Do the Next Thing
Listen to “Do the Next Thing” by Fred Smith
Now and then I host what Quakers call a Clearness Committee for an individual working their way through an issue about direction or a decision. This committee is a group of friends who know a person well and the group’s only role is to ask questions. They cannot make statements or prescribe what a person should do. They cannot offer advice based on what they think they would do.
The Quakers have a high regard for a person’s ability with the aid of insightful questions to come to the truth on their own.
Last week a friend was sorting through an issue that affects all of us at one time or another. She has a fine career and was suddenly sideswiped by a loss of confidence. It was not depression as much as a deflation. She had lost her sense of hope and belief in her own skills. All she could see was being stuck and immobilized – or worse. It’s often called the “imposter syndrome” or the fear of being found out as not being as competent as everyone thought.
I didn’t say this in the group – that’s against the rules – but I later sent her this bookmark from a poem I like:
It is His will that I should cast
My care on Him each day;
He also bids me not to cast
My confidence away.
But oh! how foolishly I act
When taken unaware,
I cast away my confidence
And carry all my care!
I don’t believe my friend is alone in this. We lose our confidence and carry all our cares. I know it happens to me.
It must be a general condition as it is addressed often in Scripture. So many of the men and women we consider spiritual giants have suffered from it. Abraham loses confidence in God’s promise of a son. Moses loses confidence immediately and tries to get out of what God has called him to do. Gideon discounts his abilities to fight the Midianites. Elijah hides in a cave. The Samaritan woman slights her worth. Peter denies Christ and despairs. David is discouraged almost as much as he is sure. Solomon despairs of everything, and Job is a whole book about dealing with confidence in God and inexplicable loss.
Yet, when it happens to them we find a way to overlook and skip through or even over spiritualize it. With us, however, it is considered a serious flaw in our character.
How often does God says, “fear not” or “trust in my everlasting love” or “when you walk through deep waters I will be there”? But, it’s not enough to hear it one time, is it? The author Frederick Buechner wrote, “Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid.” He’s right. The world is broken and we are subject to fear, discouragement and loss of confidence. If an epiphany is a sudden confirmation out of the blue, what do we call its opposite? How do we account for those unsuspected moments when we stall and go flat?
Get Up And Go On
For me, one of the most helpful writers is Oswald Chambers. He’s not easy to read some mornings when I need an excuse for the way I am feeling or want just to coast. Still, I come back to this time and again:
“In the Garden of Gethsemane, the disciples went to sleep when they should have stayed awake, and once they realized what they had done it produced despair. The sense of having done something irreversible tends to make us despair. We say, ‘Well, it’s all over and ruined now; what’s the point in trying anymore.’
If we think this kind of despair is an exception, we are mistaken. It is a very ordinary human experience. Whenever we realize we have not taken advantage of a magnificent opportunity, we are apt to sink into despair. But Jesus comes and lovingly says to us, in essence, ‘Sleep on now. That opportunity is lost forever and you can’t change that. But get up, and let’s go on to the next thing…’
There will be experiences like this in each of our lives. We will have times of despair caused by real events in our lives, and we will be unable to lift ourselves out of them. The disciples, in this instance, had done a downright unthinkable thing— they had gone to sleep instead of watching with Jesus. But our Lord came to them taking the spiritual initiative against their despair and said, in effect, ‘Get up, and do the next thing.’ If we are inspired by God, what is the next thing? It is to trust Him absolutely and to pray on the basis of His redemption.
Never let the sense of past failure defeat your next step.”
So far, I have found nothing better for those times when I feel I have done something irreversible or lost my confidence. “Get up, and do the next thing.”
Art by Vincent Van Gogh