intention |inˈten(t)SH(ə)n| noun1 a thing intended; an aim or plan: she was full of good intentions | [ with infinitive ] :
At the beginning of each yoga class, the instructor has the students put their hands to heart center and set their intention for the class. The first few months that I went to yoga this annoyed me. I felt like saying, “My intention is to do this yoga class, isn’t that obvious?” But as time went by I started to say things like, “I want to stay present during this class.” Or “I want to work on my standing practice today.” Or, “I want to create space for my grief to rise up and spill over.” Or, “I want to take breaks whenever I’m tired and practice resting.” I discovered that intention provides a focus and a necessary structure.
The spiritual life has a seasonal pattern to it, an ebb and flow, a cyclical feel. At least my spiritual life does. I’ll have seasons where God feels near and it’s joy joy joy and other times when the spiritual life tastes like dry toast. I’ve learned not to panic. But I’ve also learned the importance of setting forth my intention in each season.
During one season in my life, I felt like there was a lot of teaching about what I was supposed to do for God and it was starting to feel like a weight around my neck. So, I decided to turn my heart toward grace and ask God to show me how to find mercy.
Once, I heard God whisper he wanted to show me how much he loves me. I wrote it down in my journal and decided to pay attention to that word. Over the next several months one provisional miracle happened after another. Skeptics might say those things would have happened even if I hadn’t written that promise down in my journal. True. Indeed. But I did write it down and my heart was open to God’s revelation of love in my life.
There was a time when I felt like I no longer knew who Jesus was. There was all this jabbering noise about him. People in politics would bring him up, I’d hear people use his name for every thing from how Jesus would have cooked to how Jesus would have voted in a politics. He was like this nebulous iconic entity, someone from folk religion or something … I decided to read the four gospels over and over until he didn’t feel iconic to me any more. I read Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Over and over and over again — my entire life got drenched with the words and scandalous ways of Jesus.
During a particularly hard time in Chile, all I did was read the Psalms and cry. And I begged God to help me. I suffered from insomnia, I was terrified all the time, I felt haunted. My prayer, my primary intention was to survive. I felt tempted to walk away from any kind of spiritual life but instead, I decided to get quiet and just ask for help. Help came – over time. The winter passed, the sun came out again, and I made a couple of friends who were nice to me and somehow they seemed like God’s hands of love.
Maybe you are in a particularly busy season and you don’t have time for any kind of spiritual practice. Setting forth your intention could be as simple finding creative ways to talk to God throughout the day, to wake up ready to see God’s grace in your busy schedule, and notice the ways he brings relief. To pay attention.
Maybe you are fighting for your life with an illness. I have a few friends with cancer and they are fighting to breathe. Setting forth your intention might be to choose to rest in God’s goodness and love and let other people have faith on your behalf. To let community be your spiritual practice.
What I’ve realized over the years is that walking with God is a whole lot like any other practice. It doesn’t just happen by osmosis. We have to get engaged in our spiritual lives. And if we have a setting forth of intention — it becomes easier. It provides focus. When I say, “I want to focus on my relationship with God right now,” what does that mean?
But if I say, “I’m going to pray The Lord’s Prayer every day for a month at the same time, and think about each sentence,” I have something that will provide structure.
A little bit of focus goes a long way. Be kind to yourself. God is on your side. This isn’t about striving to please him, it’s certainly not about proving yourself to him so he’ll answer your prayers, or about being good enough for God to show up and do miracles. All it is, is an inward shift that will have an outward action. I am a spiritual being … I want to be intentional about my spiritual life. We exercise for the same reason — because we are physical beings, we do exercise for our bodies. We set our intention…. “Okay, I’m going to ride my bike four times a week.” And then we follow through…
The spiritual life is the same.
The other day I was on a long walk with a good friend. She’s older than me and a ton wiser. We talked about regrets and life and our kids etc … and she said. “I have a problem taking responsibility.” This made me laugh. She’s one of the most responsible women I know. But she explained it to me. She doesn’t like taking responsibility for her own life, or her dreams, or hopes … I. Can. Relate. It’s scary to take responsibility for our own lives and dreams and hopes. If it all falls apart, who do else do we have to blame?
But, taking responsibility (responding to your ability) for who you want to be and where you want to go is the beginning, the starting place of a rich and fulfilling life. It may also be the beginning of a wee bit of conflict with the people around you.
I said fulfilling, not easy.
Setting forth your intention … What is it you want to be about?
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