If we are going to live a life of integrity and purpose, then it will have intentionality as a part of the foundation. Too often we don’t consider that or how significant a role it plays. It is not intent (though good) but intentionality that we need. Intentionality reflects being deliberate and purposeful in how we represent ourselves, our Lord, and all associated with us. It also considers that with the best of intentions not everyone will hear what it is we have said as we meant it to be communicated.
Most of us would be surprised to note the average number of words spoken by most of us each day is 7,000 and many of us speak more than that. Some of the words spoken are deliberate, well-thought-out, and reflect us at our best intent, but many of our words are random or spoken hurriedly or without a great deal of thought. In truth we may not even recall them later and yet they matter.
Unfortunately, even on our best day, some of our words will be thoughtless or appear that way to others. It’s bound to happen as we go about our own schedule or agenda. We are busy, in a hurry often, tired, hungry, under stress, or upended by something we didn’t expect, and words are spoken without much thought. Sometimes you might catch a glimpse on the face or response of the person who hears them but that is not always the case. Even the glimpse doesn’t always tell us how deeply those thoughtless words have pierced the other person.
Some impacted by our thoughtless words might tell us of the impact, but many more will not because the words spoken caused them to no longer feel safe to be with us. Even if the words were not spoken in anger, the lack of thought for the possible impact hits a tender spot. Sometimes it is one that has been hit before by us and other times it is one that has been hit by others that left a scar that is tender when hit again. Despite that old saying about sticks and stones and words not phasing us, most of us would agree that is not the truth. Words can and often do hurt us and may not heal as easily as wounds from sticks and stones. They also remind us of what the writer of Proverbs has to say:
“The tongue can bring death or life; those who love to talk will reap the consequences.”Proverbs 18:21 (NLT)
When we consider the division that has spread through every aspect of our lives in recent years, it seems that we all must acknowledge we have been on both sides of this problem. What is key is whether we have learned anything from it and how we have used it to strengthen our intentionality. Because it doesn’t get better if we don’t address it. It can become habitual either because we really do not care or have not taken steps to reign in our words. Scripture speaks often about the power of our tongues and our responsibility for how we use them.
“If someone believes they have a relationship with God but fails to guard his words then his heart is drifting away and his religion is shallow and empty.”James 1:26 (TPT)
Habitual thoughtlessness may begin as a small slip or little habit we overlook but we miss that it might begin small but develops into carelessness that begins to harden our hearts and can then move to recklessness in how we handle our relationships routinely.
“The origin of recklessness is thoughtlessness. We have all been thoughtless, and have all been victims of other people’s thoughtlessness. It stings but the pain doesn’t linger for long. If we are thoughtless often enough, we become careless. If we have ever been on the receiving end of carelessness, you know it changes you. When people are careless with our safety, or careless with our trust, or careless with our hearts, it hurts. This pain is real.”Matthew Kelly in Life is Messy
This is one of the reasons why intentionality is crucial. And it isn’t just about our words spoken to one another. It includes words we hurriedly use in a text or social media post. We can be distracted and before we know it the spell check has changed a word and we didn’t notice the word or how it changed the meaning of what we hoped to convey. That same intentionality needs to be there when we are the listener (or reader) as well. Are we hearing or reading the words with a desire to understand the other person’s heart, thoughts, opinions or do we quickly jump on them in a defensive mode?
One thing that is a great byproduct of practicing the habit of intentionality with our own use of words is that we tend to become more intentional as listeners as well. Few gifts are as impactful as having someone listen well and then ask a question if we were not as clear as we thought we were.
Stephen Covey’s fifth habit of his well-known The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People is worth remembering: “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”
I don’t think we can ever practice that habit enough. We are all prone to want to be understood above all else. It takes a great deal of self-discipline to seek first to understand the other person.
This thing, this habit, that can start so small can create indifference and an increasingly hardened heart if left to its natural course. And how can we possibly love others if we fail to address this within ourselves?
“Carelessness robs us of our tenderness. People who are careless on a regular basis become incapable of tenderness toward others. People who have been victimized by carelessness withhold their tenderness in an effort to stay safe.”Matthew Kelly in Life is Messy
Weeds and small bad habits are always easier to get under control if we take care of them when they are small.