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When Words Collide

| written by Colleen Mitchell | 4 comments

rainbowTwo popular words I see floating around blogging communities a lot this year are “authentic” and “intentional”. Authenticity is lauded in comments sections in every corner of the internets. From admitting to having days as a mother that you can’t wait until bedtime to revealing your struggles with anxiety and depression to breaking the silence that you don’t know how to cook pasta, people rise up and cheer you on for being so authentic.

Likewise, there are so many advisors and pundits out there in the blogosphere telling us all to slow down and think about how we are living, parenting, eating, praying, loving. To be intentional about what we do and why we do it in every realm of life imaginable.

I like these two words. I really do. I like how they sound and I like what they mean. I try to live them. But I find that more often than not, either my authenticity ends up bulldozing right over my intentionality or my intentionality makes me feel less than authentic. Whichever way I turn them around in my head, intentional and authentic seem to be always careening toward a head-on collision.

Here’s the thing I’ve come to learn about being intentional. Sometimes it requires a certain amount of inauthenticity to achieve success. For instance, I recently went through a phase where I was inspired by “everyone and her cat running a marathon” to try to be more intentional about prioritizing exercise in my days. I had to find a way to get myself moving toward that goal. I decided I would run regularly, since that’s what everyone else was doing. I bought brightly colored shoes that looked runner-ish. And socks. And clothes that “wick”, whatever that may be.  But I honestly do not know the first thing about being a runner nor I have I ever really desired to.  So my strategy was this: look at my Facebook feed to find out what the running people do, do what the running people do and pretend to know what you are talking about and that you enjoy it until you do. Basically, the plan was to pretend like I was a runner until I was runner. It actually worked and got me into a very good running routine. The point is this: My authentic self thinks like this: “I just can’t fathom the point of running to nowhere in particular and turning around and running back again for no reason other than the running and enjoying that”. If I was going to be intentional about running, I had to turn her off for a while and fake it a bit. Pretend to like it. Sacrifice authenticity for intent. 

The collision concept works on the flip side too. My most authentic moments, the ones where I spontaneously make a joke and then laugh hysterically at myself, or where I find myself struck in mid-stroke by the softness of my son’s hair, are never anything I can say I cultivated. They are most often not born of intention at all but from being utterly surprised by the glory of a moment where I find myself fully present and feeling completely alive. Like stepping outside to discover a rainbow stretched across the sky or being startled by the color of a child’s eyes you thought you knew well or being surrounded by the laughter of friends and feeling like you are floating away on its loveliness. You can’t will rainbows or laughter into existence nor plan your response to them. It is precisely the fact that they spring upon you that leaves you free to respond authentically. 

Now I think we can all concur that these are both very good words to cultivate in our lives. But I am wondering just how we invite them both into our lives. Do we cultivate them separately to avoid the collision of the two, or is it possible to cultivate them together? Can we be authentically intentional and intentionally authentic? Can we run with intent and be authentically awed by the rainbows at the same time?  I’m interested to know what you think. 

[Image credit: fotocommunity.de]

Colleen Mitchell is a wife, and mom to five boys whom she is happily homeschooling while they enjoy the adventure of life in rural Costa Rica. She is co-founder, along with her husband, of St. Bryce Missions, a not-for-profit working in faith-based community transformation projects among the Cabecar indigenous of Costa Rica and small village communities in Tanzania. She scratches out words to piece together the beauty and ashes of life in the dark hours of late nights and early morning. Follow Colleen on her blog and on Twitter.