Just do the Next Thing

What Do I Want to Do NextAre you a control freak?

I sure am. I love plans. I want to know what’s going to happen when. I want to have a 5-year-plan, and a 10-year-plan. It’s really bugging me now that my girls are older that I don’t know who they’re going to marry (or when. I totally believe they will). I feel like I should have more of a say in that.

We like knowing the future.

When I read Becky Avella’s book “And Then You Were Gone” about her miscarriages, she talked about it, too. One of the hardest things is that you think you’ve got your life planned out, and then you’re thrown this horrible curve ball. And we don’t know how to handle it.

My mom’s a career counsellor, and she meets with clients who need a change or who are very unhappy in their jobs. And the problem is that as much as they want to change, they feel like they can’t, because they don’t know what they want to do for the rest of their careers. And Mom always gives them the same answer.

“You don’t need to decide what you want to do with the rest of your life. You just have to decide what you want to do next.”

Don’t plan your whole life out; just do the next thing.

I think that’s brilliant (as a lot of what my mother says is brilliant). As much as we may want God to, I’ve rarely found that he reveals His whole purpose for us ahead of time. I’d love to have a road map for my life, but that’s not how God works. And if He doesn’t tell you what your whole life is supposed to look like, then why do we think we have to have it all figured out? I have known people to agonize over this–what do I want to do with my life?–so much that they fail to do anything. They’re waiting for that lightning bolt from heaven and it doesn’t come.

Even the apostle Paul didn’t know what his whole life would be like. He always just decided what he was going to do next, not what he was going to do years and years from now. In Acts 16 we read about how he planned to go to Asia, and all the doors kept closing, so he went to Europe instead (where his first convert was a woman, by the way). And in his letters, he always said, “I am planning on coming to see you,” but he never really knew. Even his future was veiled.

And that’s what life is like. Our future is veiled. So all we can ask is, “what am I supposed to do next?”

I’m in the middle of one of those periods, and I’ve found it very stressful. I have a ton of potential speaking engagements on my plate, and my agent is shopping around two different books for me, both of which have publishers’ interest. And I’ve got another ebook I’m trying to write, and a Second Edition of another book I have to finish. It’s overwhelming. And I’m always trying to map out how I’ll get everything done, which just makes me feel worse.

So I’ve tried doing something totally different. Instead of asking, “when am I going to do each of these things?”, I’ve started asking, “what am I going to do next?” That tends to solidify my priorities. And when you figure out what you’re going to do next, then usually the other things end up lining up in the right order, too.

If your kids are getting older and going to school, and you want to go back to work, but you can’t picture a career you want to do for the next thirty years, why not simply ask, “what do I want to do now?” You can always change later!

If your kids are about to move out, and you’re going to have a ton of time on your hands suddenly, don’t think, “what do I want to do until retirement?” Just think, “what do I want to do next?”

If you’re considering joining a ministry at church, but you don’t know if you can commit long-term, just ask, “what do I want to do now?”

If you have a ton on your to-do list, and you can’t manage it all, don’t try to decide when you’ll get it all done. Just ask, “what one task do I want to do next?” Then do that task.

If you’re in a transition time with a move, or with your kids, or even with your marriage, you don’t need to know how it all turns out. You just need to ask, “what do I want to do next?”

And that’s true with how we handle problems in marriage, too. We don’t have to have it all figured out. We don’t have to ask, “how much will I put up with?”, or “when is enough enough?”, or even “can I ever get through this depression and feeling like I’m not where I belong?” You just need to ask, “for today, God, what will you have me do?” And ask people to pray through that with you. And you’ll find that things start to fall into place.

You do not need to know the future.

God is in the present with you, right now, and wants to help you today. But He doesn’t help by revealing His whole plan, or we wouldn’t need to trust. He nudges us quietly in certain directions, and molds us as we make little decisions: “what do I want to do next?”

The next time you’re trying to figure out your life, stop. Take a deep breath. And reframe the question. What do I want to do next? Then do that next thing, and that will get you on the right path to what God ultimately has planned for you.

