I heard the slap of palm on skin from across the hall. Annoyed, I rolled off the bed to check out the situation. The victim daughter said the other hit “on purpose”, while the slapper insisted it was an “accident”. Neither wavered in her insistence of the true motivation. I was left refereeing an impossible situation, and it brought up (for what felt like the millionth time) a mom speech about intentional versus accidental acts. And today, on this snowy precipice of a new year, my focus is on intentionality. How much of my life is a series of accidents, things that happen along the way while I am distracted, and how much is intentional, brought under my control by mindful choices?
The way I see it, little good comes without intentionality. I can hope for a happenstance opportunity to present itself and see it as fortunate, but let’s be honest, rarely does a gift of relationship, time, or talent arrive unbidden at the doorway for your use. Relationships bloom, opportunities arise, and talent multiplies based directly on intentional attention.
This fall, while continuing to wait for cardiac answers, but knowing that there may not be a clear directive, I decided to try a weight class. I have always been weak. Remember those Presidential Awards in middle school gym? Yeah- I never received one. I could not do push-ups, or pull-ups, or climb the rope. I blamed it on my size, my weak arms, my broken bones, and more, but the truth was, I never intentionally tried to improve. I was nervous to take a 6 am class devoted to free weights, for obvious reasons. I started with 5 pound discs on my barbell. I could hardly move the next day. But it felt good, in a sadistically painful way. I went back the next week, and the next. Each week I tried adding a little, even if it was a mere 2.5 pound disc. This week, I was up to 20 pounds on each side of my bar. It feels good- I can feel and see change. Exercise in general is such a concrete example of the reward of intentionality. Adding a lap to a swim or a mile to a run is a tangible reward for intentional effort, as is losing a few pounds, wearing smaller jeans, and seeing a muscle that used to look like mashed potatoes.
But this isn’t a post about my workout successes or my mashed potato arms. It is a friendly suggestion to myself (and you) that as we enter a man-prescribed date of resolutions and change, we must be intentional. If I don’t set a day to take Nick on a date, the weeks will pass unrelentingly, and it will be a month later before we face each other at a restaurant table for a real chat. If I don’t determine to grade 10 papers a day, my stack grows and grows and grows. Nothing happens without a decision that drives it. Most importantly, God calls us to intentional service. If I don’t watch for opportunities to serve others and serve God, I am easily eaten up by the daily grind, and my life continues in self-serving oblivion to the needs around me. Sure, an accidental or providential situation may arise, but I am likely to pass up 10 or 15 opportunities because I have not been watching. Ephesians 5:15-17 says, “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore, do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.” The older I get, the more I realize the days are evil. I can put off until tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow into eternity and never really accomplish anything. I can claim that I am weak in so many things, but never flex my muscles to change. This year, in whatever God puts in my path, I am going to make decisions, help others, and build myself in ways that are willful and purposed, in order to make the most of the life I have been given.