Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Resolutions vs intentions

On Sunday I arrived a little bit late to church, and was pleased to see another car arriving just ahead of me; even more pleased to discover it was a friend I hadn't seen in a while.

We were making casual conversation on our way in from the parking lot, and I asked if she had any New Year's Resolutions she wanted to share, and she looked at me and smiled.

"You know," she said, "I think I'm too old to do New Year's Resolutions. Now I prefer to think of them as Intentions."

I liked that idea, and now, thinking about the difference between the two, I'm wondering if it isn't because resolutions feel sort of single-minded and solitary. There's a sort of militancy about a resolution, a fierceness: a frown, a crossing of arms, a striding forward, a stiff upper lip -- essentially an inflexibility, mixed with a sense of irrevocable doom.

But an intention feels more flexible, more co-operative, more self-accepting. Does that mean wishy-washy? Or is it just a practice more in keeping with being present, with traveling the middle way, with openness?

There's never any way to know what the road ahead may hold: even when the path appears perfectly clear, there could be something waiting in the wings that will necessitate a change of direction or even a certain amount of bushwacking to get back on track. We can resolve to bring certain habits with us on the journey -- there's a stubbornness implicit in that -- or we can declare our intentions, which feels more like saying we will do our best to meet whatever obstacles and opportunities arise in a way consistent with our values and ideals.

And now, as I look back at what I posted on New Year's Day, it seems to me that that's the difference between my "resolutions" and the ones contained in the Baptismal Covenant. The resolutions in the covenant -- particularly the first three -- are definitely more concrete: there are standards there, and a certain amount of accountability. My resolutions, with their repeated iterations of more and less, seem to be more relativistic, less easy to measure. Is that because I no longer think that the path between good and bad, right and wrong, is all that obvious? Or is it just that experience has taught me that the trappings of church-based faith -- prayer, fellowship, communion, worship, repentance, evangelism, and social justice -- are often empty?

As Richard Rohr says, "Theological training without spiritual experience is deadly...only transformed people have the power to transform others... you can lead others only as far as you yourself have gone. Too often we try to push, intimidate, threaten, cajole and manipulate others. It seldom works, because that is not the way the soul works."

So maybe that's the difference between a resolution and an intention: the resolution is about forcing compliance -- even if it's only you bullying yourself -- and the intention is about inviting transformation. For some reason this brings to mind that old psychological trick from the 70's -- TA, or Transactional Analysis. A resolution assumes your inner parent is delivering rules to your inner child; an intention assumes a healthy adult-to-adult respect and encouragement for the processes of the self.

But maybe that's the beauty of the Baptismal Covenant -- because it really has both resolutions and intentions. And that 4th precept -- Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself? -- well, that's probably the best kind of intention there could be. In fact, you could make the case that almost all those resolutions of mine -- listening, accepting, opening, loving, trusting, and giving -- are subsets of this one -- particularly if we understand that "Christ" is not Jesus's last name, but rather a word meaning "the anointed one."

If we assume there is a Divine Purpose above and beyond ourselves, and if we approach each encounter with another human -- including ourselves -- with the assumption that that human has a unique anointed value and purpose; if we look for that aspect in them and choose to actively love and serve it... I'm thinking everything else would pretty much fall into place. Which is probably why "This is the first and greatest commandment, that you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart soul mind and strength, and the second is like unto it: you shall love your neighbor as yourself."

Pretty much says it all...

So why do I feel I just reduced a lot of good stuff to some pat fundamentalist bracelet, reading WWJD?


Maureen said...

A friend yesterday wrote about intentions instead of resolutions and I commented how much more I prefer the former word to the latter.

I tend to think of life as an intending-toward. . . to be who I am in God's eyes. To be resolved seems too rigid, and there will always be something to trip up the one who is so resolved that he or she cannot step back, look, reconsider, see another way. I prefer a more open way.

And, after all, I think of God's original intentions for us and...

altar ego said...

I am so laughing at your last line!

Rohr's observation about training without experience is dead on. It's the niggly discomfort I get when interviewing persons who aspire to priesthood, and they reveal that their lives have been bereft of much angst or spiritual struggle.

Intentions make sense because following one's intentions is a process toward transformation (at least as I see it). Sort of like the photograph of today, the mist and fog of which will transform that scene to one that will evoke something very different.

Happy New Year.

Louise Gallagher said...

Hmmmm. Food for thought.

My intention is to live up to my higher good.

My resolution is to love myself, even when I fall, as I know I will.

I love the photograph -- where will that road lead? which way am I going? What's ahead. What's behind?

Quite beautiful.