Comments

  1. Thanks so much. I needed this post today. :)

  2. This is really encouraging for me right now! I have NO IDEA where life is going to take us over the next few years, and it drives me so very crazy. I don’t know where we will live, what work we will do, or really anything. And I love thinking about the future, and making plans, and even speculating. So this whole not having much info to work with is a bit annoying. Anyhow, this is a good approach you are taking here. Thanks!

    • I’m glad I encouraged you! I like planning, too–and sometimes I just have to turn that side of my brain off and say, “I’m just going to jump in and trust!” But it can be so hard…

  3. Love this idea! I have been trying to live this way for the last few months without really putting it into words, but it is working. You always seem to know what I need to hear. I know it is a God thing, but thank you for listening to His calling for your life!

  4. I totally needed this reminder today. It’s so easy to get wrapped up in our futures and try to plan everything out but it doesn’t work that way. I’m in one of those periods where I just need to focus on what’s next. We just had our third miscarriage and my mind automatically goes to whether we would consider IVF or adopting or what. But I keep trying to tell myself to slow down and just take it one day at a time. So I’m focusing on getting a referral to a specialist in Toronto. Once we meet with him, I’ll focus on what tests need to be done. And then we’ll take each thing as it comes and make decisions at that time.

    Also, I recently quit my job to be a stay-at-home-wife and I know that this may not be a permanent thing. I’m taking it one month at at time and seeing where it leads.

    So thank you for posting this today.
    jenn0021 recently posted…Curried LentilsMy Profile

    • Wow, Jenn, you’re walking through such a hard road right now. It’s in those hard places where it’s especially hard to trust. It sounds like you’ve got just the right attitude, so keep forging ahead, and know that He is carrying you and is preparing the way, even if you don’t always see it.

  5. I so needed to see this today! Thank you so much for sharing this.
    Dottie recently posted…Gratituesday: Thankful for WaitingMy Profile

  6. I love planning. In fact, I practically live by lists and schedules. However, there are times when something unexpected happens and the laundry and dishes pile up, the dining room table becomes covered in stacks of junk mail, and my uncompleted to-do list grows to a mile in length.
    In these times, the only way to move forward is to “do the next thing.” I often lose sight of this.
    Thanks for the reminder!
    Shannon recently posted…Setting Goals as a CoupleMy Profile

  7. Sheila,

    Thank you so much for this post. I love everything you write! But this one in particular hit home for me. I’m an empty nester getting ready to make another move and for the longest time now I’ve been asking “what’s my purpose, what am I supposed to be doing for the rest of my life”? You have just answered that question for me! It really will be just that simple. Just to say to myself what should I do next?

    Thanks again,
    Patti

  8. Stephanie P says:

    Wow! Can I just say Thank you so much for this Sheila!!! I, like the others commenting love lists and plans and I guess for me at least it is a control issue too….And if I feel uncertain about what I’m supposed to do I feel anxious and worrisome. What if I don’t have it all figured out? I’m 33 and my husband and I are trying to plan for our retirement, but in all honesty I don’t feel I’ve even started my career…I’ve got a great job…and work for a great company…but I can think of a lot of other things I’d like to try and know i’d be great at…could even use as a ministry….but with kids and bills and retirement plans ahead….should I even try? Sometimes it’s also easy to get caught up in what others might think of my appearance of wishy-washy….Why do I even care??? pride, i guess….Is there really one thing in life that I’m supposed to be doing….or does what I do really even matter (as long as it doesn’t go against God’s word of course)? i just finished my business/accounting degree in 2012 and still can’t get an entry level job without experience! I now truly believe a college degree is a waste of time and money…..not in every circumstance….but in several areas…..Sorry, I’m all over the place….I really want to just let go like you talk about….

    • I think it’s when we let go that God often nudges us in the right direction. But we have to take that leap first.

