Intentional Loving

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In her latest post for The Well, Dr. Heidi Lepper Barrett builds upon previous blogposts to continue encouraging happy, healthy, whole and holy lives.

The last few blogs we explored the concepts of compassion versus disgust, emotional refraction, and how we can use a mirror to learn what our face is actually expressing to the world. In other words, how we can live out the second greatest command, to love each other, by getting out of our own way. Remember, how you get there is where you arrive. We all miss the mark and we can all practice new ways of making the mark and in doing so live with more intentional love. One big way we miss the mark daily is that we tend to ‘judge’ others by their behavior but ourselves by our intentions.

Let’s explore  the concept of our intentions versus our behaviors. Have you ever said you would do something and then not do it? Have you ever promised yourself you would not do something and then actually gone and done it? Just me?! The troubles we have with others is often due to our lack of awareness that this same exact process is occurring with them: they told themselves they would do something…then didn’t do it or they told themselves they wouldn’t do something…and then did it anyway! But we do not give them the benefit of their intentions, just their behavior, and we want to be judged by the intentions we know we had and not the behavior we actually did. And there is God, witnessing all of it and loving each of us anyway.

“I am going to get up early tomorrow so I can exercise to promote my health…” (and then I continue to hit the snooze button). “I am not going to get upset at drivers today and extend them the grace that I know God extends to me…” (and then there is that one driver!). “I am going to turn off Netflix and sit down with my little pink Peace book…” (oh but the next episode is only 23 minutes long!). “I have been rather short with my kids lately because so I need to go to bed on time tonight so tomorrow I am better rested…” (ooh but look at these things I can make from Pinterest!). Your child tells you in all earnestness that she will clean up her room or get off his video game…but then an hour later you find the room still messy and the game still being played and then you have one of those not so pretty mom moments. Do you see where we might be going with this. Would not God discover this? For He knows the secrets of the heart.” (Psalm 44:21)

Our behavior is impacted directly by the strength of our intentions. The stronger the intention, the likelier we will follow through on it. When witnessing another, the stronger their intention to do the behavior, the likelier they are to actually do it. It’s a numbers game. If my intention to do something is say a 3, out of 1 to 10 (with 10 being the strongest of the strong), what is the likelihood I will follow through? What if it is an 8? You intuitively understand that if your intention is an 8 versus a 3 then you are much more likely to follow through. And when you did not do something you promised yourself you would do you intuitively understand that you really did not have that strong of an intention to do it. Or you would have done it. In the thick of it or upon reflection, have you stopped to ask yourself the question: “out of 1 to 10 how strong is/was my actual intention?” So very often, our intentions are not nearly as strong as we think they are. And so the same is true for those around you.

Other than simply forgetting due to way too much going on within and around us (for indeed, sometimes we just plumb forget to do what we said we would or forget to do what we said we wouldn’t do) there are three prevailing factors are responsible for the strength of our intentions. Our intentions are very strong when we: 1. have beliefs that wholly support the behavior; 2. we actually have the knowledge, skills, tools, and abilities that support the behavior; and 3. we have a social group around us who encourages the behavior. When those three factors are low, we are less likely to follow through with the behavior because the strength of our actual intention is lowered. In order for us and others to follow through on what we say we will do we need beliefs that support it. So we need to have some time to reflect, contemplate, discuss with another, pray on what are our actual beliefs, do they really align with the behavior we are desiring to commit. Does the other person have supporting beliefs themselves? I can say all day long I am going to go to bed earlier but unless I have beliefs that support the importance of sleep and how sleep will improve my days then I am going to continue to put it off.

In order for us and others to follow through on what we say we will do, we need skills, tools, abilities that support the behavior. We fall prey at times to a bit of ‘magical thinking’ – because I say I will do something that can magically help me be better at it even though I have no real practice at it. Your child looks at you and says she will clean her room and she really does want to go in and clean her room (in part to please you and in part to garner the reward or avoid the punishment you have stated will be the consequence for follow through or lack thereof)…but she goes into her room and it is in complete overwhelming disarray and she simply doesn’t even know how to start. So she doesn’t…despite having told you she would. She did not have the skills, tools, ability to follow through. So we need to have some time to reflect, contemplate, discuss with another, pray on whether or not our or their current ability matches well with the intention.

In order for us and others to follow through on what we say we will do we need others around us who really do encourage and support the behavior. Scripture even gives us support that God is for us, so who can be against us (Romans 8:31) so we have to pay attention to what is going on around us and keep going back to God with our intentions because we have a human tendency to go along with the pressures others place on us. If they encourage the behavior we have a tendency to engage in the behavior…if they discourage the behavior we have a tendency to not engage in the behavior, irrespective often times of how healthy or unhealthy that behavior is for us. And this is not just a middle or high school phenomenon…adults are not immune to social pressures. So we need to have some time to reflect, contemplate, discuss with another, pray on how those closest to us do or do not encourage and support us and how that works and where there may need to be some positive changes and awareness brought in to how we influence each other’s intentions.

So today, let’s work together to build awareness in to how we view our own behavior and that of those around us by understanding intentions and that their strength are important and also alterable. Let’s work on intentional loving by praying for the Holy Spirit to create in us new minds and hearts that promote the beliefs, the skills, and the norms to live out the command to LOVE EACH OTHER despite each of us having peccadillos, failings, and slip ups just about every day. Let’s ask God to strengthen our beliefs, firm up our skills, and understand the norms and pressures around us so that we can each become more happy, healthy, whole and holy – for God and for each other. Today I say to you: I love you.

Heidi Lepper Barrett

Heidi Lepper Barrett is a native born Californian (Santa Barbara to be exact!) who made her way to Iowa after earning a Ph.D. in Social/Personality Psychology from the University of California in 1996. After completing a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Iowa, Heidi began teaching at Drake University in 2000. That was also the year, at age 30, she was baptized Catholic alongside her first newly born son. Heidi is married to Joe and they have two sons.

Copyright 2019 Heidi Lepper Barrett