Empty Intentions / by Michael Nichols

"The road to hell is paved with good intentions." That's how the cliche goes. I'm not really a fan of cliches... anymore. They're quippy, but they're often full of logic holes. I'd like to think the road to hell is paved with selfishness masquerading as good intentions. Actual good intentions, I think, pave a road to a much different destination.

Intentions have to be toward or for something or someone. They can't stand alone. The very word intention implies a relationship of some kind. Intentions have to do with the heart. "What you intend" could just as easily be read as "what you plan." There is a goal in mind. There is an endgame.

Things don't always go according to plan, though. Actions with the best intentions can have the worst of consequences.

Sometimes, you just can't see all the variables. You can't always tell what could go wrong, when, or why. That's nobody's fault. And that's a hard fact to accept. When things go wrong, we react in the image of our Maker, longing for justice.

People make mistakes (remember, we are talking about intentions, so we are talking about mistakes, not malice). Not blaming them is hard. It looks a lot easier on paper than it feels in practice. We tend to want to make things even--you know, inflict hurt on those that hurt us, whether they meant to or not.

What if you made the mistake? Would the same rules apply to you? Would you take responsibility, or would you try to shift the blame? Would you make excuses? Would you do everything in your power to dodge the consequences, or would you own up? Owning up is difficult.

Then you have the case where you make a mistake, you acknowledge that you made a mistake, but then you turn around and smugly say that because it was a mistake and not malice, they should just get over it. I guess that would be ideal, right? Some people are great at letting bygones be bygones. But their forgiveness of you has nothing to do with whether or not you deserve it. When we are the ones who have inflicted pain on another, what right do we have to belittle what they feel? If we are responsible for damage, what right do we have to expect to not be hurt in return? Or what right do we have to expect that moving forward isn't going to be complicated, that repairing the damage is going to be easy, when neither is the case?

It's especially hard to accept the outcome of our own mistakes. No matter how well intended a person's actions are, if you hurt someone, you hurt someone. You're not really guaranteed that they're going to understand why or get past the fact that you didn't mean to do it. It's possible that they don't even want repair because of how badly their trust was broken. Sometimes, people just need space. Sometimes, you lose people completely.

The worst part isn't even that, though. Sometimes, the people you hurt just don't care about where your heart was. Sometimes, they're just fed up and don't want to feel that way again, so they might cut you off. And what makes this the worst part is that you have absolutely no control over what happens next. Whether or not they forgive you, whether or not they come back, isn't up to you.

So I guess if you're talking about a figurative hell, it really could  be paved by good intentions.

Good intentions can still lead to hurting someone.

Good intentions can still lead to failure.

Good intentions can still lead to rejection.

Good intentions can still lead to being alone.

It's funny to me how often in scripture the concept of sincerity and truth being linked together comes up. You know, our hearts in sync with our actions. You can have the best heart but still get it all wrong. You can get it all right but still be full of malice or greed. That's the tricky thing about being fallen. We look at our circumstances and try to find the best possible road to travel, but usually end up either sacrificing heart for results or results for heart. We're willing to distort our view of reality in order to feel better, whether that means a relief from pain or a greater self-image. At the same time, sometimes we harden our hearts in order to force our world into the mold we think it should fit. The awful part about that is that neither heart nor actions can work alone.

Why do we try to separate parts that were made to work together? Think about how your lungs supply oxygen to the heart. The heart supplies oxygen to the body, but it can't do that without the lungs. And when the body needs to release carbon dioxide, it can't do that without the heart returning to the lungs. The two are inseparable. Sincerity without truth is like gasping for breath when there is no oxygen, and truth without sincerity is like refusing to breathe when you're surrounded by it. Your heart will still try to beat, but it will only have a short time before it dies. So you can mean every action you take, but that doesn't mean that things will turn out right.

It might not really even be that we try to separate those parts. I think they're probably already separated, and we have a hard time putting those two pieces back together without fearing the consequences. When we're used to living just by the heart, or just by works, we're used to seeing how living the other way can go horribly wrong. It's actually pretty rare to see both together. And even then, you don't always get it right. No one ever gets it right every time, not even when you try, not even if it's with your whole heart or with every action. Sometimes, things just blow up, and you just can't do anything about it.

I say this more objectively than I feel it, but that's the way things go. When we come to the knowledge that Jesus is Lord, we have to accept that no good deed or intention of ours can save us. But also, no sin can separate us from the love of God. It takes grace and only grace. Accepting grace means letting go of the idea that we are in control and letting go of trying to control things. It's the Lord that sees the hearts of people. It's the Lord that reconciles. It's the Lord that heals. It's the Lord that makes a way.

I know that sounds great, but...

What if there is no healing?

What if there is no reconciliation?

What if there is no way back?

What then?

Do you hold out hope?

Do you let go of what you wish you hadn't lost?

Do you move on with your life?

Do you become cynical?

Do you become unstable?

Do you believe?

Do you continue to love?

Do you learn to love again?

I don't have an answer for you. I hope that you can believe that God is still faithful, still madly in love with you, and that even if nothing changes, He will bring you through it and to the place you're meant to be.