The path of good intentions

From television programs to media posts, who can get away from the constant barrage of New Year’s resolutions? In fact, our culture has placed so much importance on New Year’s resolutions that even our own government weighs in on the topic.

The Library of Congress has a list of New Year’s resolutions. The Health and Human Services Department publishes blogs on how to stick to your resolutions. Even the Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Transportation chime in. The list goes on. Culturally, we enjoy taking this opportunity to review the past and look into the future with the hope of making it better. We not only reflect, but cling, to a glimmer of hope that we can all somehow be happier and healthier in the upcoming year.

As you might expect, improving a relationship is a common New Year’s resolution that frequently rises to the top of many lists. It is easy, in the spirit of Christmas, to see one another in a joyful light. Theoretically, we all strive to have more good will towards men during the holidays. However, once January arrives and decorations are put away, we easily slump back into the old, familiar habits that sometimes strain a relationship. This is the time of year to look honestly at ourselves, our marriages, and our relationships for concrete ways to love one another more intentionally.

I use the word intentionally very intentionally! New Year’s resolutions can fall into the abyss of good intentions, which we have all heard paves the way to a specific place. Anyone’s recliner, on a cold winter day, is the perfect place to form good intentions that will improve our marriages and relationships. But what comes of those intentions? A Psychology Today article, “Why Most New Year’s Resolutions Don’t Work,” cites numerous reasons including: resolutions are too general or too broad. We make too many or we don’t give ourselves enough time to successfully change. Our marriages and relationships easily fall into these patterns. We intend to be more patient, but when crossed, our reaction doesn’t change. We intend to spend more quality time together, but our everyday distractions continue to take precedence.

Truthfully, good intentions are about us, not necessarily our beloved. Even Scripture warns us of having a good intention not supported by action. “Be doers of the word and not hearers only, deluding yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his own face in a mirror. He sees himself, then goes off and promptly forgets what he looked like” (Jas 1:22-24).

What is the resolution to the phenomenon of floating down a stream of good intentions? I would argue that instead of just wishing to do something good, we should deliberately and purposefully do good for each other. In other words, we need to be intentional. With planning, insight and forethought, we can methodically set a course that will cement our good intentions in ways that will improve our relationships for this new year and for many years to come.

There is a well-known book about marriages and relationships that has been floating around Christian circuits since 2008 called “The Love Dare.” Written by Stephen Kendrick and Alex Kendrick, this book gained popularity because it was featured in the movie, “Fireproof,” which also was released exactly 10 years ago. This book has a timeless element because it draws upon this exact topic of intentionality. It lists some practical and concrete ways a couple can show love to the other in a deliberate way.

One practical suggestion is to restrain from saying anything negative to your spouse for a day. Even if the temptation arises, choose then not to say anything, for it is better to hold your tongue. Another suggestion is to choose a specific way to greet your spouse today, or purchase something that reflects that you were thinking of them specifically. It also suggests such things as identify a need for the day that your spouse could use help with, or pray specifically to God for a need that your spouse has.

The premise of “The Love Dare” is that a spouse will love the other intentionally for 40 straight days. Each day is filled with a practical and do-able task which corresponds with Scripture. One very beautiful thing about this challenge is that it brings the words of Scripture to life in your own personal relationship and helps you to live them out.

The heart of intentionality is selflessness. Your purposeful and deliberate actions are aimed at truly making your relationship and the life of your spouse better. This contrasts with the self-motivated approach of good intentions which makes you personally feel as though you are accomplishing something, which in reality usually does not bear fruit. So let us live this new year with intentionality so that the words in 1 John 3:18 might ring true: “Children, let us love not in word or speech but in deed and truth.”

Tremblay is Marriage and Life Ministries director for the Diocese of Green Bay.