The Intentional Life. Enjoy life and be intentional. This is not a rehearsal.


Why the name “The Intentional Life”? This isn’t to suggest that any of us have complete control over our lives. That would just be delusional. If that could really happen, then none of us would feel gob smacked by the difficulties thrown at us. No one would wake up one day, look in the mirror, and say “How did I end up here?”

What I’m referring to is not having your life happen by accident.

Before I had children, I had a career hiring people. It was an absolute ball…until 2001 when the economy tanked. Then I started teaching human relations and career classes for adults. I can’t even begin to think of how many people I interviewed or career-counseled in that time span.

One idea kept coming up, over and over and over again.

People were living their lives by default.

By default, I mean that there wasn’t a lot of planning, or intentionality, going on. Sure, some people planned, but most were in such a reactive mode that they couldn’t take a breath and be mindful about where their lives were really going.  These were smart people that were overwhelmed by the assembly line of life. This scenario happened to men and women, young and old, and those with all education levels. Many, many people had careers and lives that were in default mode.

In computer language, the word “default” refers to something that happens if other action isn’t taken. It just happens. Kind of like if I didn’t take action to brush my hair in the morning, I would look like a wild-partying hedgehog in the morning.

I remember the bright, personable 50-something I spoke with who said she really hated what she was doing. This woman could have done anything. But, instead, she got sucked into a career she hated because she took a job when she was 20, blinked, and suddenly was in her mid-50’s hating her job…and her life.

Usually it happened like this: People had events in their lives that often worked together to give them a feeling of helplessness and reactivity. Some of these events were (in no particular order):

  • Babies
  • Marriage
  • Job
  • Mortgage
  • Car payment
  • Replacing transmissions in the cars we have bought
  • Layoffs
  • More babies
  • Family stress due to a lousy economy
  • Family stress due to the normal transitions we all go through
  • More worry about layoffs
  • Unpleasant neighbors
  • Keeping up with the unpleasant neighbors
  • Kids hit middle school and all hell breaks loose
  • Maybe a divorce…or three
  • Health scares
  • Helping aging parents
  • Planning kids’ weddings
  • Figuring out what on earth you’re going to do when it’s just you and HER (or him) in the house after retirement.

And it’s not just careers that are affected….

It’s how we raise our kids

How we choose relationships

How we decide what will be important to us

How we spend our money

Our health

Our faith

Sometimes I ask clients to tell me about themselves and they don’t even know where to start. They had jumped from the rock to the hard place to the frying pan to the fire…and forgotten who they were.

Other people tried to live intentionally and make decisions on purpose, but soon became defeated after life had slapped them around a few times…or maybe it was a significant other that slapped them around.

Still others tried to micro-control every aspect of their lives and were now having cardiovascular and gastrointestinal problems due to the stress.

Intentional living doesn’t mean:

  • Being hyper-controlling of your circumstances
  • Being self-centered
  • Putting your needs above everyone else’s.

It does mean:

  • Recognizing what you want to do in life and planning for it…yet still being flexible.
  • Being able to say “no” when necessary…and dealing with the possible push-back.
  • Recognizing that you may need to drastically change your plans to accommodate someone else’s valid needs.
  • Remembering that while you want to live purposefully…so do others.

Sometimes we have competing interests.

There is the man that wants to quit his soul-killing job and start his own business but can’t due to factors including finances, family, and other issues. Just because he isn’t doing what he wants does not mean he isn’t being intentional. Instead, he discusses the issue at length with his family, expresses his desire, but then intentionally makes the decision to stay where he is. He isn’t just floating along and robotically following the wishes of others or just bobbing along the stream of least resistance. He has made a conscious decision.

Hopefully he even made the decision to re-visit the question in a few months.

Other times, living intentionally can look selfish, but it is not.  Consider the woman that has for years hated the family drama at Christmas. She’s thought about this for a long time, until finally she and her husband decide just to stay home with their children and have a peaceful Christmas.

I certainly have had my share of living life by default and not by intention. And, I know we all still need some spontaneity in our lives. For me, this is just the start.

Don’t live life by default. Live intentionally.



Some time ago, my then six-year-old daughter (whom I’ll call “Sunshine”) and I were at a gathering with some kids. Abruptly, Sunshine turned from the girls she was just previously giggling with and made a beeline for me. Her face was stiff like plastic. No emotion. And she was rigidly walking toward me…fast.

