“Just do the next right thing.”
This is what Glennon Doyle Melton tells herself as she sits on the bathroom floor. I have mentioned Glennon previously. Glennon is an author and blogger who tells the story about her addiction to food, alcohol and drugs. One day, in the midst of her struggle, she finds herself sitting on the bathroom floor with a positive pregnancy test. Her hands shaking; Glennon says of the moment: “I am empty, alone, addicted – and yet still invited.”[i]
Glennon balks at the invitation, saying she doesn’t “know how to be a sober person or how to be a mother, or how to be a friend.” [ii] So what does she do? She promises herself that she will show up even if she is scared and just do the next right thing even when she is shaking.
So, right there on the bathroom floor, Glennon says yes, yes to motherhood, yes to sobriety, yes to the idea that there is a God, that that God is trying to speak to her, love her, and invite her back to life. Glennon decides to believe in a God who would believe in a person like her.
Glennon acts immediately. She doesn’t say, one day I will be a friend, or a sober person, or even a believer in God; she says I will practice being those things right now.
That’s the word that jumps out at me from today’s text: immediately. Peter and Andrew are hard at work fishing when Jesus comes by and says, “Come follow me and I will make you fishers of humankind.” Andrew and Peter immediately drop their nets and join Jesus.
Why? Why do they do this immediately? Why do they leave at all?
Why don’t they just keep fishing and going about their daily lives?
When Jesus continues along the shoreline, James and John do the same thing. They leave their fishing boat and their father to learn from Jesus.
Now, it was common at the time for Jewish teachers like Jesus to recruit disciples but – let’s be real – this is all new to Peter, Andrew, James and John. They have no idea how to be disciples. They haven’t done this before.
Jesus finds them in the middle of their work day and offers them — not a concrete plan – but rather an invitation, an invitation to change their lives.
Perhaps, like Glennon, Peter, Andrew, James and John initially gawk at the enormity of the invitation. There they are, deeply flawed people, invited to live into this new identity, not as fishers of sea life but of people. This means leaving a good job, their family, their hometown. Perhaps they think to themselves, “I don’t know how to be a disciple or a good follower or a leader.”
Yet, in the midst of their doubt and uncertainty, they say yes immediately. They don’t say to Jesus: Let me think this over. Give a few days or a few decades until I decided what I really want to do … until I have my life completely figured out.
No, they start before they are ready.
I wonder if these guys are so quick to say yes, because they know what it is to experience pain, because – in the words of the Reverend Bob Beverley – they know what it is to experience the bad stuff from the swamp hauling you under, forcing you to dwell in darkness as it takes root in you, swims in you and all but fills you.[iii]
Jesus picks the disciples not because they are the exception to humanity, but because they are humanity: Peter, James, John and Andrew know what it is to be slowed down by anger, bitterness, self-pity, procrastination, guilt and fear.
“How do we get out of this swamp?” They had wondered for so long and in the process they discovered, in the words of the Reverend Bob Beverley that “the answer, plain and simple, is to live … to take yourself seriously … to stop wasting your … time … to know in the depths of your being that everything about you (well, almost everything) is unique and marvelous … [and] that despite death down the road we still have one another and we still have possibility … and we can endure and get to better days and we can haul one another up from the swamp of darkness to the light of dry land and blue skies and better days.”[iv]
Maybe Peter, James, John and Andrew don’t know a single thing about being a disciple, but they do know what is to be a human being. They have stumbled upon the truth that to change your life, you must act immediately and fight against the negative attitudes and emotions that slow you down. This is the invitation Jesus offers when Jesus says, “Come follow me.” Jesus doesn’t offer a five-year plan. Instead, Jesus invites us to do the next right thing, to take a step even if it is small, which is precisely what the disciples do. They say yes; they decide to walk with Jesus, even though they don’t have a full grasp on their faith, even though know they don’t have a detailed roadmap, even though they are deeply flawed.
Peter, Andrew, James and John start right away – practicing, practicing being a disciple, learning, loving, falling down and hauling each other back up to dry land, blue skies and better days.
There’s this Broadway show about a group of friends, many of whom have HIV and AIDS, called Rent, and as the friends navigate this serious illness, they keep singing this song that goes, “There’s only this; there’s only now. Forget regret or life is yours to miss. No other path, no other way, no day but today.”
My friends, what is slowing you down?
What is keeping you from acting immediately?
If you find yourself feeling guilty, try this: “state specifically how you messed up, if you did in fact mess up, and do something about it like stop doing the thing that makes you feel guilty, or do the thing you should do or apologize and say you are sorry.”[v]
Jesus invitation to discipleship is a call to action.
Change your heart and change your mind for the kin-dom of God is at hand.
Jesus calls us to action because there’s only this; there’s only now. Forget regret or life is yours to miss. No other path, no other way, no day but today.
How is Jesus speaking into your life? What is the next right thing Jesus is calling you to do?
Put it on the calendar. Do it after church. Do it during church.
Start before you are ready.
Jesus says: “Let’s go!”
This is the great secret taught to us by Jesus and the newbie disciples. What makes the disciples great is not that they passed some fundamental exam that showcased their knowledge about the Hebrew scriptures. Rather, they are great because they had learned the key life lesson as summed by the words of philosopher William James: “To change your life: 1. Start immediately. 2. Do it flamboyantly. 3. No exceptions.”
This is what Glennon did. She said that entering into the sobriety process was like recovering from frostbite. All of a sudden she felt things that she had numbed for so long. So she just practiced, she practiced feeling the pain and practiced feeling joy. She says that these days she is not a perfect human being, but she is a fully human being, and she has discovered that while trouble and peace might walk hand in hand for a while they always lead to joy.
It’s like this Buddhist story that I read about: “All the monks line up outside a certain room and are told that if they can walk from one side of the room and through the door on the other side of the room, they will experience Nirvana. But they are also told they will experience all the fears they have ever felt in their whole life while they are in that room. Their Zen masters tells them that this will be very scary and they will not all make it. To help you, he told them, I will offer you two golden truths: 1) remember that all the fears you are experiencing are only in your head 2) no matter what happens or what you feel, just keep putting one foot in front of the other and walk across the room.
All the monks who made it to Nirvana told their Master that the first truth did not help them because the fears were so real and powerful. The only thing that got them to the door was putting one foot in front of the other.
In this story it is words that give guidance and truth, but it is the action that makes the biggest difference.”[vi] It moves us toward the door.
One foot in front of the other.
This is the call of Jesus on our lives as Jesus says: “Come follow me.”
We don’t have to have our lives figured out. All we have to do is the next right thing.
One step and then another,
immediately and flamboyantly,
brings us all the way home.
[i] Melton, G. D. (2016) Love warrior: A memoir. New York: Flatiron Books.
[ii] Melton, G. D. (2013, May). Glennon Melton: Lessons from the mental hospital. Retrieved from Tedx Talks: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NHHPNMIK-fY
[iii] Beverly, B. (2014). Peace, etc.: A journey through open heart surgery and other scary things, written to lessen your anxiety, whatever it may be. Publisher: Bob Beverly and Aaron Beverly.
[iv] Ibid, p.50.
[v] Ibid, p.85.
[vi] Ibid, p.149.