My friend Joanne was continually clearing off her kitchen table–with little success to show for her valiant efforts. Whenever we talked on the phone, I could hear her moving about, tethered by a 1970’s era phone cord, and I knew what she was doing. She was clearing off the kitchen table. Again. Even so, whenever I visited, the piles had returned, and books, mail, groceries, and newspapers would need to be swept to one side, a vivid, visual image of her hospitable heart making room for me in her full and busy life.
In the decades that have passed since my last visit with Joanne, there have been seasons in which my soul felt like her kitchen table, weighted down with untidy piles that I shuffled and moved around, but never really tended to. The clutter never failed to get in the way of what I was trying to accomplish.
Emily P. Freeman has just such a table in her own backstory, and when she set out to produce a podcast and, eventually to write a book called The Next Right Thing: A Simple, Soulful Practice for Making Life Decisions, her goal was to share her own space-making practices. As we learn to clear our cluttered tables and souls, we make room for life-giving activities and create space for listening to the voice of God.
Decisions are Hard
According to Freeman’s research, American adults are privileged to make over 35,000 decisions every day, and over two hundred of these are about food. (14) With that in mind, as we clear away the chaos, priorities and categories become clearer, and we find, among all the daily decisions that there really is “space for our souls to breathe.”
Decisions are hard, and we want to make good ones. I, personally, want divine guidance on the level of sky writing: “Buy the Silver Honda” in puffy, white lettering against a blue sky of clarity. Since this has never been my experience, I’m in the market for quiet wisdom that will heighten my listening skills for the guidance God does choose to provide, and so I found myself pausing and paying attention to Emily’s gentle suggestions for discovering my Next Right Thing.
“Do the next thing” as a mantra and as marching orders came into its own through the ministry of Elisabeth Elliot, but it actually has its roots in an anonymous poem, assuring believers that “Many a questioning, many a fear, Many a doubt, hath its quieting here. Moment by moment, let down from Heaven, Time, opportunity, and guidance are given. Fear not tomorrow, child of the King, Trust that with Jesus, do the next thing. Certainly Jesus held to a “next right thing” mindset in his ministry among people. Whenever he told someone to hold out a hand, pick up a bed, wash in a pool, or go home, he was offering an object lesson in the importance of small acts of faithfulness.
Thoughts on Decluttering
Simple, soulful practices offered in The Next Right Thing bring grace to the reader’s cluttered table. For example, pro/con charts have been toxic for me in the past because I’m intent on (obsessed with) a successful outcome.
These thoughts felt like someone opened a window to the light and the fresh air:
- “You can only make decisions based on what you know at the time. We live in an outcomes-based culture where the correctness of our choice seems based on the success of the result… Successful outcomes might look great on paper, but we want to build our lives on love, faith, connectedness, redemption, laughter, wholeheartedness, joy, and peace.”
- “We make our list alongside Jesus and bring these things to him, asking him in every situation what he wants us to do. And then we trust that our desire can be trusted because he isn’t just with us; he lives within us and he’ll let us know what we need to know.”
Doing the next thing in love lightens the decision-making load by fine-tuning our focus. Following Jesus certainly involves multiple and complex choices over the course of a lifetime, but this is accomplished by following Jesus for the next ten minutes. And then the next. He has promised us light for our path, but most of the time my eyes are darting off the path, worried about eventualities that never materialize. By faith, we can clear away the clutter of indecision and walk with confidence and joy in the light that’s given as we do the next right thing.
Many thanks to Revell for providing a copy of this book to facilitate my review, which, of course, is offered freely and with honesty.
Trusting Jesus for today’s next right thing,
I am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate If you should decide to purchase The Next Right Thing: A Simple, Soulful Practice for Making Life Decisions, simply click on the title (or the image) within the text, and you’ll be taken directly to Amazon. If you decide to buy, I’ll make a small commission at no extra cost to you.
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