In 1982, my parents found out that they would be welcoming a new baby into their home. They were in their 20’s, had been married for two years, were working full-time on a church staff and were really in the “prime of their life”. To say they were excited is an understatement! Anyone who has ever known my mother can testify that she is THE “Baby Lady”. She somehow knows all the tricks of the trade and can pacify the most difficult infants. One of my mom’s spiritual gifts is compassion. I mean, this is a LADY who rescues beetles that randomly come into her home and places them back outside because “they have families…..the baby beetles need their mommy” (of course)!
When my mother was about seven months into her pregnancy, she went home one day from a full day of teaching and decided to take a nap. She lay down and instantly heard “kittens” crying under house. She went to try to rescue them, but was really troubled because she couldn’t find them. She summoned all the help she could round-up and no one could seem to find these kittens that were trapped. Mrs. Compassion was really troubled and adamantly told everyone that these kittens WERE under the house and SOMEONE HAD to get them out!!!! It wasn’t very long until she realized that these “kittens” were not kittens at all, there was a sound in her head that she couldn’t get away from. My dad placed his ear next to her ear and He could hear the sound. She went to her doctor and he quickly dismissed it, saying that in pregnancy strange things happen and that because of the increased blood flow in her body, this wasn’t something to worry about.
September 24th rolled around and after a full week of hard labor, I was born. Life was good. New baby….new life…..but the sound was still there. It wasn’t very long until the doctors confirmed their suspicions. A neurologist quickly delivered the news that the sound was not from the increased blood flow of pregnancy; it was however an AVM (Arterial Venus Malformation) in her brain that was inoperable. They told her that usually this type of AVM is found only in autopsies. The cold neurosurgeon suggested for her to go home and love on her baby and that one day she would suffer a devastating stroke or it would hemorrhage in her sleep and that would be that!
My mother says that she can remember thinking, “This isn’t possible! This is 1982, and I am at one of the most renowned research hospitals in the country. There HAS to be something they can do.” She spent hours and days researching in the medical library and could find no treatment options available. My dad says that he would sit and hold me and think, “Lord, how am I going to raise this little girl all alone.”
The Lord intervened on my mother’s behalf. He used a doctor from Czechoslovakia to perform an experimental procedure on my mother to hopefully help “shrink” the blood vessels. The doctors all made it very clear that she would most likely be blind and deaf or she would be a vegetable. As the procedure was taking place, my mother didn’t realize that there was a whole team of medical students in the wings watching as “research” was being done before them. To their amazement, they were able to seal off the blood flow to the AVM. My mom remembers them asking, “Mrs. Lamb, do you still hear the sound?” and she was able to answer, “No! It is gone!” The whole room cheered.
About thirteen years later, my mom was reunited with the doctor who performed her surgery. She was so excited to see him and said, “Dr. V, I’m sure that procedure has been perfected and many people have been able to survive that death sentence.” He kindly let her know that most people did not survive a situation like hers.
Pain and suffering is all around us. There is nothing we can do to avoid it. Many believers think that after salvation, we should all just float to heaven on flowery beds of ease, however some of the Lord’s choicest servants live through some of the most horrible pain imaginable. My grandfather, a godly Baptist preacher used to remind us that just because we are believers, we are not exempt from trials. He often said that we all are in one of three categories: 1. We have just come through a trial 2. We are in the middle of a trial. 3. There is a trial in our future. Cheery news on this beautiful day, huh?
While we don’t live in fear of tomorrow, it is important to understand biblical principles and hide them in our hearts. One phone call, a doctor’s cast-down look, the sudden loss of one dear to us would understandably render us numb and unable to know how to take the next breath. I often draw strength from this article by Elisabeth Elliot, “Do the Next Thing”. Even when the circumstances of our lives are not on the highest level of crisis, we can find ourselves stunned and paralyzed from a barrage of small worries that weigh heavily upon us. If you love deeply, you will feel pain deeply. I hope you draw great encouragement from this transcript of Mrs. Elliot’s experience, and that you will today go ahead and with a grateful heart do the next thing.
Do the Next Thing: Wise Counsel for the Depressed
By: Elisabeth Elliot
Suffering builds a thick wall between two people, one is the sufferer and one the watcher. And neither can fully communicate his experience. It’s almost as if they have nothing in common.
“You are loved with an everlasting love.” That’s what the Bible says, “and underneath are the everlasting arms.” This is your friend Elisabeth Elliot talking with you today about the consolation of obedience.
Yesterday I talked about the experience of finding consolation through doing ordinary things. I reminded you of Joseph of Arimathea who thought of the one practical thing that could be done after the Savior, the Lord Jesus, was crucified and the disciples were so devastated with sorrow that they apparently hadn’t thought of it. God gives us things to do, in His mercy.
A few months ago I read through most of my journal of 1973. That was when my husband Addison Leitch was dying of cancer. He had to have radiation treatments, which meant that we had to drive the 35 miles to Boston, five days a week for six weeks. So that was one thing that God gave me to do every day. I knew that we simply had to go to Boston City Hospital.
For the first few weeks my husband did the driving. Then he was too tired, too worn out, too weak, and I did the driving. It was my job. My job was also housework, laundry, meals, encouragement, trying to move as methodically as I possibly could from one thing to another. And I had learned a principle from my mother many years before–do the next thing. And it is wonderful how simple it is when we just do the next thing. Here’s this poem from which that maxim comes:
From an old English parsonage, down by the sea
There came in the twilight a message to me;
Its quaint Saxon legend, deeply engraven,
Hath, as it seems to me, teaching from Heaven.
And on through the hours the quiet words ring
Like a low inspiration–“DO THE NEXT THING.”
