Just Do The Next Right Thing, by Andi Sligh
What would you say if I asked you what your primary job is with respect to your child(ren)? I had this discussion with a friend recently and we agreed: our mission is to keep our kids alive and get them to Heaven. That’s it. That’s the job.
It’s simple to say but challenging to accomplish. You may have a child at risk of serious - even deadly - illness, forcing you to be hypervigilant at all times. Your child may be physically healthy but at risk of harming themselves (or being harmed by others) due to intellectual disability or mental health challenges. Even “typical” children can fall, get sick, or be the victim of serious or tragic mistakes on the part of others. And I’ve only touched on the first part (keeping them alive) - the second part (getting them to Heaven) is a completely separate challenge.
When each of my children was young, I worried. I was afraid Sarah Kate would be bullied because of her disability (she wasn’t) and that Nathan would never be potty trained (he was). Looking back I can see that the things I was worried about weren’t the things I should have been worried about, and the things I never considered worrying about are the things that ultimately knocked me down and made me wonder if I’d be able to get back up.
No matter how hard we try, we can’t see what’s coming.
I’m a worrier by nature. You would think that giving birth to two children with special needs – and wildly different needs, at that – would have quashed any illusions I had about control, but it didn’t. I still research, plan, prepare, and “game out” scenarios, because that’s what I do. It’s how my mind makes sense of the details of life. I am not comfortable with flying by the seat of my pants. But a few years ago, I adopted a mantra: Just Do the Next Right Thing.
I have a tendency to treat life like a game of chess, always considering what the potential outcomes will be of the choices I make, and it’s a skill that can benefit me at times. But the same tendency leads me to obsessively analyze situations in my life that aren’t within my control, which is most definitely NOT beneficial to my soul. I pay a lot of lip service to trusting God, but then I look down the road and decide that a situation is impossible or I let fear overtake me because I’m certain that I simply won’t be able to bear the expected outcome when it arrives.
I get it. Sometimes this life of swimming upstream can be overwhelming. You worry about how you’re going to get your child the therapy/medicine/education/fill-in-the-blank that he or she needs. You worry that your other children are going to get the short end of the stick because of the extra time you must devote to your child with special needs. Bills pile up. Frustration mounts. You feel powerless.
And it is in that moment - when you feel powerless - that you need to pull out that mantra and read it and read it again and do what it says. And when I say “you” I also mean me. Just Do the Next Right Thing.
Father Jacques Philippe has written a number of books on finding peace of heart and I love this quote from his book Interior Freedom (emphasis mine): “To achieve true interior freedom we must train ourselves to accept, peacefully and willingly, plenty of things that seem to contradict our freedom. This means consenting to our personal limitations, our weaknesses, our powerlessness, this or that situation that life imposes on us, and so on. We find it difficult to do this, because we feel a natural revulsion for situations we cannot control. But the fact is that the situations that really make us grow are precisely those we do not control.”
Let go, my friend. You don’t need to have all the answers today. You just need to keep doing the next right thing, and then the next right thing after that right thing, and so on. And, of course, pray.
Andi Sligh is a wife and mother of two children with disabilities and three dogs. She is a lifelong Alabamian, Dr. Pepper addict, Catholic convert, and former engineer who rediscovered a love of writing when she became a mom. You can find more of her writing at https://andisligh.com/