BY JILL HISAW
This year, Mission Mississippi has chosen as its theme: “A Deeper Dive into the Racial Divide Through Deeper Relationships.” This month’s focus is “Deeper Intentionality.” Intentionality is often confused with mindfulness, although the two are quite different. Whereas mindfulness means being completely immersed in the present so as to savor it fully, intentionality is directed beyond the present to an ultimate goal. Thus, intentionality is the deliberate choice to act in order to bring about a desired goal or purpose.
Acts 6:1-7 describes a situation in which the apostles are acting with intentionality in pursuing their mission of spreading the gospel through prayer and preaching. They become aware that a distracting conflict has emerged, threatening to divide the early Christian community. The Greek-speaking disciples accuse their Aramaic-speaking counterparts of neglecting the Greek-speaking widows in the daily distribution of resources.
Although this discrimination may be inadvertent, the resulting oversight is an injustice. The apostles recognize the urgent need for an intentional effort to redress this wrong and preserve Christian unity. We can identify four steps in the apostles’ approach.
First, they listen to the complaint. Listening, unlike hearing, is always an intentional act, for to listen is to focus one’s hearing on actively receiving what the speaker is trying to communicate. Mission Mississippi creates forums where people of diverse races can build relationships by listening to each other’s views on issues impacting the community. This type of listening is non-judgmental because its goal is to discover where the other people are in their thinking and then meet them in that space.
Second, the 12 consider potential solutions. Their dilemma raises an interesting point. Sometimes we are called to refrain from an otherwise righteous undertaking because it conflicts with the mission that has been entrusted to us at that time. For example, being involved in church activities to the extent of neglecting one’s family indicates a failure to prioritize one’s proper mission. To act with intentionality as a Christian is to allow our personalized mission to permeate our words, actions and relationships, how we spend our time and money, and how we set our priorities.
Third, the apostles realize they must delegate this responsibility. Managing the distribution of resources directly would mean compromising the apostles’ own mission of spreading the gospel. Rather than taking it upon themselves to appoint individuals to fill this role, however, the apostles empower the community to choose leaders who are “reputable” and “filled with the Spirit and wisdom.” The community, because of its involvement, feels invested in ensuring the success of the resource distribution. In the same way, Mission Mississippi is “local leadership driven,” empowering churches, businesses, schools and civic organizations to address pressing issues through a deepening of cross-racial relationships. Furthermore, Mission Mississippi is committed to delegating responsibilities and raising up leaders who will spread its work geographically throughout the state and generationally to the young people who will become future leaders.
Finally, the apostles pray over the chosen leaders, commissioning them for service so that they too may practice intentionality in their calling to distribute resources equitably. In so doing, the apostles acknowledge that God’s blessing is necessary to ensure the success of human endeavors. Prayer is what maintains the connection between the branches and the vine, sustaining the alignment of our will with God’s. Likewise, Mission Mississippi is deeply committed to prayer. Having participated in a number of the organization’s prayer breakfast gatherings over the years, I can attest to the palpable sense of Jesus’ presence at such events, which invariably rekindle in me the desire to serve God and others with increased intentionality.
How can we as Christians practice intentionality in our daily lives? For me, devoting an hour every morning to dialoguing with Jesus through Bible reflection and prayer is essential. My relationship with Him has deepened tremendously, and I now have confidence that when I act with intentionality, I am aligned with His goals and mission for my life. How we end our day is also significant. Author Dan Burke recommends that as a final activity before falling asleep, we imagine ourselves boarding a helicopter and “flying over” the past day, from start to finish, asking ourselves where we succeeded in responding to God’s call and where we fell short. Reviewing our day in this manner prepares us to face the following day with renewed intentionality.
Jill Hisaw is the director of Pastoral Care at St. Dominic Hospital. She serves as a lector and catechist at St. Therese Catholic Church in Jackson.