You’re in a state of desperation. Panic. Depression. You can’t think straight let alone act. “What am I supposed to do now?” you ask. Easy answers are insulting, save this one: Do the next thing.
WHAT AM I SUPPOSED TO DO NOW?
You may think you’re already doing this, but I’ve got a hunch you aren’t, really.
Spend just one minute. Time yourself.
You won’t solve any problems within the next minute, and your worries will be there waiting for you after, so let them go for sixty seconds. Follow this rhythm:
- Inhale through your nose, into your belly. Feel it expand.
- Slowly release the air through your nose.
- Inhale again while you count to 4.
- Pause for a second, holding that breath.
- Exhale slowly while you count to 6.
- Now put your left hand over your heart and your right hand on your belly.
- Inhale slowly into your belly, as you count to 4.
- Pause for a second.
- Exhale even more slowly as you count to 6. Feel your tummy fall.
- Keep this up until the timer goes off. Or, if you can muster it, continue for five minutes.
Breathing like this is scientifically proven to calm your nervous system. It takes a lot of discipline, when you’re in panic mode, to focus on the breath. You’ll be comforted to know that even one minute will make a difference.
WHAT IS THE NEXT THING?
The next thing may be one of the following, or something else entirely. You decide what you need to do, or pick from the list below:
- Pet your cat.
- Take a shower.
- Wash your hair.
- Organize your desk.
- Trim and file your fingernails. Apply some lotion if you like.
- Wash your face.
- Step outside. If you’re up for it, go for a ten minute walk.
- Peel and chop the carrots in the fridge so they’re ready to eat. Then eat one.
- Slowly massage your hands and fingers. Be kind to your hands. They do a lot for you.
- Wash the dishes.
- Put on some lip balm.
- Sweep up the mess. Select a place to start and a piece to pick up. Start with one thing. The next moment, another.
- Pay one bill.
- Sort the laundry into piles.
THE IMPORTANCE OF DOING SMALL THINGS
Do these small things seem unimportant?
They aren’t — they are tiny steps in the right direction. And although they aren’t the answer, they are steps on the way to the answer. They are part of a process.
How do I know this? From personal experience. Having dealt with depression and anxiety, I know that just taking a shower can be huge. It seems like an impossible task. But after you do it you feel just a bit more human.
WHAT AM I SUPPOSED TO DO NOW?
Don’t analyze what you’re doing! Just do it.
Avoid critiquing the process.
Decide to peel those carrots and then do it. Never mind stressing over how well you’re doing it while you’re doing it.
Don’t fret over whether you rinsed enough conditioner out of your hair (or too much?).
These are anxious, obsessive thoughts. Notice them and let them go. Focus again on the task at hand. Simply.
Pay attention to the sensations in your body. How does the water feel on your skin? Do the carrots smell fresh?
If you feel numb, that’s okay. Don’t try to make anything happen.
WHY IS IT IMPORTANT TO DO THE NEXT THING?
When you do the next thing you are drawn into the present moment. This is the only place where anything can really happen. The past is gone and the future is not yet. You have this moment. That’s it. The future comes by one breath, one moment at a time.
Do you fear your future? Then consider this: the most powerful Being in the universe holds that future — and loves you beyond measure. The only place you can meet with Him is in the present, right where you are.
That breath you just took was a gift from God. Maybe you didn’t want it, but it was still a gift. Receive it.
Then exhale and make space for the next.
Not My Idea.
This process for working through anxiety, grief and depression is not my idea. Do the Next Thing is something I learned from Elisabeth Elliot. She has since passed away, but I will never forget what I learned from her at a weekend conference she gave in North Carolina, October of 1998.
The topic was suffering. What gave her the credentials to speak to this? Suffering of her own, of course. Elisabeth’s husband, Jim Elliot was murdered on January 8th, 1956, by a group of Huaorani warriors in Ecuador.
“What am I supposed to do now?” she asked.
