From the District Superintendent

The Next Right Thing

Posted 13 August, 2020 by Rev. Doug Forrester

Be still, and know that I am God! I am exalted among the nations; I am exalted in the earth." The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. Psalm 46:11-12

This past spring, my two daughters begged me to watch an animated film with them. "This one is different!" they promised me, "You will like it!" I was not so sure, but they refused to give up. This is how I found myself watching a movie called Frozen II.

To be honest, all I can remember about the original Frozen are three things: the talking snowman, the song "Let it Go," and the refreshing fact that the heroes are female instead of male. So, armed with a serious lack of information, I sat down to try to enjoy the sequel to a movie I barely remember.

It was wonderful.

There is one scene in particular upon which the entire movie pivoted. It takes place early in the film when everything is falling apart and there seems to be no way out, no hope whatsoever, when the bad news seems insurmountable. It is then that a minor character, a troll named Pabbie, names how terrible the situation is before delivering the best line in the film, saying "When one can see no future, all one can do is the next right thing."

In Psalm 46, the psalmist only describes future calamities after first describing a present reality: it is God who is our refuge. It is God who is our strength. It is God who is our very present help in our times of trouble. Psalm 46 does not imagine a shaken world set apart from God's help. Instead, it promises God's presence with us, even when everything else is falling apart.

Psalm 46 it is not a psalm about what we have done or what we can do. It is a psalm about what God will do, even when everything around us is shaking. Still, the psalm asks one thing of us, right there near the end, and that one thing is to be still and know that God is God.

Stillness is more difficult than it sounds. We want to do things. We want to fix things. We want to change things. Against the backdrop of "doing," being still sounds like an indulgence, an extravagance, a luxury that none of us can afford. We can see no future, and we wonder, if all we can do is "the next right thing," well, what is the next right thing?

The thing is, being still is not the same thing as doing nothing. If anything, being still can simply mean that we heighten our awareness of God's presence in our midst. It can mean that we do the difficult work of admitting our powerlessness and trusting in the providence of God. Sometimes what feels like "nothing" is the most important "something" we can ever do as our redeeming God uses even our stillness for the purposes of holiness.

I was once crossing the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel when I noticed the bay was filled with about a dozen immense container ships, all just sitting there, none of them moving. The stillness was amazing; ship after ship after ship, all unmoving, all still.

It was not until I thought about it later that evening that I realized what was happening. While it looked like the ships were doing nothing, they were actually doing all they could: they were waiting for the tide to change so that they could do what was next.

"When one can see no future, all one can do is the next right thing." As recently as a couple of months ago, I thought the "next right thing" for me was going to be spending time getting to know so many of you in person, not merely through email or Zoom meetings. Now, this time of holy stillness has enabled me to think in more granular detail about what the next right thing truly is for the Roanoke District. 

Perhaps the "next right thing" is being mindful of how I properly wash my hands, while giving thanks for the gift of clean water or giving thanks for clean mountain air when I put on my mask. Perhaps the "next right thing" is holding my family a little closer, while giving thanks for their life, health, and the additional time I have been given with them. Perhaps the "next right thing" is for us to elevate our awareness in regard to who represents the most vulnerable in our community, and what it would mean to care for those people in very specific ways. Perhaps the "next right thing" is a renewed realization of what a holy gift it is for us to gather for worship, study, service, and fellowship; a realization of how incomplete we are when we are apart, a renewed realization of the sacred gift of community.

What if the  "next right thing" is to learn to let go of trying to control everything all the time, and to trust our lives, families, church, community, nation, and world to the one who stops the shaking of the mountains and "breaks the bow, and shatters the spear; [and] burns the shields with fire?" What would your days look like if you were able to listen for God in stillness to show you your "next right thing?"

One day, by God's grace, the tide will rise again, and the journeys of our customary round will continue. We will somehow, by God's grace, get through this, and it is my prayer that when we do, we will emerge from it even more willing to be connected to God and neighbor, more grateful for the blessings of this life, more mindful of others' needs, and more appreciative of the simple gifts of gathering together as the Body of Christ, weaving our voices together in song, sharing and bearing one another's joys and concerns in prayer, and being God's witness to the world.

In Christ,

Doug