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When There is Too Much to Do

So much work to do!

So much work to do!

We garden and we homeschool, and sometimes the combination seems to be a bit too much.  This year I told my husband that we were not going to have a garden because it was impossible to combine with our homeschooling.  He gently disagreed and pointed out that gardening was good for me and the children.

And he was right.  To my surprise, we are already gathering an unexpected harvest before the planting is even finished.  This is how it happened:

Rather hopelessly, I got the gardening process going, ordering seeds, planning crop rotations, and looking for timesaving tricks while homeschooling as well as possible.

Each of these projects—homeschooling and gardening—is big enough by itself to fill our days, and most years I wonder how we can possibly manage both.  This year I was certain we couldn’t but decided to try anyhow.

And now, with the tomatoes planted, the weeds mostly under control, and only a few things left to plant, it seems possible that we will get the garden in after all.

With the girls slowly moving on in their schoolwork, it seems possible that project, too, will eventually be finished.  Not in the way we had planned, but in a way that celebrates the learning that has happened and that looks hopefully to the future.

Perhaps this is a valuable thing for our children to learn:  We can never do all we hoped to, but we can be diligent and accept that, in God, our best is good enough.  Success does not depend on our effort but on God’s blessing.

And that leads to another thought.  Perhaps the most important thing, for our children and ourselves, is to learn to ask:  What would God have me do right now?  What is my duty for the next hour?  Is it conjugating French verbs?  Is it writing that report or studying decimals?  Is it watering broccoli seedlings?  Should I set rat traps or take pictures of the sunset or go to bed?  What, exactly, should I be doing at this instant?

Elisabeth Elliot, whose radio broadcasts inspired me during my early years of motherhood, always reminded her listeners to ‘do the next thing.’

Do the Next Thing

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, 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 questioning, many a fear,
Many a doubt, hath its quieting here.
Moment by moment, let down from Heaven,
Time, opportunity, and 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 results, do the next thing.

Looking for 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.

(Author unknown)

So the answer to the overwhelmed person’s question, “What should I do right now?” is simply this:  “Do the next thing.”

Through the years, I have learned that often ‘the next thing’ is actually deciding what the next thing is.  It is thinking about our purpose in life and aligning our hourly activities with it.  It is being mindful of what we are doing, not being driven by unexamined agendas or floating along aimlessly, but accepting that we have been given a mission on this earth.

If our kids learn the lessons embodied by this poem, they will be well along the road to a successful life, in the truest meaning of that word.

Now the hopelessness I felt about our garden makes me realize that this year’s crop will not only be vegetables.  There is more going on behind the scenes, and the harvest is early.  It is a harvest of learning that I hope to share with my children:

  • When we are stretched beyond our limits, we are forced to rely on God and to acknowledge him.
  • When we are overwhelmed, we can learn to just ‘do the next thing’ that God has given, counting on his faithfulness in all things.

Yes, my husband was right.  Gardening is good for the children and me, good in a way we certainly did not expect.  In fact, by reminding me of these two lessons our garden has already produced such a valuable crop that the vegetables will be a bonus.

Find more encouragement for your homeschool and life at Trivium Tuesdays, Finishing Strong , Works for Me Wednesdays, and Raising Homemakers.


  1. Carol says:

    Keep a Quiet Heart by Elisabeth Elliot – I think that’s where I first read the words – ‘Do the next right thing.’ Funny, it’s my husband who often quotes it to me!

    1. Annie Kate says:

      He’s a smart man!

      It’s such a good quote on so many levels that I think we should all be reminding each other of it.

  2. Laraba says:

    Bless you! Such wisdom there.

    I’m 4 days out from the scheduled C-section of our 9th child and I’m not feeling well, with the result that I spend a lot of time sitting and resting. I can’t do so much, so keep praying for wisdom that I’ll spend limited energy on what IS important. It isn’t easy, but the Lord grants wisdom.

    1. Annie Kate says:

      Thank you, Laraba. I wish you all the wisdom and energy you need right now. May God bless you and your little baby.

  3. Excellent! Good that you listened to your husband. I have always loved Elisabeth Elliot, such a great quote.

  4. Amy says:

    So much wisdom in the idea of Do The Next Thing. I have to remind myself of that often =) I also find myself helping my kids with that. They often get overwhelmed with a list of even two or three things to do, so I will say “all you have to do right now is brush your teeth.” And they say “that’s all?” What they don’t know is that when they come back to me I will be ready with the next task =) Thanks for sharing this encouragement with us!

    1. Annie Kate says:

      Such a good point, Amy! Kids do have a hard time with a long list, and telling them one thing at a time works. It works when I do this for myself as well: just do the one next thing.

  5. Thank you. I am going to save this post for future reminders to myself of this truth.

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