Many a question, many of fear,
Many a doubt, hath its quieting here.
Moment by moment, let down from Heaven,
Time, opportunity, guidance, are given.
Fear not tomorrows, Child of the King,
Trust them with Jesus, “DO THE NEXT THING.”
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 resultings, “DO THE NEXT THING.”
Looking to Jesus, ever serener,
(Working or suffering) be thy demeanor,
In His dear presence, the rest of His calm,
The light of His countenance be thy psalm,
Strong in His faithfulness, praise and sing,
Then, as He beckons thee, “DO THE NEXT THING.”
I think of the continuity, the evenness in the life of Mary. Mary so trusted the Lord that she received with a quiet heart the message from the angel, and moved (so far as we can tell from the Scriptures) serenely through her life. Her first commitment was to take care of that Baby that God had given her. That Baby was carried through all the days of her life. First of all, of course, in her womb. But one day at a time she did the next thing. And one day when the Baby was only eight days old, she heard the words of Simeon, the old prophet, who was waiting for the consolation of Israel. The Messiah, our Lord Jesus, is that consolation. These are the words from the Gospel of Luke:
” And, behold, there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon; and the same man was just and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel: and the Holy Ghost was upon him. 26 And it was revealed unto him by the Holy Ghost, that he should not see death, before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. 27 And he came by the Spirit into the temple: and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him after the custom of the law, 28 then took he him up in his arms, and blessed God, and said,
29 Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word: 30 for mine eyes have seen thy salvation, 31 which thou hast prepared before the face of all people; 32 a light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel.
33 And Joseph and his mother marvelled at those things which were spoken of him. 34 And Simeon blessed them, and said unto Mary his mother, Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel; and for a sign which shall be spoken against; 35 (yea, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also,) that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed. (Luke 2:25-35)
And I wondered if Mary realized, at that very moment, that prophecy would be a part of the piercing of that sword. She would have to watch her Son be a sign that was spoken against.
“There was also a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was old; and she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.
“36 And there was one Anna, a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Aser: she was of a great age, and had lived with an husband seven years from her virginity; 37 and she was a widow of about fourscore and four years, which departed not from the temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day. 38 And she coming in that instant gave thanks likewise unto the Lord, and spake of him to all them that looked for redemption in Jerusalem. 39 And when they had performed all things according to the law of the Lord, they returned into Galilee, to their own city Nazareth. 40 And the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit, filled with wisdom: and the grace of God was upon him.” (Luke 2:36-40)
What does this have to do with the consolation of obedience? Mary had begun to feel the piercing of that sword. But Joseph and Mary did everything that was required by the Law. And the next thing was that they just went home, returned to Galilee to their own town of Nazareth. Maybe a very simple thing and an obvious thing, and yet it seems to me that it is in those very ways that God consoles us and teaches us to wait on Him, to keep a quiet heart–obedience brings joy; disobedience brings misery.
And I know that I speak from experience. I mentioned yesterday that I had gone through my journal of 1973. My husband Add Leitch had died in September of 1973. And two months after his death I found this entry:
“I find that routine is the best support for my soul. I can function with almost my customary efficiency and concentration, so long as I operate by habit. The sameness, ordinariness and necessity are comfortable to me. It is in the interruption of routine, especially in social life, that I find myself beginning to disintegrate and turn inward. This is hazardous and I have to grab the reins and say to myself, Giddy up.
“Suffering builds a thick wall between two people, one is the sufferer and one the watcher. And neither can fully communicate his experience. It’s almost as if they had nothing in common. I can remember my husband saying to me, ‘We live in two different worlds. I’m sick; you’re well.'”
A word for those of you who might be wondering, How do I know what the next thing is? George MacDonald wrote:
“‘What is my next duty? What is the thing that lies nearest to me?'” The answer comes, “‘That…belongs to your every-day history. No one can answer that question but yourself. Your next duty is just to determine what your next duty is–Is there nothing you neglect? Is there nothing you know you ought not to do?–You would know your duty, if you thought in earnest about it, and were not ambitious of great things.’
“‘Ah then,'” responded she, “‘I suppose it is something very commonplace, which will make life more dreary than ever. That cannot help me.’
“‘It will help you, if it be as dreary as reading the newspapers to an old deaf aunt. It will soon lead you to something more. Your duty will begin to comfort you at once, but will at length open the unknown fountain of life in your heart.'”
And Thomas Carlyle said, “Do the duty which lies nearest thee. Thy second duty will have become clearer.”
I don’t know who’s listening today who has just suffered a tremendous blow, perhaps the loss of someone you love, the loss through divorce or abandonment or death? God knows. May I just offer you this little word–do the next thing. Ask the Lord to show you the humble, simple, ordinary thing. Perhaps it’s something you can do for somebody else. And you’ll be amazed at the consolation that obedience brings. Trust and obey–for there is no other way to be happy in Jesus but to trust and obey.
I found this reading from Thomas Carlyle; it seemed like an unlikely source for this kind of advice, but listen to what he says:
“Don’t object that your duties are so insignificant, they are to be reckoned of infinite significance and alone important to you. Were it that the more perfect regulation of your rooms, the sorting away of your clothes and trinkets, the arranging of your papers–whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it, with all thy might. Much more, if your duties are evidently higher, wider scope; if you have brothers, sisters, father, a mother, weigh earnestly what claim does lie upon you on behalf of each of them, and consider it as the one thing needful, to pay them more and more honesty and nobly what you owe. What matter how miserable one is, if one can do that? That is a sure and steady disconnection and extinction of whatever miseries one has in this world. Remember Jesus’ words to the disciples there by the well, ‘My meat is to do the will of Him who sent me, and to finish His work.'”