I knew what this meant. I knew what would come next.

As she came nearer, her stoic little face started to crumble. She was struggling to keep it together, but the closer she came to me, the less control she had. She didn’t make a sound.

When she approached me, she stuck her face in my shirt, all of her muscles tight in her little body and shoulders shaking. I walked away with her, out of sight of everyone else, and she started weeping uncontrollably. She was crying with such sobs (still as restrained as she could muster) that she could barely catch her breath.

After her breathing became more regular, I asked what had happened. I don’t remember exactly what the problem was. It was likely something of monumental importance to a six-year-old girl but something easily brushed off by many adults as inconsequential.

We talked things through and she snuggled by me until she felt ready to rejoin the group of kids. As kids do, they came to a resolution and soon they were happily playing without any more incidents.

Later that night, I asked her about the episode.

Me: How did things turn out when you went back to play?
Sunshine: OK.
Me: Really?
Sunshine: Yeah. Love wins. Everything is going to be ok.

I was very curious about hearing this. Did she even know what that meant? I asked her.

“You know, Mama, love wins. That thing she said to me wasn’t nice, but in the end, love wins, so I don’t need to worry about it.”

As I suspected, she wasn’t speaking in the least about the book, “Love Wins.”

I don’t recall my husband or I having spoken directly with her about this, but we must have. She went on to explain that Jesus was treated horribly and that he could have just treated everyone meanly in return, but he didn’t – because he knew that love would win in the end.

This reminded me of the original sermon at Mars Hill in which “Love Wins” was brought up and we were all given the little black and white bumper stickers. For me, the simple phrase “Love Wins” was a good reminder about how when bad things happen to us and when people are unkind to us, we don’t need to respond in the same manner. It is a reminder to have some perspective and to look past whichever incident is at the time hurtful or even just annoying.

The fact that “love wins” doesn’t mean that at some time God is going to cosmically spank whoever has offended us at the time. If that were the case, we would all be in for a cosmic spanking, since we are all (even Sunshine) sometimes unkind to others.

Maybe, as in the case of the child who hurt Sunshine’s feelings, there was something else going on that prompted the less-than-kind behavior. In that particular case, the “something else” that was going on was revealed and the girls were able to go on with a more compassionate understanding.

A few weeks later, Sunshine came to me again, frustrated and crying.

“Mama, love does NOT always win.” Apparently things did not resolve themselves as quickly as is desirable for a 6-year-old and the discomfort was unbearable for her. We talked about how sometimes love doesn’t win for a very, very long time- sometimes you don’t always know that it ever even does win. But, we still believe that in the end, love will win.

For me, I’ve found that the time it takes for the phrase “love wins” to pop into my mind and calm me down in trying times has been just enough for me to regain perspective of the situation and control of my feelings…and also…most importantly- my mouth.

Now, this is not to say that we should endure truly unbearable, toxic behaviors and just tell ourselves to take it because love will win. If someone repeatedly has a destructive effect on you or someone you love, you must take action. Seek counseling. Remove yourself from the situation. Re-evaluate your boundaries. Seek professional, objective help on how to handle the situation.

Sometimes, even when taking action to extricate yourself from lousy circumstances, you can do so with a “Love Wins” sort of attitude. At the very least, I know this attitude helps me to navigate thorny times with more grace than I otherwise could have. Often, I have been grateful for those around me as they have extended me grace and mercy in a “Love Wins” fashion when I am the one who has become a thorn in someone’s side.

I imagine our “Love Wins” sticker will remain on our refrigerator for a long, long time. Sometimes I need a reminder to be intentional about how I will choose to respond to a situation.

I’ll leave you with a quote from the actual sermon. The whole sermon is below and I would encourage anyone to give it a listen.

“If the cross is real, and it happened, then the universe works in a different way. And if the universe now functions according to different laws, then love wins. It wins on the cross and so it wins tomorrow, it wins at the next family reunion. Are we preaching yet? It wins tomorrow with the person four cubicles over who IS a contestant for most annoying person in the world. Love wins. It wins. And you have choices about how you’re going to respond….The cross is God’s way of saying ‘Love Wins’”.
– Rob Bell

To hear the whole “Love Wins” sermon, please click on the link below.