Motherhood overwhelms me at times. When I started this journey, almost seven years ago, I wasn’t prepared for the chaos. Three wild boys later, a bit of chaos is part of every day life. Little did I realize the ways my linear, clear plans for the day would continually be shaped to curves and circles.
Unanticipated interruptions are inevitably a part of life. With little people, they tend to pile up quickly on top of one another. A calm morning can be shattered by an unsuspecting elbow colliding with a cup of milk. The spill triggers the crying of a milk-soaked toddler. In order to be the first to wipe up the spill, the older boys begin to push one another out of the way in an attempt to help. We seem to be colliding all the time in family life over trivialities. Quite frankly, it can be difficult just to keep your head on straight in the midst of the chaos. Sometimes, I want to start crying with the toddler.
One of the most helpful phrases for me in mothering through the overwhelming moments is from an anonymous old poem that the late Elisabeth Elliot quoted frequently.
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 results, do the next thing.
Just “do the next thing.” Clean up the milk. Instruct the brothers who are fighting over the towel. Change the toddler’s wet shirt. And I can do it all, not in exasperation but with prayer and reverence knowing that this is God’s sovereign will for me right now. Spilled milk is a part of my lot. Faith working itself out into action moves forward through the curve.
Faith moves toward obedience in every circumstance, even the trifles of mothering.
In this past year, the unanticipated interruptions in my life have been monumental. It has felt like much more than spilled milk to me. After over four years of living in South Asia, it became evident that it was God’s will for our family to move to another continent. It meant leaving the only home my children remembered. It meant wrapping up a ministry that God had kindly given and blessed. It meant saying goodbye to a people and place we had grown to love deeply. It meant starting over completely. We packed the suitcases, said our goodbyes, and boarded a plane. Within a few weeks, we were in a new country, with a new (empty) apartment, a new culture and a new school where my older boys needed to learn two new languages just to survive. While there was undeniable joy and excitement about the adventure, the work before us felt unending.
There have been many mornings through this transition when it has been a deliberate, faith-filled choice simply to get out of bed. The temptation was to wallow in the largeness of the task, to drape myself over the hardness of it all. The theoretical obedience was easier than the practical realities of the move. In my heart though, I knew what obedience was. My feet needed to hit the floor. Do the next thing. Put together a thousand IKEA pieces. Unpack the toys and empty the suitcases. Find the closest park. Sniff the herbs in the market until you figure out which one really is oregano. Conjugate the list of verbs. Figure out which shops sell school supplies.
In my early years of mothering, those wise words so often helped me through the trivialities of cleaning the house, getting fussing babies dressed, and fixing breakfast. It helped me practice, in small ways, what I would need spiritual muscle for in a season of larger curves in the road.
Doing the next thing, whether seemingly small or requiring tremendous effort, can be an act of faith. It is actively, obediently waiting on God to fulfill his promises.
In Hebrews 11, men and women are remembered for their faith. Their faith very often looked like action. Noah took up his tools and built. Abraham packed his tent, not knowing where he was going. Moses walked out of Egypt, stepping forward on a path through the Red Sea.
This morning, when all the tiny tasks of motherhood overwhelm you, or when the monumental challenges of life feel like mountains in front of you, do the next thing. Step forward in faith and walk in obedience this moment.
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 tomorrows, child of the King,
Trust them with Jesus, do the next thing.