Let me tell you about the next right thing.
If you’re like me and you depend on your best friends knowing the contents of your closet to decide what to wear to work at least once a week - or you’re in the middle of a big life transition - or you’re just plain worn out and stuck when it comes to making decisions - I can’t possibly recommend more highly that you pick up a copy of Emily P. Freeman’s new book, “The Next Right Thing.” It is practical, it is kind, and it will help you take whatever step God has planned for you moving forward.
For 24 days in the month of April, Emily P. Freeman is hosting an Instagram challenge based on the practices found in the book. Once I started considering the prompts, I realized I had a lot more words than I had time to write a daily Instagram post for, so I’m sharing my responses to the daily prompts in this space instead, in the hopes that they encourage you and challenge you to turn to God with a curiousity about what your next right thing in His will might be.
Day One // Pay Attention
For the better part of a year now, God has been bringing to my attention the story of Jesus calming the storm on the Sea of Galilee told in Matthew 14, Mark 6, and John 6. It's cropped up in conversation, podcasts, sermons, stories. At first I thought it was just a coincidence, as I was studying Peter at the time and obviously, his walk on the waves is a pretty big part of his story. But slowly and gently, God began to draw me out of Matthew 14 and the wave-walking portion of the story to Mark 6 and John 6, the parts where the disciples worship, but do not understand the full weight of the miracle yet.
Maybe I don't either. I've been waiting for a few dozen miracles, it feels like, and I've yet to see most of them calm my storm. In fact, sometimes it feels like I've just been passed along from one storm to another, clinging to the boat for dear life and screaming at the ghouls around me.
But what if they're not ghouls, like the storm makes them seem to the disciples and to me, what if they are Jesus? Always walking beside the boat no matter how battered it gets. Ready to reassure with an “I am - don't be afraid” whenever I'm overcome by fear.
Maybe that's the miracle.
Day Two // Find Silence
For Lent this year, I fasted from watching TV. Not perfectly. But I tried very hard and intentionally to replace the time I would usually spend binging How I Met Your Mother or The Great British Bake Off - times when just one episode while I eat lunch would turn into just one more while I clean up from lunch and yet still into maybe I’ll stop sometime, I sat down and I’m tired - with something different. A book, a podcast, a phone call or a message to a friend, even time spent actually reading blog posts or captions on Instagram. Just not something that would suck me into spending hours of my life in a way I realized I no longer wanted to spend them.
At first, I thought it was about being more productive. But I’ve slowly realized that it’s actually about being more intentional with what I consume. I see a lot about the evils of social media, technology, and cell phones - but when I choose to get on Instagram not to see what I’ve missed, but curious to read the content other creators are putting out into the world, I come away from it very differently.
I might have filled my former TV time with more words, not silence - but it turns out silencing one source is what creates space for those that are more life-giving in the long term.
Day 3 // Name the Narrative
I haven’t been sleeping well lately. I can straight pass out if I take a nap in the middle of the day, but when 11, 11:30 ( . . . sometimes later, I’m in grad school) rolls around, I toss and turn and try just about everything to turn my brain off before it goes down sixty-five hundred rabbit holes of worry, confusion, to-do lists, and self-doubt. As a result, I sleep poorly, dragging myself out of bed exhausted the next morning.
The other day, as I bounced back up from a Sunday afternoon nap, ready to tackle some more studying, I realized why it was so much easier to fall asleep during the day - I thought it was safe. There was still plenty more time left in the day to accomplish whatever goal I’d set for myself that day, be it personal, spiritual, or academic. I logically knew that the rest I got by falling asleep would propel me further towards that goal, which I was mentally holding myself accountable to completing by the end of the day. A check off my countdown calendar. A slash through a sentence in my planner.
That invisible finish line I’d set for myself made me fearful as I fell asleep once the day was done. All logic went out the window, crowded out by thoughts of other goals I could have met and other tasks that remained unfinished, relegated to another day.
What I thought was just an insomnia problem turned out to have a very different name: fear of running out of time in a season of transition. Counterintuitively, naming the feeling as fear made it more approachable, making a bit more room for positive change.
