Being intentional: more than intentions

After the word “hope,” I think the word I heard the most this past weekend was “intentional.” In the convocation address yesterday, speaker Sonja Trent-Brown used the word three times to challenge the freshman class about the attitude they choose. In orientation seminars I attended, speakers repeatedly brought up the need for students to be intentional about taking an active role in the learning process, nurturing their spiritual life, and making choices that will further their career goals.

The dictionary tells me that intentional means “of or pertaining to intention or purpose.” But that’s the second definition, and I’m pretty sure that’s not the one that speakers this weekend had in mind. I have lots of good intentions to get in better shape, cook healthier meals, and get the house cleaner. But if I don’t actually do something about it, my intentions don’t mean much.

The first definition is “done with intention or on purpose,” and I think it’s that first word, done, that is key. Intentional actions are the ones that bring about the results. And I sat through all those sessions this weekend, reflecting on how often my actions are not very intentional.

As my son went through the past four years of high school, I thought back on my own high school years and was glad they were long past. But as he starts college, I feel a good deal of nostalgia for the positive aspects of being in college. There was plenty of unhappiness during those years also, but I was taking intentional steps toward what I thought would be a fulfilling life serving God using my skills in linguistics.

I’ve mentioned before some of the reasons I did not become a missionary and instead became a high school Spanish teacher, and how that turned out to be a disaster. Later I discovered that my abilities fit better with a career in information technology, and I’ve taken intentional steps along that path. But – perhaps because IT is such a volatile field, where today’s expertise can be useless within a few years – I find it much harder to move in a defined direction as opposed to settling for the best opportunities that happen to cross my path. (Relocating due to my husband’s pastoral call also complicates matters.)

But I can’t blame changing technology or moving for my difficulty establishing better health habits and sticking to them, or maintaining a disciplined prayer life. During the day I think about exercise, cooking a low-fat high-fiber meal, and spending time in prayer, and it sounds good. But by the time I finish my eight hours in the office, stop to pick up the groceries that we’re out of (usually milk, cheese, or bread), and get home to start dinner, I just don’t have the same drive to do those things that sounded so appealing earlier in the day.

A website devoted to Being Intentional in Christian Character Training points out that it’s easy to fall into the trap of turning Christianity into a self-improvement program. (Funny how I keep seeing this theme all over the place lately!) Instead, it urges us to focus on God’s great love for us as the motivating factor to replace sinful habits with godly habits.

Another page I found about being intentional talks about setting goals in the context of New Year’s resolutions. It advises focusing on what we want to do rather than what we want to stop doing, and to establish a road map to achieve larger goals. I always liked the start of school because it was a clean slate, sort of like New Year’s but not so arbitrary. (Did you know that the year used to start in March, not January?) That’s part of what I found myself envying the college freshmen for (in addition to their much higher levels of energy).

So I need to get past good intentions to intentionally doing something about them. Exactly what, I haven’t figured out yet…

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