What To Do When You Don’t Know What To Do

God's way 1One spouse quits a marriage. A child rebells. A friend refuses to reconcile differences. A boss pushes productivity levels.

We all – likely too often – find ourselves in situations like these where we feel stunned, frozen and helpless, and we hear these words come out of our mouths in desperation, “I don’t know what to do.”

Ever felt that way? Ever said those very words?

When this happens, I must admit that what I initially want to do is turn on the television or open a book and get lost in a made-up world. You know, pretend my life — and especially my problem — doesn’t exist. I’ve chosen that path many times before, and it works… but only temporarily. Eventually, panic comes back.

Recently when I said the words “I don’t know what to do,” I actually received a helpful answer, one that changed my way of thinking about situations that leave a person feeling at a loss, especially when that person is a Christian. That response? “Do what you can. Do what you know to do.”

My pastor gave me this advice and then elaborated a bit and reminded me that as Christians, we have some very specific activity we always know to do even when a situation seems impossible.

  1. God's Way_scripturePray. From short, spontaneous prayers like Nehemiah (Nehemiah 1:4) prayed when King Artexerses gave him opportunity to share his troubles to lengthy sessions such as the one recorded in Psalm 88, prayer always exists as an option.
  2. Ask for prayer. Quit thinking you have to go through troubles alone… God wants us to pray for and with each other (James 5:16).
  3. Read Scripture. Get God’s thoughts on situations from the everyday ones to the impossible ones. Psalm 119:105 says God’s Word is a light for our path, so turn on the light!
  4. Watch where you lean. My own understanding when in a struggle, at least initially, is usually wrought with emotion. And when I’m emotional, I don’t think clearly and can’t see anything but the problem. Getting God’s perspective, through Godly counsel and Scripture, gives us a place of strength on which to lean. (Proverbs 3:5-6)
  5. Give thanks. So many examples of prayer in Scripture involve spending time thanking God. If you’re not sure why this is, spend a few minutes simply giving thanks for all He’s done for you and all He promises for His people, and you’ll soon realize why giving thanks is such an important activity during a struggle. (Philippians 4:6-7)
  6. Guard your thoughts. Doubt and loneliness rise up at their strongest during a crisis. Don’t allow your thoughts to dwell in the pit. Instead, focus on God’s promises recorded in Scripture. (Philippians 4:8-9)
  7. Wait. Looking again to Nehemiah, we know he waited four months from the time he felt a burden for his people in Jerusalem until the opportunity to ask for the King’s help. Nehemiah didn’t force the issue; instead, he kept doing his job (what he knew to do) and trusted that God would give him the opportunity to act. (Nehemiah 1-2)

Unfortunately, my quality of thinking easily goes down the drain when the emotions of a helplessness hit (especially if I’m tired or hungry and definitely if I’m both). I need reminded of right thinking, which then makes way for the peace of God.

When we finally realize that the statement, “I don’t know what to do,” simply isn’t true for Christians, we see a whole new place of victory even during the struggles of life.

DISCUSSION: What do you do when you don’t know what to do?

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21 Replies to “What To Do When You Don’t Know What To Do”

  1. I hide (in a book). i ride (my bike). I abide (I get alone with God). LOL. I had to do that rhyme thing. I do all of those at different times. Depends on my mood at the time. The advice you have given is spot on kari.
    My recent post Common

    1. Alliteration can be a useful tool. Go with it! Mood does have a lot to do with it for me too. I don't think any of those things are bad, by the way, just not the first thing we do when we feel like we don't know what to do.

  2. Sometimes we look at the path before us and it seems so complex and complicated. Sometimes hopeless. Sometimes dangerous. At those moments, we have a tremendous amount of resistance within us and, like you mentioned, we are so prone to procrastinate in one way or another. Often the form of procrastination we take is to do a lot of busy work and avoid tackling the real obstacle before us.
    But most often, we know what we should do – at least as far as taking the next step. Many times we'll find that taking that first step causes the rest of the path to gradually come into focus.
    My recent post Give Yourself Grace, Not Tolerance

    1. You have hit on something I see all the time in those I love and something I have also been guilty of, and that is we keep ourselves busy to avoid dealing with the real issues of life. After all, it's socially acceptable to say, "I just don't have time" for something these days. And you're also right about how just taking the first step makes the rest fall into place. I find this with small things like exercising and with the big things like a new ministry. Just taking that first step of action brings motivation to keep going. Great points, Loren.

  3. Powerful points, Kari! My first response when I don't know what to do is to pray because God know what I should do or what needs to be done. I just need to take time to seek Him.

  4. In the midst of difficult moments, I've said the same thing in recent months – "I don't know what to do." My first instinct is to mentally come up with a solution or the words to say to make something right. Then, I get frustrated that I can't change the situation. A light usually comes on in my head after I start feeling alone, and I remember to talk to God. I think it's His way of getting me to turn to Him when I've tried to solve it on my own.
    My recent post Making Adventure a Priority

  5. #4 & #6 are big for me. I can't trust my emotions. Instead I must learn to go to God, trust HIS Word and ask for His help to guard my heart and mind.
    Barb's upcoming book has really been helping me transform my mind. I can't wait for it to be released. I know it will help many people.

    Great post, Kari.

    1. Same here, TC. I've learned not to trust my emotions. I just can't make decisions by them. Becoming infused with His Word is so important for guarding our hearts and minds. Barb does have great material on this topic for sure!

  6. Wow! and I thought I was the only one who struggled with this…I get frustrated and vent. I am reading the book KEEP IT SHUT and am working on zipping my lip when I want to vent. And as far as leaning on my own understanding, well I am working on TRUSTing with all my heart and NOT leaning on my own wisdom. Like you it gets out of wack when I am upset. I do try to pray, ask for prayer, and find that counting my blessings really does help. I too hide in a good book. I am on #13 for 2015, so you know I have had my nose in one a lot already. Several more are partially read. Sure a good topic again Kari! thanks.

  7. I think we all have the tendency to "escape" in various ways or means, but like you said, it's not helpful and ultimately not healthy. I've come a long way (by His grace) in regard to emotional honesty. I know when I stuff things down or try to put it on the shelf when I really am upset about it, it causes other problems. I think your suggestions are spot-on. Another one for me as a musician is that I will sit at the piano and spend time singing and worshiping. That usually combines the reading scripture (because a lot of times I'll just begin singing a passage). Music definitely calms me. Anyway, great advice here. Thanks Kari.
    My recent post Sanctuary: Be My Leader

    1. I agree, Jason. We do all have that very human tendency. I like our music suggestion too. I remember times in my life where I used music to escape the thoughts in my head and it ended up addressing the very struggles I was attempting to avoid by listening to music. It is a very powerful tool. Great suggestion!

  8. I love your pastor's advice. It helps me to know that this is usually the place the Lord wants me — where I can no longer rely on my own strength. When I was in this situation this fall, He used it to show off in an incredible way. So glad I didn't know what to do.

    1. Great to hear from you again Melanie! You make a great point here… God gets glorified in a major way when we don't know what to do and we lean on Him. That's the best reason I can think of for rejoicing in those struggles!

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