As a young man, a junior in my college career, I was given the unique opportunity to live abroad for a semester. I eventually spent roughly eight months living in the Netherlands while working with high school and college students in nine different countries. The core of what I was there for was to minister to and foster the spiritual growth and understanding of this group of students.
To say it was a special time in my life would be a dire understatement of the experience and its profound effects on my life both then and in decades to come.
When it came time to leave I was gifted with a tradition of a pair of wooden shoes, iconic of the Dutch culture, signed by the students and close church members I had shared so much of my life with. There were the usual notes of encouragement, well wishes, and we’ll miss you, one would hope for and in many ways expect. Then, there was this. “The pathway to hell is paved with good intentions.” Thanks Alex. A well meant, if not misplaced attempt, at humor by a junior high student. The idiosyncrasies of junior high students, particularly boys, is, well, legend.
So here I am in 2017 finding myself being a bit more thoughtful than 2016. I am definitely wanting to be much more intentional in my actions, my thinking and my reactions to life as it comes to me.
I’m fresh off two weeks of vacation time at the end of the year. Time to spend with my family, focus on them, enjoy the holidays and what they should mean to me, and perhaps an unintentional time to decompress or purge myself of the massive amount of stimulus I encountered on an average day in 2016. This decompression was unintentionally facilitated by a week’s worth of sinus infection. Not having been ill to any real consequential degree in over three years; I’d forgotten what a joy it was to feel both disembodied and thick as a slab of concrete at Hoover Dam, all in the same instance. The cure truly is more harmful than the disease sometimes.
All of that left me seeking, as I stated, to be more intentional in my approach to everything. The renewed “perspective” of the Christmas season, morphed into a desire to see each moment for what it really is and not what it could be ginned up into. There is a certain amount of worry that is necessary if not beneficial, but so much more of it is of no use. It doesn’t serve a purpose except to preoccupy the mind, paralyze the person and terrorize the soul, and ultimately the spirit of the person.
The normal day’s modus operandi would be to begin by thinking of all the things needing to be done once I hit the door of the office: print this, verify that, request this information, begin checking this, receive those, direct them, and then before I know it my agenda is full and I have a purpose of action for the day. This, unfortunately, does not include the two text messages received as I drive into the office, which change the ranked importance of a number of the mentioned items above, or the remembered “potential tasks” for things that “may” have to be done this week in which case everything I’ve gone through previously will now be 75% changed and will leave me with a sense of disappointment and, if only on a small scale, a sense of failure at being the best at what I do.
So what happened today that was different? Me. I happened differently. I took the extra second or two to think more intentionally about what I was walking into to. All of the above was the same. Yes, the same. Print this, verify that, request this information, begin checking this, receive those, direct them, as well as, two text messages received as I drive into the office, which change the ranked importance of a number of the mentioned items above, AND the remembered “potential tasks” for things that “may” have to be done this week in which case everything I’ve gone through previously will now be 75% changed. All of that was the same. I was, however, different.
The list got built and I then told myself, “This WILL get changed and there is not anything you can do about it. You will adapt to the change and you will do all that you can do and only what you can do. The rest will fall where it will and it will be what it will be. I won’t be lazy or uncaring or defensive. Things will happen as God intends for them to happen and you will make the best of what you are given and leave everything, not to be confused with everything else, in His highly capable hands.” Then the text messages came. “Well, you knew this was going to happen. This is not a conspiracy to make your life a living hell nor a personal attack from those you work for. This is life and life is happening and since I am walking to and fro and breathing in and out, life will happen to me. I’m not so special as to dare expect otherwise.”
Yeah, I know. All this sounds very vague and highly philosophical, and it is to a great extent. However, I’m trying to convey the practical matter of this vagueness and philosophy. I’m trying to, in the moment, practice the intentional thinking of an omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent God. If I have no control, or understanding or ability high enough, strong enough, powerful enough to cause me to happen to life, but I am in relationship with THE God who is all of those things, then why do I need to stress or worry or fear? Isaiah 41:10, “Fear not, for I am with you, be not dismayed for I am your God.” So the intentional thought was – “This is what is happening. Will the worry, or the mentally projected difficulties, or the stress I cause myself in either of those processes be beneficial to me or serve any purpose in solving these issues? If the answer to any of those questions is no, then what should my next intentional thought be?” For me it is this. Lord, I am not in control of much. I am in control of who I trust. I am in control of what I will lean on for support emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. I am intentionally choosing You. Given that I am choosing You (the Lord, Christ, Jesus, God) I am going to walk away secure in the knowledge that You will work this out using what gifts, talents and abilities you have given me or you will give me the grace and strength to walk through this if it can’t be solved. This is true of the logistical nightmare facing me at work or of the relationship with a difficult co-worker. It’s true of the laundry list of chores at home or the list of things I should do to prove once more to my wife and children, how precious they are to me. It’s true of my fragile emotions or my over developed and over used ego.
I know I will be less than completely successful at this approach. My hope is that if I can be even 10% more intentional in my daily thoughts and actions, that I will give more glory to God and receive more contentment for myself. Out of the overflow of this I want to see my family and relationships grow closer to the God who is at the center of all of this.
Thanks Alex. For once again reminding me, ever so inappropriately, that intentions have little purpose except to lead me down a path without hope. However, being intentional in my yielding to the Almighty God of the Universe will only give me hope on more levels than I can presently comprehend.