The task at hand and the person in front of me

I've always been task oriented. If there's something to be done -- or better yet, something to be fixed -- you can count me in. I don't know why solving problems excites me. But few things get my attention more quickly than an action item does, especially one that is challenging or urgent.

Perhaps it's because doing something makes me feel like I have some influence or control. Maybe it's because problems can often be solved, and solving at least some of them can be interpreted as victory, or success, or an achievement of some sort. But lately I've started to realize that as important as the task at hand may be, the person in front of me is far more important. In fact, I'm beginning to think that God may allow problems simply to arrange for encounters between persons.

If you consider the works of mercy, for example, it may seem as if Jesus is asking his disciples to get busy checking off items on a 14 point to-do list. (Let me see, feed the hungry, clothe the naked -- oh yes, instruct the ignorant is next.) But I think for task oriented people like me, the whole reason for the list is to put us face to face with people who are thirsty, or imprisoned, or unrepentant. Or, from the other point of view, it means putting the thirsty, imprisoned, and unrepentant face to face with us. Eventually, what we do leads us to whomever we are doing it for. The works of mercy lead us to mercy itself.

The Gospels make it clear that the task at hand isn't Christ's focus; people are. Teaching and healing and forgiving sins may be the point of personal contact, but the contact itself is the point. Jesus met people where they were; he still does. He is certainly present to a person's needs, but he is more present to the person himself.

The problems we have don't draw God to us the way they draw us to God. Jesus does not come to us as the great problem solver. He came to us as a savior in order that he might someday come for us as a bridegroom.

Today I will have challenges to face, problems to solve, and issues to resolve. But if I discharge my responsibilities according to my faith, I will meet Christ in the people behind the challenges, problems, and issues, and I will allow them to meet Christ in me. If I can manage to live this day by grace, I will not allow my thirst for reassurance or control to swallow up the moment. I will stop being so very attentive to the problem, and look for ways to be a whole lot more present to the person in front of me.

That is the communion God looks forward to: the unity that will exist between us only when each of us is finally one with him. That's why living the Christian life is much more than mere social work or an accounting of good deeds. As important as we tell ourselves they are, tasks and agendas are only vehicles. They bring us to the people we are called to. The purpose of every human interaction is to enable a genuine encounter with one another. When we do that, we encounter in one another the image of God. The task at hand is the person in front of me, and that has a lot more to do with being present than it does with having an answer.

Jaymie Stuart Wolfe is a wife and mother of eight children, and a disciple of the spirituality of St. Francis de Sales. She is an inspirational author, speaker, musician and serves as an Associate Children's Editor at Pauline Books and Media.

- Jaymie Stuart Wolfe is a Catholic convert, wife, and mother of eight. Inspired by the spirituality of St. Francis de Sales, she is an author, speaker, and musician, and serves as a senior editor at Ave Maria Press. Find Jaymie on Facebook or follow her on Twitter @YouFeedThem.