The Intentional Life
She cleaned up milk spills and changed dirty diapers while she watched others graduate with their doctorates or appear on TV shows. She swept up cheerios from the floor and wiped jelly spills off the counter, while friends spoke at university lectures and ran for election.
This was the life she had chosen, but there was always that nagging question in the back of her mind.
What if she had chosen a different path? Where would she be today?
Certainly not sorting piles of mismatched socks and scrubbing toilets.
Yet there was something that emerged from these small, daily tasks. When she mopped the floor, it was dirty, humbling work. But it gave her time to think, to remind herself of the importance of making a home and inviting others into it to share life.
The most important work of life often goes unseen: praying, reading to a child, making a meal for someone, following Jesus’ words, doing something that makes a difference.
We won’t all write novels, win American Idol, or be star athletes. But we can learn to embrace life even through the piles of unwashed dishes sitting in the kitchen.
We can say, I can’t conquer the world, but I can do this one thing. Then we plunge our hands in soapy dishwater and scrub the first dirty pan.
There is courage in doing one small thing.
We want to create something good. But every time we try to muster the courage to do it, we see someone else doing it better.
We tell yourselves we don’t have time. We are too old. We have babies to raise or teenagers to shuttle around.
We forget that the first step of living intentionally emerges from the small choices we make everyday: the ways we care for others, the home we make with friends and family, how we give of ourselves daily, try to live the Word and love Jesus.
It is about making intentional choices, even when that intentional life feels hugely out of reach.
In her book Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott tells a story about how when her brother was ten, he had to write a report on birds for a school project. He had three months to work on it, but waited until the night before to start the report.
Close to tears, he couldn’t get started on the project because it seemed too big: piles of unopened books sat in front of him while a blank notebook sheet of paper stared him in the face.
That’s when Lamott’s dad leaned over and said something that’s good advice when life seems daunting:
“Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.”
I have thought of this story whenever life feels to big for me to handle and when being intentional seems like an impossible goal.
The only way to work towards an intentional life in the midst of life’s craziness is to take it bird by bird.
Some of the most inspiring people I know aren’t speaking in lecture halls or winning awards. They are simply living intentionally. This is what Anne Lamott means when she says,
“Your problem is how you are going to spend this one and precious life you have been issued. Whether you’re going to spend it trying to look good and creating the illusion that you have power over circumstances, or whether you are going to taste it, enjoy it and find out the truth about who you are.”
When you stop comparing your work, your life, your hardships with others, you no longer live with the constant question of “What if I had chosen a different path?” “What if this hadn’t happened?”
You embrace the path you are on. You learn to live intentionally on your journey.