A Webster’s Dictionary of the English Language defines “intentionality” – the noun, not the adverb – as having the quality of being “intentional; (of) aim; (of) design.”
I so appreciate that “aim” is part of the definition.
I thought of that as I spoke with a friend recently. She and I met up at a funeral and discussed how common, at our age, they seem to be becoming. At this point in our lives, of course, it’s mostly parents, friends of parents and parents of friends. Though in this particular case it was for a wonderful young man. Those are always sobering.
My flight home was delayed so I had extra time with this dear friend, and I am grateful. She happened to mention that with a recently deceased father-in-law and what seems like a spate of funerals over the last year, she has a greater appreciation for how fast life moves and changes, and it is impressing on her the need to have more intentionality in her relationships.
I was intrigued.
Anything in life falls apart if it’s not deliberately and regularly shored up, she said – house, laundry room, body, car, lawn, work life, you name it.
So why, too often, do we not give our relationships, even the ones that matter or should matter so much, the same attention we give to these other things? Too often we outright neglect them, yet think they will thrive anyway – while we would never think that of, say, a flowerbed.
She and I talked about marriage, for starters. How everything in our culture, and in our fallen natures, conspires to break down our unions, or at least make us too complacent about them, and we have to constantly resist that pull. But do we?
The same is true for so many relationships. With friends, with family, with our children. If we don’t actively work at it, have as our aim to build up the relationships we care about, they will always deteriorate.
That word “aim” is key. Especially in a fast-paced culture. On the plane ride home, I decided that “intentionality” in my relationships could be an important goal for me in the New Year. To ask myself: What is my aim for my children’s and my relationships (which is different from my aim for them as individuals); my aim for my relationship with my new husband, and that’s one to discuss with him; for my relationships with dear friends and even casual friends. I don’t mean to over-think this. I just mean that if I really care about a person and desire an ongoing relationship at any level, it’s going to mean making time and expending effort and thoughtfulness to make it happen.
“Intentional” – again, according to the Webster’s I have on my shelf – is defined as “the fixed direction of the mind, to a particular object; a determination to do a specified thing or to act in a particular manner.”
That’s going to look very different in terms of my husband than it does with my children, or than it does with a friend. But the principle is the same: Neglect a relationship that I care about, or should care about, and it will fall apart.
I suppose this might mean making more regular time away from our kids for my husband and me to really talk and listen to each other, or more time over lunches with a gal pal to let her know she matters, or maybe consistent prayer for a person or a family. Or it might mean building a relationship in ways I can’t even see right now. And I’ll need to keep asking myself: “Exactly what steps am I taking to keep it healthy?”
I realize this is, in many ways, just common sense. But on the other hand, I don’t find intentionality about relationships to be that common in our fast-paced culture.
So, for once, I’m really glad my flight was delayed.
Betsy Hart’s latest book is “From The Hart: A Collection of Favorite Columns on Love, Loss, Marriage (and Other Extreme Sports).” Email firstname.lastname@example.org.