Intentional. Purposeful. Pick your synonym, but those are big buzz words right now. For whatever reason, we as a culture have chosen to condense very large concepts down into a quick way of communicating those concepts with one word: intentional.
Short nuance: This is going to be a post that can be taken for more than what I intend it to be. For the sake of clarity, let me bluntly say that my goal is that what I am trying to process through is the use of words. Now, back to intentional.
The weakness of being intentional
How can I communicate in a way that packs the most meaning into the shortest amount of time, but also in a concise way? I honestly believe there are good intentions behind the use of words like this, but it personally makes me feel as if I’m a project or a focus plan. That is a tension I don’t always resolve well. It can make a more intimate relationship feel corporate, cold and love-less. Whether real or perceived, those feelings exist. I realize that we are not to be driven by our feelings. I get that. However, when that notion drives aside all feelings for how I should be intentionally acting (and it starts to actually be acting the longer it isn’t healthfully dealt with), it takes on further the corporate and cold aspect. People are thirsty and hurting because none of us escape a world in which sin in or around us exists. Approaching that with tools that behave like a Gallup poll engagement survey are not going bring deliverance from the thirst or hurt that is likely the root of the behavior.
Being intentional can even have the opposite affect not by what is motivating our intentionality, but by the condensing of those motivations to the point where they’ve become buzzwords and lost meaning. It was in jest, but I was meeting with a friend last year and he said to me, “Are you being intentional with me right now?” This is a relationship I want to grow, but like a bad seed in a bag of otherwise good ones, the cultural use of being intentional can introduce a lack of trust like weeds. It can even make someone feel like you’ve been assigned to them. Whether that is real or perceived, if you’re wanting to build a relationship, I don’t see that as fruitful in a positive way. We’ll get back to perception in a minute.
Jesus, please help me.
A conversation Jesus has with one of the religious leaders, recorded in the Gospel of Mark, fuels what I believe is the way to address being intentional.
28 And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?”
29 Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.
30 And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’
31 The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”
32 And the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher. You have truly said that he is one, and there is no other besides him.
33 And to love him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.”
34 And when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And after that no one dared to ask him any more questions. – Mark 12:28-34
“But, but, I am loving my neighbor!”
It takes two to communicate. If you’ve been alive for any length of time, it’s not an uncommon occurrence that the message that’s been received is not the one you intended to send out. It has been said that perceptions are reality, and while that’s note entirely true, it feels like it. There is a responsibility of love on the hearer, on those who receive your intentionality, to believe the best about you. 1 Corinthians 13:7 says that Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. This is a characteristic of what love does.
But what of the one who is is trying to love? Or… are you trying to be intentional? 1 Corinthians 13 starts with If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. You may as well say that if I am being intentional but have no love, it’s worthless.
If we’re going to be intentional…
Lets shift focus. Intentionality focused on where I spend my time and what I feed myself on is self-driven. Unless I’m trying to work for the approval of someone else, It’s unlikely I’m going to make myself feel like a project. When I act out of intentionality instead of an outpouring of what I am loving, the conviction is lost. People feel like projects. This may be a crude way of saying that, but I don’t know how to refine it better.
What did Jesus say? Everything is summed up by love God, and secondly love others. The order I believe is incredibly important. If we are going to be intentional, let us be intentional about loving God. If you are a Christian, I hope you know that the separation between you and God has been reconciled by Jesus. You aren’t reading the Bible and praying to gain anyone favor. Haven’t we heard it said that Christianity isn’t a religion, it’s a relationship? (That’s not to say Christianity is NOT true religion, but that is another discussion.) You are trying to grow your relationship with the God who has rescued you. Who IS this God that would leave heaven to become a man, take on our sufferings, die for the ways his creation has dismissed and shunned him, and raise again so that we could be set free from the curse that enslaves us all? All out of love, amazing love. This love is worth the intentional effort to understand. Even more, it is worth fanning the flame of your affections. Yes, Jesus came and lived and suffered and died and rose again to glorify and love his Father, but he he also fulfilled the second greatest commandment, to love his neighbor. To love his people. His affection was set on his Father, and his Bride.
Affection, I believe, is what feels lacking from a saturated use of being intentional. If we’re going to be intentional, let it be to the stirring up of our affections for God and one another. If whatever way we are behaving is quenching those affections, that’s worth starving.
How can I fan the flames of my affection towards God and the people around me? How can I pour gasoline on that fire? How can I increase that intensity? Is what I’m doing genuinely stirring up those affections or having the opposite effect?
I’m not one who gets this right all the time. I quench my affections for God, my family, my friends, those who aren’t my friends, all the time. My faith cannot be in how well I respond, though, because my response will be inconsistent at best this side of eternity. My faith has to be in the One who died to reconcile me God, because I sure can’t close that gap on my own. Still, with the Valley of Vision, we pray: Grant that I may never trust my heart, depend upon any past experiences, magnify any present resolutions, but be strong in the grace of Jesus: that I may know how to obtain relief from a guilty conscience without feeling reconciled to my imperfections.
A final thought inspired by Treebeard
If we are wanting to love God and love others, and I’m proposing that our use of words is getting in the way of that, I also believe JRR Tolkien gives us some wisdom worth considering. In the spirit of the age of 2018, we are into quick fixes and hacks. We want to say hello, maybe go so far as to drop an encouraging word on someone, and move on. It’s like we live our lives out of the office the same way we do in the office, acknowledging the people we constantly pass in the hallway but don’t stop because we have other things we need to be busy with. Slowing down may be culturally celebrated, but I am suspect of it being culturally practiced. Before I digress into some other tangent about that, I mentioned Treebeard from Lord of the Rings. In The Two Towers, he is having a conversation with two hobbits in regards to his name.
I am not going to tell you my name, not yet at any rate.’ A queer half-knowing, half-humorous look came with a green flicker into his eyes. ‘For one thing it would take a long while: my name is growing all the time, and I’ve lived a very long, long time; so my name is like a story. Real names tell you the story of things they belong to in my language, in the Old Entish as you might say. It is a lovely language, but it takes a very long time saying anything in it, because we do not say anything in it, unless it is worth taking a long time to say, and to listen to.
What is the relevance? If we are loving God and loving others, I believe we can do better than trying to capture big affections with shorthand buzzwords. God and people are valuable. We can can intentionally think about which words we use, we can give each other the best of our words, and we can love each other enough to take a long time to say that.
This is far from completely fleshed out here in a blog post, but I hope it inspires some thought and consideration. I need that myself.