By Ann Boyd

The Next Right Thing: An Interview with Emily P. Freeman

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I've long been a fan of Emily P. Freeman and her work — "creating space for your soul to breathe so you can discern your next right thing." Emily's writing has always been focused on helping others to live fully and listen carefully to God's activity in their lives. Now, after receiving a master's in spiritual formation, we caught up with Emily to hear about her experience in graduate school and ask for advice that she might have particularly for women in academia. So pour yourself a hot drink, sink into a comfortable chair, and take a minute of space in your day to absorb this grounding conversation. We think you'll be glad you did.

— Ann Boyd

Welcome, Emily! We’re so glad to have a chance to hear from you. Let’s start with one of my favorite questions: What books are currently in your “reading now” stack? Are you loving any of them?

I’m always reading several books at once. Right now I’m reading The Blue Parakeet: Rethinking How You Read the Bible by Scot McNight, The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis, Group Spiritual Direction by Rose Mary Dougherty, and I’m listening to The Only Plane in the Sky: An Oral History of 9/11 by Garrett M. Graff.

And yes, I love them all or I wouldn’t be reading them! As many have said before me, “Life is too short to read bad books.”

You recently graduated with a Masters in Spiritual Formation and Leadership. While you were in your program, you lived a full life of writing, podcasting, and mentoring — not to mention participating in a family. What kept you sane during your time in grad school?

Well that question pre-supposes I was sane during my time in grad school which is . . . debatable. Ha! But truly, I couldn’t have done any of that without my husband John. His work is flexible and he takes seriously the job of caring for me, our kids, and our home when my margins are slim.  

I remember listening to the first few episodes of your podcast The Next Right Thing and realizing, “Oh! This is all about discernment!” Now this podcast has birthed a lovely hardbound book. Can you distill a few nuggets of wisdom for our readers who are constantly hovering in that space of “What should I do next?”

It’s such an important question and it seems like the question I hear more often is simply “What should I do?” (without the next). It doesn’t matter how old you are, where you work, or what stage of life you’re in, we all have to make decisions and we hope to make good ones. We want to choose wisely but the trouble is often we don’t know what the wise choice is and we aren’t sure how to find out. It’s admirable and lovely to want to choose wisely, but I think we have made this too complicated. Rather than focusing so much on doing the right thing it’s been life-changing for me to simply do the next right thing, right where I am.
 

You are a busy woman. You are not bored. And yet you appear to have structured your life in a way that you’re able to do good work, look your children in the eye daily, and preserve your connection with God. What advice would you give to someone who feels like life is moving too fast to catch up?

First, be kind to yourself, especially if you have small children. When my kids are small (and even sometimes now, let’s be honest) I did feel busy all the time but rarely did I feel productive. And that’s okay. 

Second, I would simply say that every day, every moment really, is a chance to begin again. Author Leeana Tankersley says this a lot (and she quotes St. Benedict): “Always we begin again.” Remembering this will do wonders for a worn-out soul.

Finally, for anyone who feels like life is moving too fast to catch up I would guess what’s beneath that is a fear that you’re missing it: missing what’s important, missing connection, missing the very life you most want to live. So I would simply issue this kind reminder from James Bryan Smith: “You are one in whom Christ dwells and delights. You live in the strong and unshakable kingdom of God.” No matter how fast you go, you can rest knowing that the kingdom of God is not in trouble, and neither are you.

Since we’re getting in deep, I’m not going to be shy. Do you fear death? If so, what strategies do you have for tolerating that fear? If not, what’s that like?

I think about death a lot, actually. But I’ll be honest and say I don’t know if “fear” is the first word that comes to mind when I think of death. Mystery maybe? Hesitation? Curiosity? Anger? I don’t know. I do fear losing people I love. But when it comes to my own death, I don’t know if I have an answer for you. It sounds trite to say yes and dishonest to say no. 

I will say Psalm 23 has become a beloved prayer for me over the last two years. I used to think of it as mainly scripture read at funerals. But the more I read it in God’s presence, the more life I find in it. The Lord is my shepherd, I have everything I need.

Let’s come back to the daily. You’ve had a long day and you’re exhausted. You’ve got thirty minutes of alone time before your family comes home. What do you do?

Watch part of a show that no one else in my family will watch with me. A Million Little Things is a current one no one else watches. 

What is your favorite last-minute thing to cook for dinner?

Pasta. Comfort, fast, and everyone will eat it.

We find daily routines really interesting. You’ve talked some about your morning routine on your podcast already. Can you give us a peek into the habits you have for opening and wrapping up your days?

I share a bit about this on Episode 90 of The Next Right Thing podcast. I have a morning rhythm I enjoy:

  • Pray: A short prayer to open my morning time
  • Read: A short portion of Scripture - read it a few times and let it read me, too
  • Write: Two pages in my journal, nothing fancy
  • Read: 15 minutes of a book (non-fiction spiritual life book, usually)
  • Pray: Simple, listening prayer. Sometimes I use words.

Evening routine is usually less set, always involves family, watching a show, helping with homework, a little reading, a little lavender essential oil. Bedtime is my favorite.

Thanks so much for chatting with us, Emily!

You can learn more about Emily's work through her blog, her podcast, and her most recent book, The Next Right Thing.

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About the Interviewee

Emily P. Freeman is the Wall Street Journal best-selling author of Simply Tuesday and A Million Little Ways. Her newest book, The Next Right Thing, offers a simple, soulful practice for making life decisions. Emily is also the host of The Next Right Thing Podcast. She earned her MA in Christian Spiritual Formation and Leadership at Friends University. In her writing and speaking, Emily always seeks to create space for the soul to breathe, offering fresh perspective on the sacredness of our inner life with God. Emily and her husband live in North Carolina with their three children. Connect with her online at emilypfreeman.com and on Instagram @emilypfreeman.

About the Interviewer

Ann has worked for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship since 1997, exploring her interests and gifts in music, teaching, and spiritual formation. She received her bachelor’s in music education from Northwestern University in 1997 and keeps on singing, even if it is just for joy at home. Ann spends free moments working on knitting projects, making homemade ice cream, and going on tandem-bike dates with her husband, Jon. Together, they homeschool their two daughters and write up as much as they can at their blog. Ann is the managing editor of The Well.

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