New Year Thoughts: 5 Reasons to Avoid the Trappings of "Intentional Living"

I love how the New Year actually feels like a new start for us.  Despite having the flu, missing much of the holiday celebrations, and having a long road back to getting our home in order, we know that we are blessed to have everyone back to health and a new baby to add to our family!  It definitely seems like we are getting a second chance at life!

I have been reading much about the New Year, organizing goals, and a repeated theme among blog posts of "intentional" living.  Before you get me wrong, please understand that I have many friends who are taking this approach towards life in a healthy and helpful way for their families and those around them.  But I feel that something must be said about the dangers that can come from pinning your hopes of changing your life with the ringing in of a new year.  It's great to set goals; it's dangerous to plan for high expectations that depend on your own works to see them through.

Here are five facts to be aware of when attempting to achieve "intentional" living:

1.  "Intentional" is a very personal definition.  It is most often described as living in a "deliberate" or "purposeful" way.  But what does this mean?  Is it possible to live without purpose?  Are you capable as a human to do anything that isn't "deliberate"?  Life, after all, isn't an accident.

Wiki defines intentional living as a "lifestyle based on an individual or group's conscious attempts to live according to their values and beliefs. These can include lifestyles based on religious or ethical values, as well as coaching, personal transformation, and leadership training."

Whatever you value in life is what you should be focusing your life around.  This will look very different from person to person.  To attempt to have a life like someone else in the name of "intentional living" may be superficial or border on idolatry.

2.  When we live intentionally, it can become easy to judge others.  Do you consider yourself living "intentionally"?  Why?  Is it because you stopped watching TV to read more books?  Did you ditch your smartphone so that you could "unplug" from social media?  While these choices may have made a profoundly positive difference in your own life, it may not for someone else.  (Conversely, it may be harmful for someone to make these changes. I know that my business would stop without my iPhone, causing my children to not get their needs met.)

Let's make sure that our picture of an intentional life isn't used to measure others on theirs.

3.  Living intentionally can lead to a "works" based life.  What's the first thing people do when January 1st rolls around?  They try harder.  They go to the gym more.  They eat better. They read more books. They set goals that require them to do more, be more efficient, and make fewer errors.  Whether you are pledging to waste less food, pay your bills on time, or learn a second language, most of the goals of an intentional life require us to focus on works.

While it is a wonderful thing to try to change your life, God is often not put into the center of our efforts.
(Ephesians 2:8-9) "For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: {9} Not of works, lest any man should boast."

4.  We can try to change too much, too soon.  If you're like me, you have mountains of lists that never get finished.  You put so many things on your to-do's each day, that you know you won't get them all done, but you feel guilty if you don't at least put them on there.  The same thing happens each New Year; people use their attempts at an "intentional" life to declare all of their sins (wasting food, eating too much, or not drinking enough water) as hurdles to overcome.  It think that picking one or two to focus on may be a great thing; vowing to change every negative habit you struggle with, however, will just set you up for failure.  Be realistic and pick a few things at a time to deal with.

(An example is the current "40 bags in 40 days" blog challenge I see going on.  I don't have 40 bags of anything to get rid of; I donate 2 boxes to charity every month, spreading my "decluttering" across a full 12 months.  While some people will have no trouble giving away 40 bags of something or other, it is a very large goal for those who live minimally to begin with.  Perhaps 1 or 2 bags a month is more realistic for your living situation, and that's OK, too!)

5.  There is something to be said for stability.  I had a boss who was very in tune with my emotional ups and downs.  He used to tell me that I would be very successful in life, once I figured out how to "shave off the mountains and fill in the valleys."  What he meant was that I needed to harness my emotions and frenzied periods of activity so that I could sustain over the long-term and also so that I didn't freak out those around me.

January 1st can feel like that nesting period you get right before a new baby.  You want to do everything right now, and ignore all the things around you that don't help you achieve your goal.  To a husband or your children, however, this new year is just like any other season in life; it should be approached with a rational game plan that allows you to continue doing what you do each day (school, work, or just being there for your kids.)  Don't get so wrapped up in your obsession to clean the garage, for example, that you leave the kids making PB&J every night for dinner.  They need you to be awesome... and the garage can be tackled over a month or more -- if need be.

What about you? Have you been tempted to live a suddenly new "intentional life"?  I'm guessing that much of what you already do is pretty intentional - and wonderful.  Look to God and your natural strengths to get you through some realistic goals and use the momentum to build upon your success.  And let's not forget that an intentional life also includes relaxing and enjoying the days that you've been given!