Do the Next Thing (2)

Adah and leaves

I first posted the following blog in July of 2011. In talking to a lovely young mother recently – it came up again  – that feeling of being overwhelmed. I wanted to re-post this because we ALL need to be reminded of this again….and again!

We just had the privilege of taking care of our three granddaughters for a week. I am left with two overwhelming feelings – first – exhaustion – and then a new and deep respect for our daughter and son-in-law as parents. I had forgotten just how constant the care of young children is. There is never any down time while 6, 4, and 2 year olds are awake. As you mothers of young children know – you must be ever mindful of where your children are and what they are doing.

I enjoyed every minute of our granddaughters’ visit, yet I must admit I was worn out. I had planned to do several small projects while they napped or after they went to bed. One project was crocheting a border around a new, small blanket. for the 2-year-old to carry (so it wouldn’t drag in the dirt) RIGHT! That did not happen.

I was reminded of some helpful advice I received when our children were small. Elizabeth Elliot, author and Bible teacher, encouraged young mothers to deal with overwhelming stress by encouraging one to just “do the next thing”. I found this piece of wisdom so practical because I remember many times being overwhelmed by my responsibility as a mother of young children.

Instead of focusing on all I had to do and knowing there were not enough hours in the day to get it all done, I would “do the next thing ” and focus instead on the task at hand.

It sounds so simple – but it is excellent advice and it works. When I felt overwhelmed I would

  • change the next diaper,
  • put the next load of diapers in the washing machine (yes, I am old enough to have had three in CLOTH diapers at the same time),
  • make the next peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

I found that it was not so much the difficulty of any one task that was overwhelming, but the sheer number of things that MUST be done. I found that instead of being paralyzed into doing nothing, I was able to gradually accomplish the most important tasks. In the workplace people prioritize, but with small children the “priority” task is not always the most important task. Sometimes reading a story FIRST will offer a child the attention they need and then afterward allow you to start supper without a screaming appendage attached to your leg.

It is part of life experience to be overwhelmed at times. In Psalms, David addresses God in desperation –

Psalm 61:1 – 2 “Hear my cry, O God; attend unto my prayer. From the end of the earth will I cry unto thee, when my heart is overwhelmed, lead me to the Rock that is higher than I.”

When David was overwhelmed, he cried out to God.

I have done that often and will again in this journey as a mother. It is a blessing to know I am not alone with these feelings and that my heavenly Father hears my cry and answers. I had begun writing this post on July 4th, but the “next thing” for me that day was our 6 grandchildren, my parents, brother, sister-in-law and niece, two daughters, two sons-in-law, a son and husband. So, a week went by without a post, not a big deal.

Doing the next thing did NOT mean I finished everything, it did mean I finished some things and accomplished what was most important that day as a grandmother, mother, daughter, sister, and wife.

Then, I did the next thing.


Okay – truth be known – I am easily distracted. (hold the “amens”, girls!) One of our daughters used to call out “Gayle” loudly when “Mom” failed to get a response after three or four tries. That did get my attention! I’ve always said my mind is on higher things – although that may not always be the case. I also have claimed I have an active mind. I am visually oriented, which has served me well as an artist, but occasionally leads to swerving off the road while spying particularly deep blue hydrangeas in someones yard, or noticing a combination of fall foliage that is striking. This is not due to advanced age – I attribute our youngest daughter’s unusually accurate sense of direction to the fact that she started at an early age giving me directions while driving since she realized I had missed a turn or was heading the wrong way.

Yet, I can focus when I choose to. As an act of my will I intentionally pay attention to road signs to get to my intended destination – beautiful flowers along the roadside flitting by unnoticed or not. There will always be things that distract me, but I can choose to focus my attention on what is most important.

I have visited playgrounds literally all across the country with our grandchildren. Our daughters all know where parks with playgrounds are located and we have packed picnics and enjoyed playing with our grandchildren as they show us their ability to navigate the jungle gym or slide down the big slide. I love to see children playing outside – running, swinging, jumping, sliding, climbing, yes, and sometimes falling. The joyful abandonment they feel playing in the outdoors is a blessing to watch.

I have noticed something that saddens me, though. As we are playing with the grandkids, I notice that many parents are sitting on the perimeter of the play area engrossed in their electronic media.  Moms and dads are texting, checking the internet, even playing games on their smart phone while their children are unnoticed and sometimes unsupervised. They are not “playing together” – parents and children are isolated from each other by the distraction of their phones, etc.

I have had little boys and girls come up to me while playing with my grandchildren and ask me – a total stranger – “Watch me slide down – I can do it!” or “Will you push me next?” “Look – I can climb up all by myself!” These children see me bragging on my grandchildren, catching them, pushing them on swings, playing with them, and they want that same attention – but it is not available for them. I have a sense that sometimes the parents bring their children to the playground so the children will not distract the parent while the parent is using their electronic device.

