Written by: Kimberly Peterson (BBH Staff)
Two weeks ago I heard Allison Bown, in a video description of The Warrior Class, describe one of the group's goals as "being intentional without being intense." This little phrase caught my attention immediately and I decided I needed to know more, because while the idea of intentionality appeals to me in a theoretically luminescent sort of way, I admit my natural bias is toward intensity, and it's a bias I've held rather dearly at times.
Intensity is a word, a trait, indeed a value which I have long associated with my own personality and even identity. When I was young, playing soccer in high school, my guy friends would call me "Kim-Lumm-as-tough-as-they-come". And I relished it. Because that was a time before I knew about "joyful vulnerability" when "weak" was the worst thing I could imagine ever being in life. Worse than poor, worse than unsuccessful, worse than alone.
I've always associated intensity with working hard and fast, exhibiting passion and focus. I associated intentionality with making planned, level-headed, strategic choices based on long-term goals and values. I never considered them to be mutually exclusive (and they probably aren't) but it struck me when I heard this phrase that working intensely may not necessarily mean working intelligently. Perhaps what one gains in vigor can be lost in effectiveness, or stamina.
As I considered this possibility, I felt that window opening in my heart which tells me that God has something new for me. I nudged it farther open to sniff the breeze and see if it were safe. Then, as if on cue, Allison's new CD message called Joyful Intentionality was dropped into my inbox as the newest addition to the BBH website. Just like that I was on my way to a new experience in God. (Isn't His timing a hoot?!)
"Joyful Intentionality captures the idea that we take responsibility to process our spirituality, but the reason is because it's joyful," Allison explained in an interview. "I spent decades 'trying harder to do better for God' and it wasn't much fun. It doesn't mean that every day will be easy" she admits, "but I know that if I intentionally look for God's promises and provision regardless of circumstances, I will find them. And the joy of that produces strength."
"Trying harder to do better for God." Who can't relate to trying to tackle that mountain?
I remember myself standing in the huddle of my girl's soccer team, everyone's heads and hands and hearts in the center counting "1-2-3" before we all cried "Intensity!" in unison and ran out onto the pitch in a fever of anticipation and anxiety. The truth is I hardly ever knew what was happening from that moment until when the final whistle blew and the adrenaline leaked out. I just knew I had to give my all (or look like it) and hopefully I could avoid criticism of my performance. But as Allison reminds us, in the spirit, effort does not equal distance covered just as religious volume does not equal spiritual transformation.
Sometimes we can try to live the Christian life like that. I'm pretty sure it's what Paul calls "running aimlessly or boxing as one beating the air" in 1 Corinthians 9:26. That athlete certainly sounds motivated, but not too strategic and none too calm. In fact he reminds me a little of George Costanza's father on the show Seinfeld crying out "Serenity Now!" at every provocation while exhibiting anything but serene behavior! Not that any of us would know anything about that, I'm sure.
But maybe that's the problem with intensity for its own sake: it has an unfortunate tendency toward anxiety and self-centered, unforgiving, perfectionism. In other words, it is innately religious.
For Allison, "Trying harder to do better for God" has now been replaced with a sense of wonder for how God works in her life and how they partner together on that journey. "The key to this becoming a joyful process" she says, "is Graham's wisdom in 'God never sees what's wrong with you - only what's missing from your experience of Him.' So, there's no shame when I have missing pieces. Just something wonderful to discover about the nature of God if I'll be intentional to look for it. And when I find it and continue to behold it... [I get to become] like that!"
It's easy to decide that you want to (or simply must) be/do/or accomplish a thing, whether it's finally launching into the ministry you know you've been called to or just finishing a load of laundry during the kiddo's nap time today. But Allison's message reminded me that how we go about doing these things means everything.
"In beholding a God who adores us and a God whom we adore, then intentionality becomes fueled by delight, not discipline. It becomes our delight to (on purpose) do the things that God has called us to do. We want to be living the life that He described for us but it's the motivation from where we live that life that makes all the difference in the world...The purpose comes from the passion. Not a purpose-driven life in which we're trying to drum up enough passion to keep us going. When passion is the driving force, purpose naturally follows from the momentum of the spirit. And intentionality?" Well, she says, "That's just one of those things that follows."