Lessons from Ikea: Do the Next Thing

A few weeks ago, I ordered several pieces of furniture from IKEA. If anyone knows anything about IKEA, they realize this doesn’t mean that a desk and bookshelves arrived on my doorstep, ready to be used. Rather, nine large, heavy boxes arrived on my doorstep. A daunting task was ahead of me.

I had heard horror stories about putting together IKEA furniture. Memes and Instagram stories document the frustration. People ridicule the unclear instructions and vent online about the impossibility of following the sketches and pictures. I was worried.

I opened the booklet and began sorting the hardware and laying out the pieces. Then I started with the first step. Then the second step. The third step.

Perhaps it was the construction of hundreds of Lego sets for hours on end during my childhood, but I didn’t find the pictures confusing at all. I had to pay attention to the small pieces, recognizing at each step what was new from the previous step and which direction each piece should fit. I had to go slowly, step by step, and not get intimidated by the thought of the final product. But soon I had a desk.

If I would have ignored the instructions, I would never have a desk. If I would have tried to start in the middle, I would have gotten frustrated. If I would have glanced at the end, I might have despaired. Instead I took it one step at a time. Even the steps that seemed small or unimportant (don’t tighten that screw yet, but leave it unscrewed halfway right now…) would have made the world of difference if ignored. But step by step, it got completed.

Looking at my beautiful finished desk, I realized putting together IKEA furniture was not that different from our journey in life. If I stop to think about my life in ten years, I might get nervous or intimidated. I might be tempted to despair at all the unknowns. But chances are, God isn’t calling me to worry about ten years from now. He’s calling me to think about tomorrow.

Father Mike Schmitz has several videos on discernment and decision making. A common thread in many of them is the importance of taking things one step at a time. Many college kids come to him who are discerning and who want to know God’s Will. They crave certainty. Father points out that all throughout Scripture, people had to act without total certainty. Even the Blessed Mother had to answer God without knowing the future. But God will not ask us to answer a question He hasn’t asked. God has already spoken to us, and He’s with us the whole time. So just do the next thing. In his video on being overwhelmed, he reminds us that all we need to ask is, “What’s the next good thing I need to do? … Do it, as best you can, right now.”

A friend and I remind each other of this whenever the other one needs to hear it. “Do the next thing.” What does God want from me? What will my life look like in ten years? Perhaps you worry about your children keeping the faith, or your health, or your job. Entrust it to God, and then do the next thing. Instead of worrying about your children’s future, focus on what you can do today to raise them to love God. Instead of worrying about your health, focus on what you can do today to live healthy habits. Instead of worrying about your job, do the tasks on your plate today and look for ways to become better or learn new skills to be a better employee.

Some days, our life looks like a lot of heavy cardboard boxes. Instead of giving into anxiety, we need to do the next thing. And before we know it, we’ll have something that looks less like a bunch of boxes and more like a desk. If we mess up along the way, we can ask God to help us repair our mistakes. And then we do the next thing.

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About the Author

Joannie Watson

Joan Watson was born and raised in Lafayette, Indiana, but college and graduate school took her to Virginia, Ohio, and Rome. After graduating from Christendom College with a B.A. in History and Franciscan University with a M.A. in Theology, she moved to Nashville, Tennessee to be part of the explosion of Catholic culture in the middle of the Bible Belt.

She has been blessed to work for Dr. Scott Hahn at the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology and the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia at Aquinas College. She is presently the Director of Adult Formation for the Diocese of Nashville. She also serves as the Associate Editor of Integrated Catholic Life.

When she’s not testing the culinary exploits of new restaurants or catching up on the latest BBC miniseries, she’s FaceTiming with her eight nephews and nieces and enjoying her role as coolest aunt. She likes gelato, bourbon, and the color orange.

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