Certainly their is a time and place to use I-Phones, Kindles, etc. Yet parents are missing out on a wonderful opportunity to play with their children at the playground. I will venture to say that there is opportunity to do both at a playground – play with your child and let the child play by herself or with other children. Yet I have watched parents look up in disgust when a child repeatedly calls for their attention – either looking like they are upset for being distracted from their I-Pad, or even saying – “Not now – can’t you see I’m busy?” It is important to be intentional about interacting with our children – that does not mean saying “Good Job” without looking up from Facebook!

It is likely that in most all these situations the parents are loving, caring individuals. They are just distracted. At that moment – something is more important to them than their children. What message is this sending to their child?

As a Christian, I can be easily distracted as well. Sometimes the very thing distracting me is a blessing, but it has moved into my field of vision in a way that blocks my focus on Jesus. I like they way the Amplified version of Paul’s letter to the Hebrews puts this –

Hebrews 12:1-2

 1THEREFORE THEN, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses [who have borne testimony to the Truth], let us strip off and throw aside every encumbrance (unnecessary weight) and that sin which so readily (deftly and cleverly) clings to and entangles us, and let us run with patient endurance and steady and active persistence                                                                                            the appointed course of the race that is set before us,

    2Looking away [from all that will distract] to Jesus, Who is the Leader and the Source of our faith [giving the first incentive for our belief] and is also its Finisher [bringing it to maturity and perfection]. He, for the joy [of obtaining the prize] that was set before Him, endured the cross, despising and ignoring the shame, and is now seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

    3Just think of Him Who endured from sinners such grievous opposition and bitter hostility against Himself [reckon up and consider it all in comparison with your trials], so that you may not grow weary or exhausted, losing heart and relaxing                                               and fainting in your minds.

Let us make an intentional effort on focus on what really matters as mothers and daughters of our heavenly Father.

God Bless You!



Our three daughters are very different in personality. They are close in age, so their uniqueness has been a blessing. As they have become mothers themselves, their various personalities are evident in their parenting styles. Each one also has their own approach to time management.

#1 –  One daughter likes to plan ahead and keep a schedule. She will help plan meals for holiday family gatherings and post the schedule of events on the refrigerator for everyone to see. This is very helpful, since with 9 children under 6 (soon to be 11) in our extended family, everyone knows ahead when the next meal is and what will be served. It also prevents unexpected missing ingredients or insufficient amounts of food – we know what to fix and what time to begin preparation. If a change is made in the plan – it may cause dissent – “I thought we were having chili for lunch?”

#2 – One daughter likes to plan as she goes. She wants to leave time and opportunity for changes in the schedule that might come up. She has a plan in mind, but it is not written down. If plans change at the last-minute, she goes with the flow and usually has enough food, etc. to make it work. Once in a while, someone is gone on a walk or starts a game when it appears to be time to eat, but she can quickly adjust as needed.

#3 – One daughter does not want to plan too far ahead, she may miss out on fun! She likes to do things on the spur of the moment which often works well. It can be problematic, though, if others don’t value spontaneity. She is gregarious and includes others in activities which may involve food preparation, playing games, or finding a nearby playground.

 Obviously, these approaches to the use of time are quite different. One way is not better or worse than the other, all have their good and not-so-good aspects. It always makes for interesting family times! As a mother, I learned early that each daughter worked best in her own style and I have seen this as they have become adults. I now appreciate the advantages of the various approaches to time depending on the situations.

As we begin a new year, we often reflect on time. Each of us is given 24 hours in each day, but we often feel we don’t have enough time. People often say, “If only I had more time, I would…”  The reality is that we all do the things that are most important to us.

Now, it is true that when you have small children, your time is not your own. There are often times when you don’t have time to do certain things. Yet most of us also use time in ways that are not “essential”. If you feel that you never finish what you need to, try method #1. Make a schedule, put down a time for each essential activity and stick to it. You will find that as you finish each task, your attention will not be on what is not finished, but what you were able to do.

If you want more flexibility in your schedule, decide like #3 to “go with the flow” for a day. You may be surprised by what happens!

Finally, you may feel that #2 is the best way for you to deal with time in your situation. This may change as circumstances change in our lives. The most important key to time management is held in the following verses –

James 4:13-15 (NIV)

13 Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.”                                                                                                                                                       14 Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.                                                                                                                                         15 Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.”

Notice it does not say to avoid making plans – it does say that God’s will MUST be the deciding factor. So, as we plan the time we have each day, let’s keep our focus this year on seeking God’s will first and foremost.