A few years later God called Elisabeth to return, along with her young daughter, to continue her husband’s missionary work. Remarkably, she did just that, bringing the love of Jesus to the very men who killed Jim.
Time passed, and back in the United States, she met and married Addison Leitch. Tragically, several years later Addison died from cancer.
After years of ministry and writing, Elisabeth married her third husband, Lars Gren, who was determined to outlive her.
She Did the Next Thing — So Can You.
What makes Elisabeth so special? It’s not merely that she suffered. We all suffer.
Yes, there’s the magnitude, the murder, the public nature of it all. But more importantly, it’s the way she handled it. It’s how real she was with God. She faithfully she trusted Him, and funneled the comfort He gave her into the lives of others.
In her book, Gateway to Joy, Elisabeth shares:
When I went back to my jungle station after the death of my first husband, Jim Elliot, I was faced with many confusions and uncertainties. I had a good many new roles, besides that of being a single parent and a widow. Alone on a jungle station that Jim and I had manned together, I had to learn all kinds of things — things which I was not trained or prepared in any way to do. It was a great help to me simply to do the next thing.
Elisabeth didn’t come up with Do the Next Thing on her own either.
An old poem, anonymously written, planted this kernel of wisdom. She made copies of it and shared these with us at the conference. I still have mine. May these words refresh you for the journey ahead, as it comes to you moment by moment:
“From an old English parsonage, down by the sea, there came in the twilight a message to me;
Its quaint Saxon legend, deeply engraven, hath, as it seems to me, teaching from Heaven.
And on through the hours the quiet words ring like a low inspiration — “DO THE NEXT THING.”
Many a questioning, many a fear, many a doubt hath its quieting here.
Moment by moment, let down from Heaven, time, opportunity, guidance are given.
Fear not tomorrows, Child of the King, trust them with Jesus, “DO THE NEXT THING.”
Do it immediately, do it with prayer, do it reliantly, casting all care;
Do it with reverence, tracing His Hand who placed it before thee with earnest command.
Stayed on Omnipotence, safe ‘neath His wing, leave all resultings, “DO THE NEXT THING.”
Looking to Jesus, ever serener, (working or suffering) be thy demeanor,
In His dear presence, the rest of His calm, the light of His countenance be thy psalm,
Strong in His faithfulness, praise and sing,
Then, as he beckons thee, “DO THE NEXT THING.”
WHAT’S NEXT FOR YOU?
It could be a phone call to a friend.
Maybe a good night’s sleep.
Perhaps it’s an appointment with your doctor or counselor.
Assuredly, the road ahead may be long. Be that as it may, the step you’re on now is the only one to ponder.
Let me finish with Elisabeth, who puts things so well:
What is the next thing for you to do? Small duties, perhaps? Jobs that nobody will notice as long as you do them? … Are you asked to take some great responsibility, which you really don’t feel qualified to do? You don’t have to do the whole think right this minute, do you? I can tell you one thing you do have to do right this minute. It’s the one thing that is required of all of us every minute of every day. Trust in the living God.
I value your feedback. Thoughts. Questions. Comments. Leave them below and I will always respond. Blessings, Ali 🙂
Well said Ali! We all have moments where this is the best and only advise that can be heard, received and put into action. Thank you for sharing it and the wisdom of truth being passed down from soul to soul to soul…generational kingdom truths ❤️
Mmmmm. So good! I love how you mentioned “the wisdom of truth being passed down from soul to soul to soul … generational kingdom truths.” I hadn’t actually thought of that! That’s so cool – the old anonymous poet from centuries ago to Elisabeth Elliot and then to me (and many others), and then to those reading this article. I am blessed by your comments. 😊
This is such timely, practical and inspirational advice — starting with ‘deep breathing’ and ending with ‘Trust in the living God’. Thank you, Ali!
Glad you were blessed by this. 😊
Thank you for these wonderful reminders! One little thing at a time.
Yes. Because the little things matter. This moment matters. Thanks for your feedback!