Getting Things Done, Christ, And The Vocation Of Catholic Laypersons

On Tuesday, the Gospel reading for daily Mass was St. Matthew’s account of Peter’s walking on the water, and sinking. During his homily, the celebrant emphasized the importance of keeping Christ as our focus, of keeping our eyes upon Him at all times. He then asserted that when things are going bad, people tend to lose sight of Christ the easiest and exhorted us to resolutely seek Him when times are bad.

The more thought I gave this, the more I think the celebrant had it backwards. When things are going awry is when my focus is most singularly on Christ. Lying in the emergency room last week, all I could think of was Him. I, of course, was a supplicant.

Now, back in the workaday world, gaining half that focus is a challenge. There are deadlines. There are phone calls. There are briefs to be written; research to be done; all of the normal, daily parts of an employment attorney’s world. Things aren’t bad, but the world is slowly draining last week’s focus away.

Yet, we are told to “seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” Matthew 6:33. It seems we’re trapped in a Catch-22: we have to meet our responsibilities in the world (as a moral duty), but they distract us from Christ, which defeats us. What’s the answer?

The answer lies in the moral virtues: prudence, justice, temperance, and fortitude. Catechism of the Catholic Church, para. 1805. This is where “Getting Things Done” comes in. Getting Things Done is one among many personal organizational systems (here’s a good explanation). I mention it because the prime benefit it promises is not to become a millionaire in three weeks with no effort. It promises a state of productive relaxed control sort of like being “in the zone” while playing sports. You don’t have less to do, but you are more in control. David Allen, the person who invented the system, asserts that it is critical for people to get “stuff” out of your head because:

“The big problem is that your mind keeps reminding you of things when you can’t do anything about them. . . . Everything you’ve told yourself you ought to do, it thinks you should be doing it right now. . . This produces an all-pervasive stress factor whose source can’t be pinpointed.”

Of course, if your mind is saying “do ‘x’ now,” it is not calmly appreciating and calling to mind our Lord’s great love or our great love for Him. This is why “normal” stress and strain pulls us away from Christ…and if we just make Him another item on the schedule, we go nowhere fast.

But isn’t this the key? Let’s say we use a system – whether it’s Getting Things Done (or GTD) or another one – and that system puts us in control of our attention. It reduces the stuff bouncing around in our heads so that we can intentionally turn our focus to Christ and keep it there as Mary of Bethany did. Our practice of the human virtues creates the space amidst everything — work, children, wives — where we can approach our Lord. The proper use of worldly tools is essential to our growth in holiness.

This is the escape for the Catch-22: we use the tools of the world to defeat the prince of the world. We seek the Kingdom of God first by working in the world (exercising prudence) and by controlling as much as possible the stuff in our lives. As a Catholic layperson, these tools allow me to control the stuff that distracts me from Him without buying into the premise that the answer is do more stuff now. In the end, this is how a layperson puts Christ first.

source (candles)

source (cat)

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