Starting Good Patterns

We think of lots of great goals and ideas each new year: exercise, reading, relationships, spiritual formation, personal management, financial health, and so many more.  We challenge ourselves, set big goals and expectations, and they’re usually very important and needed.  Planning with the end in mind is certainly healthy.  But sometimes we get so big in our plans that the sum of them overwhelm us or tax us so severely that we fail to continue.  If that is your own experience, then Elisabeth Elliott has something profoundly helpful to say to you.

Elisabeth Elliott is a name that always intimidated me.  I knew her story, but I had never “listened” to her.  My wife and I began to read one of her books this month and perhaps it was because Kelly was reading aloud, perhaps it was because this book was really just a printing of a talk she gave many years ago, or perhaps because I had preconceived ideas that just weren’t true–but for whatever the reason, I have loved this book.  Suffering Is Never for Nothing wasn’t an inviting title to me. But with each chapter, I became more comforted and more confronted about my own attitudes.

She noted something she learned from an old poem, a lesson that she challenged the reader to learn and put in to practice whenever you feel overwhelmed, or busy, or uncertain about our plans.  “Do the next thing.”

When you could choose 18 different tasks, do the next thing.

During the toil of writing my dissertation, a friend once reminded me that no one ever writes a dissertation–they write a page of it.  Not even that, he said.  They write a paragraph.  But even that was not accurate.  I wrote the fruit of all my research one sentence at a time.  Every time I was stuck, I simply chose to write another sentence.  Ninety days of writing sentences became a document that set me free from the educational no-man’s-land of a doctorate.

So, as you contemplate all that you want to accomplish, remember this simple phrase, “Do the next thing.”

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