When Intentionality Has You in a Choke Hold

Our granddaughter, Charleston, flings her right hand in the air these days like Queen Elizabeth at a polo match and pronounces: “I hate Poptarts. I hate Poptarts.”

I feel you, Charlie girl. And it’s okay, because Poptarts aren’t good for you, anyway.

There’s a word I really hate these days, and I hate it like that. Like a little girl all dressed up in a sequined yard sale gown, fluttering her fingers, tiara bobbing on her fluffy blonde head, telling the world what she doesn’t like.

It’s no one’s fault, but I loathe the word “intentional,” hate it like Charlie hates Poptarts. Sometimes it—this idea that every single step of my life, every conversation, every appointment, every book I read, every decision I make, must be strategic—this thought strangles the very life out of me.

So when two young moms, seeking to be more intentional, asked me to have coffee with them to talk about how to engage the refugee community better, I had to stifle my inner three-year-old princess. Which wasn’t all that hard, since I have liked and admired these women since the day I laid eyes on each of them. Of course, I am going to meet them for coffee.

But when I think about my intentions as a neighbor to our refugee friends, I am caught in a familiar intentionality chokehold, reminded of my own under performance. What can I tell these two earnest young women, when a quick inventory of my last few months shows a life that doesn’t reflect its own intentions? I’ve started a non-profit business that is all about welcoming refugees, about creating a place of refuge for them right here in Clarkston. And this very business, with this very intention behind it, has kept me from doing what I love most: intentionally engaging the very people I am committed to serve. It’s even kept me from having as much quality, intentional time with my children and grandchildren and a host of other people as I’d like. What’s up with that?

I am tempted to blame the business or the busyness it has imposed on my life. But the truth is I failed at intentionality long before I intended to start a non-profit.

Maybe it’s just the pressure of living a responsible adult life. Maybe it’s the oldest daughter syndrome. Or that I was a pastor’s wife for thirty years. Or that I am the product of a Christian culture that tells me I must painstakingly attempt to live each segment of my life—my wife-lover-mother-grandmother-daughter-friend-servant-neighbor-leader life—with brow-sweating effort. And that it should all look effortless.

Charlie reminds me that it’s kind of okay to hate a word for a moment. Maybe I’m being childlike, but maybe that’s okay, too. Maybe to receive grace I must be like a child. Adults don’t seem to like grace all that much, but kids, they eat it up.

Last Wednesday, my friend, Quen, and another friend, Noelle, and I talked about our childhoods. Quen told us about his favorite day as a child, which was a composite of all his favorite days. I told about mine. And I added a bit about what I guessed would be our boy’s favorite day.

Quen loved exploring on his grandpa’s farm in Texas. I loved tromping through the woods behind our house. There was this bluff maybe a quarter mile away. It was more epic than Mt. Rushmore, more thrilling than any plastic park slide. It was probably all of ten feet tall. Beyond the cliff, a valley with only green moss for ground cover that I imagined housed a complicated network of fairy villages. Our boys went “swamping” far beyond our property in pursuit of a Yeti. Yes, there was a swamp. There might have been a Yeti, too.

Quen, Noelle, and I had this conversation at the end of a long, very intentional day, a good day. But I was exhausted by all that intentionality, so maybe I imagined it, but something buoyant happened in the room as we talked about a lifetime ago when we did not have to plan to live. Something inside of me fluttered open.

What was I longing for? An all-day ramble in the woods? Maybe. A sequined gown and the right to make silly pronouncements at will? I don’t think so.

I think I wanted something that is of more value in the kingdom of heaven than it is here on earth. Immediacy. Immediacy is different from intentionality. You can’t train or prepare or plan or study for it. Listen to what Oswald Chambers says:

God’s training is for now, not presently. His purpose is for this minute, not for something in the future.

Immediacy by itself can be good or bad in certain contexts, I get that. But put immediacy together with something children have to learn from us before they grow all the way up, and it can be powerful. That thing is obedience. Not obedience to just anybody, but obedience ultimately to God.

I’m comforted by the memory that Refuge Coffee Co. was born out of an immediate obedience to a dream I am 99% sure God gave me. And it has progressed more or less due to a series of random, immediate decisions to obey. The decisions are not just my own, but I have kinfolk, blood and otherwise, who surround and support this thing by obeying God in the moment. And the next moment. Distill all these moments down to their essence, and you have nothing less than love.

Immediacy does not come naturally to me. I have, however, observed a unique version of immediacy here in Clarkston. I’ve noticed that people from other cultures come to our truck for coffee or tea and end up staying for hours. They talk and play chess. They offer to buy you coffee. They laugh about the appointment they will be late for because they haven’t left yet, and then they stay on. This forces me, in the gentlest of ways, to sit and stay on with them.

It is our obedience to the God who is love, not our intentionality, that makes immediacy explode with HIS intentions. Love is far more dizzying and dazzling than intentionality could ever hope to be. Here’s Oswald again:

We have nothing to do with the afterwards of obedience; we get wrong when we think of the afterward. What men call training and preparation, God calls the end.

God’s end is to enable me to see that He can walk on the chaos of my life just now. If we have a further end in view, we do not pay sufficient attention to the immediate present: if we realize that obedience is the end, then each moment as it comes is precious.

We used to tell our kids a true story about a man who yelled to his son across a playground to “Come here right now!” The son went to his father, and because he obeyed, the rabid dog that had been approaching him just beyond the child’s line of sight did not attack him. And then we’d tell the boys what this story meant. It meant immediate obedience, to us first as practice and eventually to God, was good for them.

I agree with that young-parent-us story. But I think it sells obedience way too short. When I obey in the moment, God gets the afterward, which is far more than avoiding bad things.

His intentions + my obedience = untold mysteries and wonders.

God’s afterwards. I miss them when I get addicted to my own series of intentional action steps written in black ink and highlighted in yellow in case I forget them or, worse, avoid doing them. Not that this is all bad. I will continue to make these lists and… ugh… be intentional. But I want more than that.

More begins in the immediate moment when I obey God’s intention. And his intentions are always for my good, unlike Poptarts.

One Reply to “When Intentionality Has You in a Choke Hold”

  1. Beautiful! That immediate obedience is sometimes what can fluster us(me) as I prefer things planned and intentional. Unfortunately that feeds into my perfectionism and performance obsession. But I keeping learning that God ultimately knows best – even when I don’t understand. Prayers for you and these efforts in your community, Kitti!

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