Since buying our home in March, we’ve been busy with renovations, including a much-needed kitchen overhaul. Through this process, I’ve discovered that unfinished things awaken my old enemy of perfectionism, disguised as “the next-thing” syndrome. It tries to steal the beauty of progress by running a to-do-list of unfinished tasks through my mind.
Wanting to get ahead and take ownership are positive traits, but there is a gray area where this “next-thing” mentality becomes a problem. It can encourage a subtle spirit of discontent and restlessness that distracts from “the main thing” that matters more.
Let’s go to God’s Word to find guiding practices for fighting “the next-thing” mentality.
Say No to Hurry
How do you respond to urgent matters? If you’re like me, I tend to drop everything and try to put out that fire and then have to figure out where I left off.
Don’t be like me. Be like Jesus instead. When He received an urgent message that His friend Lazarus was dying, He actually chose to delay His arrival, because He wanted to increase the faith of those with Him by performing a miracle (John 11:4).
Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So, when He heard that he was sick, He stayed two more days in the place where He was. Then after this He said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again” (John 11:5-7 NKJV).
Did you catch that? The wording here reveals that because Jesus loved this family, He waited to respond.
The truth is that we can better love people when we don’t hurry. Hurry breeds anxiety, forgetfulness, and a rushed spirit. Hurried actions suggest we need more and we need it now to be content. The focus is on ourselves, not others. On the flip side, intentional actions leave room for prayer and thoughtful preparation.
Granted, none of us is God. We don’t have the foresight to know that the situation will turn out all right as Jesus did. However, His example is still relevant for us. Instead of reacting like a reflex, we can pause and be intentional with our next steps. Doing so reveals consideration for others over ourselves.
Learn to be Present
Although Jesus performed wonderful miracles during His earthly ministry, He knew what His primary purpose was: “to give His life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28 NKJV). In Luke 18, He confides in His disciples that they must journey to Jerusalem so that He can fulfill “all things that are written by the prophets concerning the Son of Man” (Luke 18:31 NKJV).
Have you ever had a mission or task to fulfill? I’m not talking about dying to save the world like Jesus, but maybe you’ve had a deadline to meet, a ministry to manage, or a project to complete (*cough* like a kitchen renovation). In those times, I tend to get tunnel vision: focusing on the goal so much that I lose sight of my surroundings.
Even though Jesus had the literal weight of the world on His shoulders, He remained present. As He approached Jericho on the way to Jerusalem, He met a blind man who begged for mercy and for his sight to be restored.
Jesus didn’t tell Him, “Can’t you see I’m busy? I’m about my Father’s business and have to get to Jerusalem. You can’t even imagine the anguish I’m going to suffer. I’m going to die to save you. Isn’t that enough?”
No, Jesus didn’t say any of those things. Instead, He offered the gift of His presence to this needy man and met him right where he was.
Then Jesus said to him, “Receive your sight; your faith has made you well” (Luke 18:42 NKVJ).
So too, we can offer the gift of being present to our families, friends, and even complete strangers in the middle of unfinished work. Instead of being task-focused, we can be present to love the people in our path.
Focus on What Matters More
We’ve already met Martha and Mary, the sisters of Lazarus, but I want to include another part of their story because it touches at the heart of “the next-thing” syndrome. At a different time, they were hosting Jesus in their home, but while Martha was slaving in the kitchen, Mary was no where to be found! Martha finally spotted her, sitting at Jesus’ feet, listening to Him teach.
Frustrated that all the work fell to her, Martha ratted out her sister to Jesus: “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Therefore tell her to help me” (Luke 10:40b NKJV).
Martha was so focused on the next thing that she was missing out on the main thing: Jesus was in her home, sharing His presence and wisdom with her family and their guests.
What if she had seen Mary, and instead of getting upset, realized that she herself was the one missing out? Maybe Martha would have pulled out the paper plates instead of the fine china so she could listen in too.
Remember the Reason
I really hope that one day, I’ll wake up a Mary, but I suspect I’ll be a Martha to the end. Hopefully, a reformed Martha. Let’s not be so consumed with the task that we forget the reason for it.
For me, that looks like welcoming people into my unfinished home and prioritizing community over perfection. For you, it might look like something completely different.
The bottom line is that we’re all works-in-progress in this journey to grow more like Jesus. And maybe, just maybe, God places these unfinished tasks and projects in our path, not to make us discontent, but to remind us that we are to be about our Father’s business, not our own accomplishments.