The Next Right Thing
One recent Friday evening, the Jacksons had a movie night and we watched Frozen 2 together. The movie gave me some pause for reflection, and I would like to share those thoughts with you (without spoiling the movie for those who have not seen it).
The maturity of the problems in Frozen 2 give it a depth beyond the grasp of its youngest audience. Instead of the traditional protagonists against villains storyline, the tension of the movie is inhabited by events of the past and how the characters’ fates and friendships are shaped by the shadows of the mistakes and sins of those who came before them. As the past comes to light, each character must decide how to live (or die) in the struggle that emerges. All of our favorite characters are separated, and in one scene, the younger sister Anna is alone. Anna, the sister without magic and who draws her strength from the bonds of love around her, faces a world where all the people who had supported her and given her hope were lost, maybe forever. What is a princess to do? It is Disney, so she sings, of course.
“I've seen dark before, but not like this. This is cold, this is empty, this is numb, the life I knew is over…
Hello, darkness, I'm ready to succumb… This grief has a gravity, it pulls me down…But a tiny voice whispers in my mind, You are lost, hope is gone, but you must go on…And do the next right thing.”
Anna, who we originally came to know as the optimistic, playful, love-struck girl has been deprived of all of her defining characteristics. But, undergirding all we knew of her remains strength and determination, all grown up. When she entertains the totality of her circumstances, she is unable to foresee a path that gets her to where she needs to go. There are too many perils and there is too much pain. So, she reduces the decision-making process: She does not have to figure everything out. She just has to figure out what the next right thing is.
The next right thing is a philosophy that stands at odds with the prevailing wisdom of the world which teaches that we should always be thinking of our own desired endgame. Every decision is a calculation to arrive there. While this sort of strategic thinking has its place and has its wisdom, there is a seductive temptation in the form of rationalization. We can rationalize decisions that are contrary to the values we proclaim. The old motto of such decisions is “The end justifies the means.” This is the sort of moral dilemma that rarely comes in one big moment, but in a series of decisions in which our moral compass slowly loses true north until we are lost.
Paul teaches us in 2 Corinthians 5:7 that we should “walk by faith, and not by sight.” There was a time when I reduced this teaching to just having faith when the world was uncertain. But, in its context it comes with a warning: “For all of us must appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each may receive recompense for what has been done in the body, whether good or evil” (5:10).
Over our lifetimes we face all kinds of situations. The most difficult among them are paths where we cannot see the ending, and we lose all sense of control. Along such paths are temptations to let our desired ends justify whatever we do. The only way to avoid these hazards is to choose the right next thing, even if it risky or hard. In my experience, the next right thing is almost never the easy thing. Yet, this is the calling.
Anna makes some hard choices, knowing that some people will not understand and that she might be hated for them. Yet, she stays focused on what is right because that is the only way she could choose to be true to herself. This is our challenge as well, but we have one thing in our favor that the movie does not touch on. We are not following just any “good way.” We are following the way, which is walking with Christ, so no matter how difficult the path or choices are, we are never alone.
Grace and Peace,