“What do I do next?,” is one of the frequent questions I receive when I’m counseling someone through difficult circumstances or in the wake of a great tragedy. When a husband loses his spouse of sixty years, there is unquestionably a great sense of loss, and a loss of a sense of direction and purpose. What was established and settled is now gone. In the wake of the loss of a child, for example, I’ve had a father ask me, “What can I do? I don’t even know what to say or think or how to help my family through this difficult time.” I think in such circumstances, both of which were real counseling situations, these people thought they knew what Providence would bring them so they had things planned out. This wasn’t in any way sinful, but simply natural human inclination. When you go to bed in the evening, you fully expect to wake up to the sunrise. If the sun didn’t rise, you would naturally be at a loss regarding what you should do.
In these challenging circumstances the best advice I have heard, and therefore it is the advice that I have given others is, “Do the next thing.” Rather than trying to figure out the future, which is basically impossible to do, and rather than try to plan out the next week, month, year, and decade, simply do the next thing. What do I mean? Well, if it’s time to eat, feed yourself. If it’s time to go to bed, go to bed. If it’s time to go to work, go to work. Do the next thing. People naturally want to figure out the future in the face of uncertainty and disruption—they want stability. But only God knows the future and the only thing we have is the moment. We don’t have the past, we don’t have the future, but we do have the present. So that means, for the time being, just do the next thing, whatever that might be. This is, I believe, good advice for several reasons.
First, while we do not know what the future holds, God does. And he will continue to care for us as we travel through life. Second, we can become so worried about the future that we fail to care for the present and those who are around us. I once counseled a mother who lost a child, “Don’t be afraid to mourn. It’s ok to cry, and it’s perfectly ok to lay yourself bare before Christ in prayer to let him know how hurt you are. But don’t forget about the two beautiful children you have right now. Do the next thing. It’s almost time for dinner—ensure that you feed them, and feed yourself. Then do the next thing. Get them ready for bed. Before long you will realize the bigger picture and the Lord will direct your steps through the healing process.” And, third, as we do the next thing we can begin, hopefully, to recognize that God is presently sustaining us through our trial or tragedy.
So, when tragedy strikes, resist the temptation to have everything immediately figured out. Rest in Christ and take things slowly, one step at a time. Do the next thing.