Intentional Living: It's More Than Just Fulfilled Dreams

What does “intentional living,” or “living purposefully” mean?
Does being intentional require having a “Family Mission Statement” hanging on your entry wall? Does it mean that you are type-A goal-setting-hustler who is only capable of making calculated, unemotional decisions? Does it call for a life void of spontaneity and enjoyment? No. Not in the least. And to answer the question that many are wondering: “isn’t it exhausting?” the answer is also, “no.”
Intentional living offers us freedom. It doesn’t mean a lack of pleasure or such heavy restrictions that there is little room for creativity, laughter or impromptu decisions. Our choices become a burden when they are the result of lip service instead of conviction, wisdom, or maturity. Also, if you are a follower of Jesus, then our choices can become bondage if we aren’t making them with Him— His timing, His way. The more confident you are in the “yes’s” that you’ve created— those goals that you have taped to your bathroom mirror or the fridge, it is easier to dismiss the temptations to veer off course when they come and say “no” without a second thought.
For example, when our kids were younger, we lived in Orange County, the land where every occasion was an opportunity to throw a perfectly curated party complete with customized… everything— kids birthday parties included. It wasn’t just a trip to Chuck E Cheese, or a Betty Crocker cake mix, complete with neon pink frosting from a can. Kids parties were an event, styled from invite to thank you notes— every detail Pinterest and Instagram worthy. They were beautiful and fun, I’m sure— but they also cost a fortune. So, we made a rule that birthday celebrations were a family affair, not an event that we would celebrate with a dozen friends and their parents. Spending money to do fun things on their birthdays (trampoline park, kids theater, fancy dinner out) wasn’t drudgery, because we knew we weren’t shelling out for a giant party. (We made an exception when they turned five— they each celebrated with friends, and we’ll probably do that again for year ten.) Interestingly our children have never complained about missing out on friend time because they know that on “their day” they are spoiled— they get to make the decisions, and we enjoy celebrating together as a family. Being purposeful in this one decision has given us the courage to say “no” in other areas.
I understand that this idea may sound absurd to some of you— because you are a party-planning guru, or because it’s already an established custom in your home, and there is no judgment here. If that’s your thing, do it well. But chances are you have something else you’d love to say “no” to, and to do that, you have first define what your “yes’s” are going to be.
So, what is it? Do you want to get in shape, be debt-free, read more, get outside more often, know your neighbors better, learn a new skill, adventure with your kids, strengthen your marriage? The more specific you can get the better. Next, understand that it won’t just happen, regardless of how many feel-good mantras you post above your desk or around your house— you have actually to take steps to make it happen. Some of them may be simple and mundane, and others will require great sacrifice.
Once you’ve defined your goal for the summer, how do you move these grandiose ideas to tangible steps? How does it translate into everyday living? How do you break free of the excuse that you are “too busy” to integrate new rhythms into your already packed week, all the while having enough time to swipe your phones hundreds of times a day, or binge-watch through your latest Netflix obsession?
Being intentional with our time requires us to be purposeful in what makes it on to our calendar— and what doesn’t. It also means that how we measure “a successful day” will be different.
“Family nights,” for example, don’t just happen. You can’t continue to hope that they will when currently you can barely get everyone to the dinner table at the same time, or for an entire meal. Date nights have to be scheduled (especially if you have young children). To be fair, most things need to be scheduled. And it definitely helps to get everyone on the same page (especially if you have older kids). I know at our house, “if it isn’t on the calendar, it’s never going to happen” is the mantra.
If you don’t have a spouse, then get with your roommate, friend, mom, neighbor and put a plan in place. It doesn’t have to be iron-clad, just a frame to work from: a date night once a month, an hour at the gym three times a week, a new family over for BBQ one Friday evening this month, a realistic budget (filled out) on your phone, a morning routine for yourself, a bedtime routine for your kids, a savings plan with a reward at the end, a vacation that you’ve put on the calendar and can now start to plan and save for. Whatever your goal is, gather your people, get on the same page, and start filling in some details.

To all the planners, with an internal compulsion toward productivity and an inability to understand how others make it through life without one, we have to be careful not do laps in the pool of legalism. Goal-setting is lovely, but we aren’t after fulfilled dreams as much as a fulfilling life— one that is rich with relationships, purpose and joy. Grace needs to be a part of our decision making; we need to extend it to others, and most importantly, to ourselves. Just because something is working for another person, doesn’t mean we have to attack our goal that way. Continue to evaluate if whether what was working, is still working, or has it become a rule to follow, instead of being helpful.

When my husband and I were working ourselves out of debt, we were incredibly mindful of our budget and making every dollar count. We were working on Dave Ramsey’s baby steps with “gazelle intensity,” but there was also grace— because that $5 latte that I enjoyed while chatting with a friend wasn’t going to inhibit my ability to pay my mortgage, or change how fast I could grow my emergency fund. If this was an everyday habit, sure, but, the decision to pay with cash, create budgets, and save, were already established. We had decided to make the sacrifices and work toward living debt free. We also learned (after a many miserable and miserly months) to say “yes” to a few simple pleasures as a way of rewarding ourselves for all of the “no’s.” Like a $5 coffee once a week for a new mom who was desperate for a couple of hours out of the house indulging in any conversation that didn’t have to do with poopy diapers and feeding schedules.
Let’s chase after the idea that we can live fuller lives by way of purposeful choices, not by over-scheduling and over-committing ourselves to things that don’t add value to our lives, bring us joy, and most importantly— when it’s not what God has asked us to do. This summer is an excellent time to sit down and define some goals and get a plan in place. So, what are you waiting for— let’s get after it.