The Intentional Life


Graves_at_Arlington_on_Memorial_DayOn a recent trip to Washington, D.C., I had the opportunity to tour Arlington National Cemetery. Visiting cemeteries has always been fascinating to me. No, I’m not a morbid, emo high-schooler bent on shooting up a school. However, I believe that perspective on life is always worth obtaining, and a great way of thinking about life is through perhaps its chiefest aspect: mortality.

The fact of humanity is that we all die. And that death is permanent. I heard a pastor posit once that when we hear about the death of someone, we don’t inquire as to whether he has stayed dead. The finality of it all is ingrained and impressed in our souls. One second the fantastic machine that is your body is functioning, the next moment it has stopped. That’s it.

The point is, we only get a certain amount of time to live on this planet. It doesn’t last forever, and in the grand scheme of things, it’s rather short. Therefore, a sense of urgency tends to overwhelm one when encountering such a stark reminder of one’s own finite life as the sight of thousands of gravestones. They each act as their own silent monuments to the life lived by the owner.

One epitaph was remarkably relevant, though the fellow buried under it passed in the 19th century. It read: “Only a life worthily lived is worth living.” Existence is only meaningful if done correctly.

The profundity of the epitaph is interesting because the very fact that it resonates means that it is something not oft considered. That is, we all too invariably do not consider the way in which we live our lives.

Humans are given distinct and amazing faculties. Not only do we share with animals the ability to manipulate our environment, we are also given the unique endowment of rational consideration. However, the very corruptness of mankind predisposes our greatest gift, our free will, towards a general character which spurns our reason. This is not to say that man naturally lives nonsensically, but certainly man realizes how much effort and learning are required to engage one’s years with dexterity, and therefore presents a mental challenge to living life well. After all, is it not gentler on one’s body and mind to simply dwell in an ignorant, unaware torpor that promotes one’s lower, more natural needs above one’s far grander but more dearly achieved skills?

Such a state being the case, we have established that is therefore unnatural, but certainly possible to compel oneself to live intentionally. This act does, admittedly, strive against the very grain of our bodies, which seek rest and ease above all else. Then again, the life well-lived will not be one that promotes leisure, but work and hardship. Now, this does not mean that one should seek out the most taxing lifetime one has come across, but that there are many instances in which life can be improved by merely considering the way one lives.

For example, what does the typical person instinctively gravitate towards when selecting his meals? That which pleases his sense of  taste. Of course, one typically also partakes of a less than satisfactory morsel on occasion, perhaps due to latent guilt from childhood instruction on a proper diet. However, for the greater part of one’s food, unless a gross overstatement of disturbing fat content is immediately apparent, natural desires for pleasure dictate over-indulgence in food that is simply deleterious to one’s quality of life.

As a matter of course, this will require that one ignores, to a certain extent, one’s natural inclinations. A few moments’ thought will quickly reveal that one’s natural inclinations are probably not the most ideal of counsel for one’s actions, however. So, though it be perhaps distasteful to our bodies or instincts, truly obtaining a thriving life is ideal and pursues our general well-being.

The alternative is a life in which one merely exists for his allotted time. In other words, if we fail to utilize our ability to reason, to consider matters and act accordingly, then our lives reflect those of animals. If behaviorally, one cannot be distinguished from a cow, then one’s life is quite certainly wasted. This way of living is a despicable affront to our humanity and to the One who made us. Let it be resolved that one shall, therefore, take great pains to live the fulfilling life, the intentional life.

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