can do: I can start from today-with today's time, today's skills, today's health, today's grace. I can do this trusting, even at this stage of the game, that God is still sovereign and still good. And faith, come to think of it, is the whole enchilada.
The lady at the co-op was a well-placed prophet. And said it more succinctly than this writer could.