Day 4 // Imagine God
In February, I went to a local livestream of the IF: Gathering, essentially a Christian women's conference featuring some of my favorite speakers and writers. The fun thing about the local event was that at all the points when the streamed event in Texas was worshipping before and between the speakers, our group turned off the screens, and the worship band from a local church began to lead us in our own time of worship.
I almost didn't go. The friend I planned to go with had a conflict, and I didn't feel like I had the mental or emotional energy to be around perfect strangers for five or six hours, two days in a row. It was the end of another long, hectic week balancing wedding planning, school, work, and the job search. Besides hearing some of my favorite writers speak in real-time, I wasn't sure why I felt so strongly compelled to go.
But five minutes into worship, I closed my eyes and whispered - I missed you. In my mind’s eye, He was hovering right between my shoulder blades, patiently waiting for me to see Him, to repair the breakdown in communication and connection that my constant focus on my own definition of my work had created. I logically knew God hadn’t gone anywhere - but unintentionally, I had. In the middle of the hurry and the mess, I'd been feeling further from God than I wanted to be, but not sure how to fix it.
Turns out, I needed to be in a room of perfect strangers, a space dedicated to knowing God more. I needed to be at that IF: Local to hear the answer.
Start listening. He has been there all along.
Day 5 // Move On With Your Day As Normal
My days are never normal. Every day of the week has a different schedule depending on my classes, tutoring shifts, research meetings, and plans with friends or family. Every week, at least one of those is cancelled, rescheduled, or otherwise altered. So when I think about giving up whatever part of a decision or next step I’m worried about to God and moving along with my day as normal, it stirs a little panic in my soul. What is normal?
Today, I needed to study for my exams, so my version of normal was spending the morning at Starbucks, working my tutoring shift, and heading to the other Starbucks in town for the rest of the afternoon. I was on my fourth, maybe fifth hour of the day paging through, highlighting, and rewriting notes and my head was starting to feel heavy, a tension headache forming between my eyes. In my periphery, a man I’d seen there a few times before walked into the Starbucks, greeted the baristas by name, and asked his for his usual. I tuned back out, refocused on the pages in front of me.
“You’re gonna do it.”
I glanced up sharply, as there were only four people in the whole Starbucks and no one else was sitting near me. The man stood waiting for his drink and pointed a finger at me. “I see you working. You’re gonna do it. I know it. You’ve got this.”
He didn’t know me, what I was studying, or what it was for. He didn’t need to. It was just his normal to come to Starbucks for an afternoon cup of coffee and engage with the people around him. It was my normal to come to Starbucks when studying got hard and discouraging. And when our normals intersected, it was a really sweet reminder that our expectations, fears, and unmade decisions are always heard when we give them up to God.
The way He transforms normal into a moment of extraordinary encouragement proves that normal, in fact, where He works the best kind of miracle surprises for our good and His glory.
Day 6 // Say “I Don’t Know (Yet)”
This year, I’m going to be a beginner at a lot of things. A new wife, a new teacher, with a new last name on a new driver’s license in a new state. There are decisions piling up, and sometimes they feel endless: which jobs to interview for, what area to live in, what shoes my bridesmaids should wear, what material and method to study for my comprehensive exams.
I don’t know yet what being married feels like. I don’t know yet how to achieve a solid work-life balance. I definitely don’t know what shoes to order. I know the material, but I don’t know what questions will be asked on the exam.
I do know this: there are some decisions that come with eternal significance attached, and some that do not. Shoes? Not so much. Preparing for marriage? Very much so. Acing my comprehensive exams? Would be great, but it’s an accolade I can’t take with me - passing is fine. Being a kind first year teacher? Because I count caring for students as Kingdom work, absolutely. Being a first year teacher with a perfect evaluation score? Not eternally significant.
Ever since God laid that question on my heart, when I get overwhelmed, the first thing I do is create a chain of priorities based on the rule of eternal significance. Because there’s a lot I don’t know, but I do know that what I do with God and for His kingdom is absolutely the next right thing.