• Isa

Do The Next Thing: Getting Things Done When Life Is Chaotic

I have been very blessed over the last few years to build a career working at home, and this was after having two little boys within two years.

I also homeschool, with the help of my awesome husband who quit his own job to pick up the slack at home.

People often tell me "I don't know how you do it all," which makes me feel very odd considering I usually feel like I'm barely scraping by.

I've come a long way since the messy, stressful baby years, that's for sure. I've heard the little years referred to as "mommy boot camp" and I think this couldn't be truer. Having a job was simply like having another child and I've found that, now that everyone is potty trained and I've been working for several years and have developed a very healthy obsession with planning, time management, and household hacks, I can manage far more tasks than I ever imagined I could.

That being said, there are still so many days when the overwhelming to-do list that I meticulously update each day is just that, overwhelming. When I have a mountain of work to do, I get so anxious it's hard to focus on even getting started and I find myself procrastinating at the worst possible time.

Earlier this year, I had the great pleasure of reading Suffering Is Never for Nothing by Elisabeth Elliot (I'll definitely have to write a post in the future about how I manage to find time to read since this is something that also shocks fellow moms!)

It is a wonderful, theologically-rich read that is written in such a real, raw way that makes it feel more like an encouraging conversation than a book. And while the content of the book certainly touches on suffering far greater than an overwhelming to-do list, one of my biggest takeaways has helped me immensely to tackle this beast.

If you aren't familiar with Elisabeth's story, she and her husband were missionaries in Ecuador when she was a young woman, when her husband, Jim, was killed by local natives as he attempted to share the Gospel with them. Later, when she remarried, her second husband passed away from cancer. So when it comes to suffering, she sure knows what she's talking about.

She shares a very simple lesson she's taken from her suffering: do the next thing.

Simple, but profound. She shares how it got her through her husband's death when she had missionary duties in a land that was not her own and had essentially no other option but to simply, well, do the next thing.

There’s an old legend, I’m told, inscribed in a parsonage in England somewhere on the sea coast, a Saxon legend that said, “Do the next thing.” I don’t know any simpler formula for peace, for relief from stress and anxiety than that very practical, very down-to-earth word of wisdom. Do the next thing. That has gotten me through more agonies than anything else I could recommend.

And when I found out that my husband was dead, I had gone out to the missionary aviation base in a place called Shell Mera, the edge of the jungle, to be with the other four wives as we waited for word about our husbands. And when the word finally came that all five of the men had been speared to death then, of course, we had decisions to make. Were we going to go back to our jungle stations or what were we going to do.

And I went back to my jungle station. I had never considered any other alternative because for one thing, I had been a missionary before I ever married Jim Elliot, before I was even engaged to Jim Elliot. So, nothing had changed as far as my missionary call was concerned. But I had to go back to a station where there was no other missionary and try to do the work that two of us had been doing between us. So it wasn’t as though I was without things to keep me occupied.

I had a school of about forty boys to sort of oversee. I wasn’t the teacher but I was in charge of things in a sense. I had a brand new church of about fifty baptized believers with no Scriptures in their hands and I was supposed to be the one doing the translating. I had a literacy class of about twelve girls that I was teaching to read in their own language so that eventually they could learn to read the Bible translation that I was working on at the same time. I had a ten-month-old baby for whom to care. I had a thousand details of running things on a jungle station like learning how to run a diesel generator, giving out medicines right and left, and delivering babies in between times.

I really didn’t have time to sit down and have a pity party and sink into a puddle of self-pity. I did the next thing. And there was always a next thing after that. And I have found many times in my life, such as again after the death of my second husband, just the very fact that although I was living in a very civilized house, I had dishes to wash. I had floors to clean. I had laundry to do. It was my salvation.


Pretty humbling. As you can imagine, this struck me pretty hard. If she could find, as she says, salvation, in doing dishes and taking care of her child and helping with the local school in a time of immeasurable grief and horror by simply doing the next thing, I could probably manage to do the next thing when my biggest challenge is my everyday tasks.

Amazingly, though, the incredibly down-to-earth Elisabeth goes on to explain that she would later apply this lesson to a situation that is far more familiar to the average mom:

A couple of years ago, I had the privilege and fun of taking care of four of my grandchildren while their parents were away for a trip and had taken the newborn fifth child with them. That was the only time when I’ve ever had the chance to do that. My grandchildren live in Southern California and I live in the Northeast. So I’m one of the lonely grandmothers as opposed to the exhausted ones. After the first day my daughter had the thoughtfulness to call that evening. And she said, “Well momma, how are you doing?” And I said, “Well they’re wonderful children and they’re very obedient and everything. But I don’t know whether I’m going to make it through the next four days.” I was tired, to say the least. I had to ask the question that my daughter really doesn’t like me to ask, “How do you do it?” Because every minute of the day I’m thinking, I’m going all day long with things that need to be done every second, but my daughter has a nursing baby which takes about six more hours in the day. I kept thinking, how does she do it? How does she do it?

So, I had to ask the question. I knew she didn’t want me to. But I said, “Val, how do you do it?” She laughed on the phone and she said, “Momma, I do just what you taught me years ago. I do the next thing.” She told me not to think about all the things you have to do. Just do the next thing. So I took her advice and we got through the next four days triumphantly, not just somehow. But it is acceptance that enabled me to do that because I really believed that this was not an accident.

Don't think about all the things you have to do. Just do the next thing.

Such a simple and yet powerful concept.

I believe the Proverbs 31 woman knew this, as, after all, she "laughed without fear at the future." And she most certainly had a pretty long to-do list!

Focusing on all the other things we have to do takes energy away from the task at hand. We are told in Scripture, "And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord," (Col 3:23 KJV). In other words, put all your energy into all your tasks, because it's all for the glory of God.

So if you're overwhelmed with tasks today, well, do the next thing. Take it from there. You got this.

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