What Does It Mean to Live Intentionally?

What Does It Mean to Live Intentionally?

Yesterday I announced some pretty big changes to Life Your Way. While the design changes will take a little more time to implement, you’ll notice the changes to the content right away.

As we kick off the New Year, I wanted to start by looking at our tagline — intentional & creative living– and what that actually means.

You may have noticed that in yesterday’s post, the header in the screenshot of the new site said “creative & intentional living” rather than the other way around. I’ve actually gone back and forth about the order of those two words, but I ultimately decided that intentional needed to be first because it’s that intentionality that makes room for the creative even in the midst of commitments and chaos and everything else we have going on in our lives.

Today, let’s look at intentional living: What does it even mean to live intentionally?

Intentional living is about knowing why you do what you do and why you don’t do what you don’t do.

We are faced with dozens of choices every day — some little, some big. From whether to choose a salad or a chocolate sundae for lunch to where our kids go to school, our world today is full of options. The thing is, sometimes it’s much easier to just go with the flow and not think about those options — choosing public school, paying for cable every month, etc. — but that doesn’t make them the best choices for our families. On the other hand, it’s tempting for some of us to choose the unconventional choice just because we’re nonconformists, and that’s not necessarily best for our families either.

In fact, living intentionally doesn’t have anything to do with the specific choices you’re making at all. I know, I know — we tend to have a picture of what it means to live intentionally: it’s about being organized and choosing to serve our families only real food and eliminating TV and drinking fair-trade coffee. But honestly, you can make those choices just to fit in with the “cool” crowd and miss the point entirely.

In fact, I would argue that you can live intentionally and eat fast food, watch cable TV and collect knick knacks like there’s no tomorrow.

Rather than trying to define a set of choices that are characteristic of living intentionally, it’s about knowing why you do what you do, or why you don’t do the other things.

Whether your family “does” Santa (or not), sends your kids to public or private school, eats McDonald’s or watches cable TV is not the point. It’s about thinking through each of those decisions, considering their consequences and making your decisions with your eyes wide open.

Intentional living is being willing to take a step back and evaluate the things you’re doing.

On the other hand, living also means being willing to evaluate those decisions as you go rather than just making a decision once and sticking to it no matter what. I think that’s probably where we get our picture of what living intentionally looks like — over time, if you’re really evaluating your food choices, you’ll probably tend to move in the direction of eating more food. And if you’re really evaluating the things you own, you’ll probably end up decluttering along the way. But it’s not about waking up on January 1st and making those decisions; it’s about making choices and evaluating them all throughout your life.

It also means being willing to ask other people for their input and even to look for the truth in criticism, however harsh it may be.

Funny enough, it was a harsh review that someone left on Amazon about How to Have Your Cake and Eat It, Too (my first ebook) that really sparked my desire to simplify my business model and focus on my core businesses. She said:

“It felt like Mrs. Ehman was trying too hard to convince readers that doing and being everything as a mom, wife, homeschooling teacher, and entrepreneur without dropping balls was possible…However, this book helped me in that it made me remember why I let my business go in the first place- you truly cannot have it all without dropping balls….It’s apparent in reading this book that the author struggles with this too. Her pace seems frantic…”

While I stand by the advice in that ebook and disagree 100% with her assertion that I have made sacrifices for my own personal success and not for the benefit of my family, once I was able to step back and think about her words, I realized I had in some ways become addicted to the frantic pace and starting new things rather than looking for ways to enjoy some of the benefits of the hard work I put into my business in the early years.

It would have been easy to just dismiss her entire review because of the tone or the overly harsh criticism, and I think a lot of people would have advised me to do that, but if I had, I would have missed out on the chance for some introspection and the nuggets of truth it contained.

Intentional living is about doing the things that are important to you even when they’re not easy.

I remember feeling like a fraud as a young mother; I was reading to my baby because it was important to me to raise readers, but it felt forced. And then I realized that sometimes that’s what intentional mothering looks like: choosing to do the things that are important to us even when they’re not easy or don’t come naturally.

Living intentionally means defining your values and making choices that reflect those values.

It’s making a commitment to look your children in the eye when they talk to you or putting down the phone when you know you’re just zoning out. It’s choosing to get up and exercise even though you hate it. It’s making time to serve in your church or community or giving up conventional chocolate.

It doesn’t mean you have to bike to the grocery store just because your neighbors do, but it does mean evaluating your family’s values and goals and intentionally choosing activities that align with those, even when those activities take effort on your part.

Intentional living is about evaluating the advice and example of other people and taking from it what works for you.

I’ve always thought the controversy over Gary Ezzo’s Baby Wise was a bit dramatic. While I now understand that some people have followed his advice to the letter of the law and it has actually hurt their babies, it always seemed obvious to me that when considering any advice — about parenting or marriage or gardening or business — you should evaluate it with an open mind, take what works for you and leave the rest.

Bloggers, authors and so-called experts may have a lot to offer from their own experience and knowledge, but that doesn’t mean that life is one-size-fit-all or that there is only one right way to do things.

In this age of social media and instant access to the lives of everyone around us, it can also be easy to create an unrealistic checklist of what the “perfect” family looks like just by watching the other families you know. But if you try to do all the “good” things other families are doing, you’ll end up stressed out and without a strong family culture of your own. Living intentionally means being able to see the things that other people are doing, appreciate them and then pick and choose the ones that are the best fit for you or your family.

Intentional living helps you set a course for your life and your family rather than just wandering aimlessly through life. It gives you the freedom to make time for the things that are truly important and to discard the rest. How will you live intentionally in 2014?

This Post Has One Comment

  1. I realize this is an old post but so timely for me. I woke up this morning and in prayer just really felt like the Lord was talking to me about this coming year and simply living intentionally. Not making a bunch of lists about how I’m going to eat, exercise, etc, but just living each day intentionally. Then I stumbled across this post. I am so glad I did. Thank you for such a timely post two years ago!

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