  9. It’s funny, because I find myself agreeing and disagreeing with you at the same time. On the one hand that is kind of my philosophy. On the other my family finds itself in a stage of life, where we really don’t know what’s next, which will affect our future. You see my husband is currently unemployed. He is an amazing special ed teacher, but with budgets and seniority and things he just isn’t employed right now. He’s also still burned out from the last few years (special ed is emotionally very exhausting). So, we find ourselves at the spot where we are just wondering what other career he might like to pursue. But in his 40s that is a tough thing to just start over, with no qualifications other than teaching. So, while I like the idea of a simple “what’s the one next step” approach, the fact remains that next is a big deal. Well, hopefully we’ll figure it out.

    • That is a hard place to be! Here’s what my mom says when she counsels people in your husband’s position: Sometimes what makes us freeze and makes us scared is that we think the next job we have has to be our last one–we’re deciding what we’re going to do for the rest of our lives. That’s not true. You can do something for just a few years that tides you over until you have more flexibility to pursue more schooling, or decide what else you want to do. If we give ourselves the freedom to realize that our NEXT job doesn’t have to be our LAST, sometimes it’s easier to move forward.

  10. Sheila, this is such a good reminder for me to take one step at a time.

    I am reading this in the middle of the night as I battle with a trauma that has left me with fear and a shattered inner peace. I wonder how I will ever be my ‘normal’ self again and yet if I look back, progress has been made and I praise God for that. Aiming for small steps of what I do next feels manageable and although I believe God could bring instant healing, your post has made me realise He will be with me through the process too. Thank you – your words have brought great encouragement!

  11. “Don’t plan your whole life out; just do the next thing.” So true! Three years ago my last got married and moved out and my first thought was “what now?” “What do I want to be when I grow up?” I had no clue and honestly I fumbled and muddles through until about 6 months ago when I just decided to do the next thing. I decided to just go with my passions and gifting. I am loving it!
    Sharon recently posted…This is Life. This is Marriage.My Profile

  12. Hey have you ever read Elisabeth Elliot she used to say that very thing. Just do the next thing. Great timeless advice.

  13. Your blogs are so encouraging! Thank you! We are in the middle of some changes also… my husband has had 4 shoulder surgeries in the last 12 yrs, he was a truck driver for years. Most people think he just sits and drives all day, but he doesn’t. It’s a very hard work, lifting heavy objects and such. Anyways, long story short… since his last shoulder surgery in 2011 his doctor told him to get out of that occupation. Well we listened and started other jobs that do not pay anywhere near as well but sucked it up for a while. He is about to graduate from an online school next month. Unfortunately, we could no longer handle such a pay cut and he went back to driving temporarily, he is having a hard time finding a job in his new field because he has no experience… I don’t understand that. How do you get experience for a new career if no-one will hire you? Anyways, he has not given up and has been praying about it… I know everything will work out. It’s just so frustrating! So we are trying to take it one day at a time. What comes next. :)

  14. A friend posted a link to this post on Facebook Wednesday. That morning I had firmly decided to look forward and stop worrying about down the road in order to face “the next step” in a career change I was not pursuing by choice. This was an affirmation that I was doing what I need to do right now. The friend also pointed out that it was from one Sheila to another and he wondered if there was a significance. I read this on my phone moments before another affirmation from a different source. I would prefer God write things in big letters across the sky, but that usually isn’t His way. This week He used your words to remind me that if I step out in faith, He will guide me. Thank you for your timely, encouraging post.

  15. I have read this more than once. I am in the “what do I do next” stage right now. We have a 4 yr old and a 1 yr old. I am a stay-at-home mom and trying to figure out, “what am I going to do next”? I have been praying about it. I know that I am where I am supposed to be in life right now. But when the kiddos go to school, I will need to go back to work. But I am not sure what I am supposed to do. I think if I need to further my education, then I need to get to it. But with an associates degree and another license, I cannot make enough to warrant me working. I want to help financially and seeing how my mom has struggled since my dad’s death, I want to make sure I can provide for our kiddos if something were to happen to my hubby. So, I ask, what would you suggest I do next? I need some advice. Thanks.

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  1. […] goals.  This past week I read this great post from Sheila at To Love, Honor and Vacuum called Just Do The Next Thing.  Instead of trying to plan your whole life out, just do the next thing.  Love that!  “If […]

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