From Good Intentions to Meaningful Action

We are exploring the Soul Matters theme of “Intention” this month together. In preparing for this month, I was reminded of some words from the apostle Paul in the Christian New Testament. (I disagree with Paul on a lot of things, but I strongly empathize with him on this one.)

I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.”

It’s the time of year when many people set out to start fresh, resolving to take up new habits, give up old ones, change themselves or their lives for the better in some way. Recently, there’s been growing recognition that “New Year’s Resolutions” are rarely kept and that this has nothing to do with our own willpower. We aren’t lazy or stupid or worthless. (Remember, as UUs, we hold humanity in high regard! We affirm the inherent dignity and worth of all people – and that includes ourselves.) We as humans are simply not well suited for declaring one big day to make a big change and stick with it.

That said, big changes are needed. We may not all agree on a particular theology of sin, but a simple look at our own lives and at our world makes it clear that not everything is as it should be. So how do create change that is more lasting than those ill-fated “New Year’s resolutions”? How do we bring ourselves from intention to action?

One way we can do this is by removing barriers to change, making the change easy and obvious. Do you intend to increase your recycling? Put a recycling container right next to the kitchen sink where you would rinse out containers. Do you intend to give more to the church? Set up automatic giving through your bank. Do you intend to communicate more frequently with your legislative representatives about issues that matter to you? Pre-address a set of postcards or envelopes or sign up for a simple phone/email system to support you in doing so. Making it easy to act on your intentions can greatly increase the chances you will act on them.

But addressing these practical barriers in our personal lives is just one part of the puzzle. We are also influenced by the norms and expectations of those around us. We live in a culture that prizes individualism, so it is easy to forget about this. But think about some of the good changes you’ve made in the past. I suspect in many cases you were supported by others, whether through explicit words of encouragement or through the more subtle, implicit support of seeing others live out the same intention. 

Our social surroundings can be a powerful force. Perhaps this is why the intentions so many people set at the start of a new year fail. New Year’s resolutions are often set individually. “How am going to do things differently in MY life this year?” As people of faith, however, we know the transformative power of exploring and living into our values in community. By surrounding ourselves with others who share our values, we greatly increase our likelihood of moving from intention to action. 

As we enter into 2022, I wonder – What would our shared resolutions at TOLUUC look like? And how would we move together from good intentions to meaningful action? (Figuring that out is one reason why we’re working to articulate a clear mission statement.) I hope that this month of exploring “intention” together will bring us all to deeper insight on these questions and others. Happy New Year!

Rev. Jennifer Gracen

Interim Minister

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