We talk about bringing agape love, Christ’s self-sacrificial love, into our lives, but we can tend to become passive about actually doing it. We have a hard time bridging the gap between new, fresh surface-level friendships that don’t really mean much to us and relationships that are real and built on authentic love. Love is not passive, true love acts. ‘To love is to will the good of another over oneself’ – St. Thomas Aquinas. Love looks forward, it anticipates the needs of the other and looks out for the other’s greatest good. This should always be our intention regarding any relationship and any person we encounter, and we should never be passive in pursuing that or acting on that. One thing we don’t hear enough about, unfortunately, is intentionality. Intentionality means deliberate or purposive. Being intentional with someone we wish to love means deliberately choosing and pursuing what is good for the other person, it cultivates agape love within relationships. Love is an act of will, it is an active choice. Intentionality speaks love because you reveal that your intention is to love the person.
Intentionality is necessary for any relationship because it creates, over time, a deeper trust between the two people. You reveal in your actions that, yes, you enjoy this person’s company, but you have a desire to show them a deeper love. Your actions and attitude toward the person reveal to them that you truly see them as worthy of love and the sacrifices it brings. By being intentional you reveal to the person their dignity as a beloved son or daughter of God. You reveal that you see them for who they are and you have a desire to love them like Christ. Seeking to be ever more conscious of the needs of those we love is automatically an act of reverence towards the other person. In your simple attentiveness to them, you uphold their dignity. You show the love and honour that is due to everyone made in the image and likeness of God, because, in your sensitivity to their needs, you show them that, just as Christ sees them as worthy of infinite love, so do you. Simply willing the good of the other is an act of Christ-like love.
Intentionality keeps its eyes on love, for love rejects all forms of selfishness and the use of another for one’s own fulfillment. It rejects the idea of ‘playing the game’ in relationships because it does not look to manipulate, it looks to love. It instead obeys Christ’s command to, ‘Love the Lord, your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind; and with all your strength; and your neighbour as yourself.’ – Luke 10:27. The simple idea of ‘treat others as you would like to be treated’ poses the question ‘how can I best love this person?’ How you treat another person will reveal to them whether or not they, and the relationship you have with them, matter to you. If you wish to be intentional with someone and show them that you truly wish to love them, you won’t waste their time or pretend you’re uninterested. A common example is texting someone, be it on Facebook, Snapchat, whatever social media platform it may be, leaving them on ‘seen’ for two hours for the sake of not looking like you’re trying ‘too much’ or appearing ‘too clingy’ in the eyes of the other person. The problem here was not the inability to respond to a message, but the intention behind the action. What drives you to treat someone a particular way, be it good or bad? Our motivation for how we treat people should always be the love that God has for this person and bringing that love to them. Let go of pride, selfishness, and insecurity and show the person that they, and the time you spend with them, are important to you. It can be simple, small sacrifices that reveal your deep love for a person, be it in offering them a cup of tea or hugging them when they need it. If you are serious about loving someone, show them in your actions. It is true that actions speak louder than words, and your actions have the power to sometimes speak love louder than telling the person that you love them. The person should always be treated with love, it is what we were created for, as sons and daughters made in the image and likeness of Love.
A big part of being intentional is inviting vulnerability into our relationships. We live in a culture that is afraid of being vulnerable because vulnerability means admitting that we are imperfect. While it is important to be prudent in how much we share of ourselves, depending on the stage of the relationship, we are too often guilty of walking into friendships and relationships with a ‘walls up’ attitude, as though the person seeking to see is an enemy to be protected against. We must keep in mind that loving means giving and when we’re practicing chastity we are truly seeking to discover the heart of another, that also means allowing them to discover ours. We should be seeking to care for the heart of those we love. We can be intentional in our loving by revealing to our loved ones that we are striving to love as Christ does on the Cross, acknowledging that it is not always a pretty sight, but that we are willing to love the other person in their imperfection, just as they are in that very moment. We must be intentional in creating a space of trust where people we love can be vulnerable with us without being afraid to, ‘There is no fear in love for perfect love drives out fear’ – 1 John 4:18. In doing this we invite a deeper, authentic intimacy into the relationship where agape love can grow.
Intentionality keeps in mind that love is a gift. To love is to make a gift of yourself to another. Intentionality is authentic because when we are intentional, especially in moments when it’s challenging or uncomfortable, we are making a conscious effort to love the person. St. Paul says, ‘Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.’ – 1 Cor 13:4-7. When you are intentional in pursuing someone, it is because you recognize that the person you are pursuing is a gift, and you desire to treat them as such. This is Christ-like love. John Paul II said, ‘The greater the feeling of responsibility for the person, the more true love there is’. We should be not afraid, as Christ repeatedly commanded, of inviting His agape love into our relationships.