When You Don’t Know What’s Next

“I just don’t really know what I’m doing with my life,” she said as if that was the conclusion of the matter, and we all laughed as we took turns saying “me too” and “me three” and “me four.” 

Just to be clear, we actually do know what we are doing with our lives, just not in the way most people think about it.

The very fact that she said, “I don’t know what I’m doing with my life” indicates the kind of culture we come from, one that values having things planned out for your future. But we four girls sitting around this table have quit our jobs (or in one’s case, turned down several offers) to serve here in Africa for a time, and then we will go back to our countries for…who knows what? A fresh start?

We may not know exactly what the next season of our future looks like, but we do know what we are doing with our lives. We know what our lives are about and who we are living for. But because of pressure to have things figured out, being in a place of short-term uncertainty can exaggerate into making you feel like you don’t know what you’re doing with your entire life. 

The great thing is, the four of us found solace in one another. When you don’t know what the next thing in your life is, you can get to feeling isolated, especially when it seems like everyone else has a ten year life plan. But when you find other people who are at the same crossroads, you don’t feel like you have to get it together and have it all figured out. 
But people still like to ask the question, “What are you doing next?” It’s what started this whole conversation in the first place. 

Generally speaking, people are obsessed with what’s next. Our lives follow a natural progression of what is expected to happen next. Even from an early age, every young person grows up looking forward to the next stage of life, and they usually know exactly what that stage is: primary school to high school to college to getting a job. Now here we are as young adults, and suddenly the “what’s next” is a little less defined. What do we now? In fact, it’s now more what we make of it than what is expected of us.

As we were discussing these things, a girl chimed in, “It’s just hard to stop the thing you’re doing now without knowing the thing that’s next.” My head nodded in agreement. That’s where I am. And I have a feeling that I’m not alone at this junction. We can either be paralyzed at the point of decision, or we can take the next step on the journey into the unknown. 

I’m learning that life is so much more about the journey than the destination. It’s about the process instead of the finish. Perhaps God is less interested in where we end up and more interested in how we go about getting there. Facing unknowns is just an expected part of this pilgrimage. 

As we go into the unknown, are we seeking the Lord there? Do we want him more than we want control of the future? Do we wait faithfully, or do we take matters into our own hands? Does the flesh or the Spirit guide our thinking process? Do do we weigh options logically or spiritually? 

Once a decision is finally made, we realize that the actual point of decision was anti-climatic compared to the beautiful process of seeking God in the process. 

Although our culture is obsessed with what’s next, and we are subconsciously pressured to plan and prepare for whatever that is, sometimes the most faithful and obedient thing is to not have the next thing figured out. Instead, walk straight into the unknown without having everything in place. That’s where you have to have faith, and that’s where God loves to show up. 

It’s a glorious sacrifice to make, to go to Africa and give up all the conveniences of America. You’ll get attention and praise for doing that. But you know what’s also a sacrifice, just not a glorious one? Walking forward into the unknown of your future without having any definitive plans. No one will congratulate you for that, but sometimes it’s the most obedient and faithful thing to do, and we know that God sees what is done in secret and rewards those kinds of sacrifice. Walk the road of uncertainty with grace, joy, and peace, and others will see how you manage it in an otherworldly way. It’s countercultural. It’s the harder thing. Harder than figuring out what’s next is resting with contentment in the in-between. 

Sitting around the table with those girls, we talked through these things and encouraged one another to just keep loving God and quit making so many plans. Perhaps this gives God more space to do what he wants to do in our lives anyway, if we will stop limiting him by the plans we have made for our own security and comfort. 

We wrapped up our discussion with absolutely no answers to the questions we were asking, but in the best way possible. We didn’t need answers, we needed community. We still didn’t know what we are doing next, but there are some things we do know. 

We know that God’s Word promises that he has a plan for our lives, and that he will guide us as we seek to follow him. 

We don’t know exactly what that looks like five years or even five months from now, but we know who does. 

We know that sometimes obedience means waiting on the Lord. (The Israelites wouldn’t move camp until the Lord set out first with the pillar of fire and cloud) 

We also know that sometimes obedience means moving forward even when you don’t know where you are going. (Abram followed God to “the land I will show you” without further details) 

We know that walking with Jesus is a pilgrimage, and an adventurous one at that. Not knowing the plan in its entirety is just part of what makes a good adventure story. To walk into the unknown is a beautiful and holy way to surrender control.

And we know that when we surrender control, we are placed into a position where we have to trust God more. And when we have to trust him more, we draw near to him. When we draw near to him, he draws near to us. And then we know him more and fall more in love with him. 

So we know that the waiting is better than the arriving. The journey is just as rewarding as the destination itself. The process of discernment and seeking God is more valuable and formative than having it all together and figured out. 

We know “not knowing what you’re doing with your life” is actually a great place to be, for walking faithfully into the unknown and being content in the in-between spaces makes room for God to be glorified in our laid-open lives. 

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