“I wish you would…”
I think every Southern mama knows what that phrase means. As a child I remember hearing, “I wish you would roll your eyes” or “…say another word” or “…walk out that door” or “I wish I would let you go to that party.” We all knew exactly what she meant: we’d better straighten up and fly right. Mama certainly meant for me to keep my eyes looking straight ahead, button up my lips tight and in a hurry, and stay right where my feet were planted. And surely, she wasn’t letting me attend anybody’s party.
I use that phrase in my manuscript, and an editor once questioned its meaning. She didn’t get that it was an implied threat; that there was an “or else” running deep through those words. Needless to say, that particular editor wasn’t interested. (And I wish I would omit that scene.)
As for me, I don’t use those particular words of my Mama’s much in my day-to-day parenting—I’ve got my own elliptical, yet meaningful go-to phrases. One in particular—the topic of recent discussion—usually follows outcries like, “But…I didn’t mean to spill the water!” “I didn’t mean to lose my book!” “I didn’t mean to miss trash collection!” And so on and so on.
My response? “Then mean not to.”
Believe me, my little people have provided me scads of opportunities to use this winner, but recently, Songbird finally admitted she didn’t get it. What does it mean to “mean not to do” something? I explained that it means to be intentional. Be purposeful. Watch what you’re doing. Meaning not to do something helps you avoid accidents and mistakes because you’ve got your eyes on the prize.
I walked away feeling like I got my point across, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized “meaning to” or “meaning not to” is like the “fixin’ to…” from my old days. You know, “I’m fixin’ to get some water.” (I’m thirsty, and I’m on my way to the kitchen.) “I’m fixin’ to turn off the TV.” (Yes, ma’am, I heard you. I’m just taking my time getting off the sofa.) It’s a delay tactic, these words that express intent—after all, an intent is a thought, not an action; it’s a noun or adjective, not a verb.
“Meaning to” or “meaning not to” definitely wasn’t enough for my mama. Is it enough for my little people? For me? For God?
It’s like…I mean to get to heaven. But without Jesus, left to my own devices, I’d still be working out my own salvation, stuck in the “counting the costs” phase of discipleship. I should mean not to skip prayer, or ineffectively witness the Gospel, or miss Bible study.
I mean to get published. So, why do I invest few hours working on my edits, building my platform, and braving those rejections? I need to mean not to waste hours on television, surfing the web, and merely daydreaming about a book contract.
I mean to practice self-control. Then I should mean not to yell. (But I secretly believe speaking sotto voce doesn’t really get the job done. This makes me sound more like the Godfather and not a mom.)
I mean to get up early. Is that why I drift back to sleep after checking my e-mail or texts at 6:30 a.m.? I should mean not to stay up half the night, making it nearly impossible to wake up before 8 a.m.? (okay, make that 8:30…).
I mean to lose weight. That’s why I suffer through (excuse me, consume) salads and smoothies…and mean not to enjoy pizza, milkshakes, bacon cheeseburgers…
I mean to…call my daddy more, volunteer, listen to Brown Sugar read, drive the speed limit, keep up with friends, and more “meaning toos” than I can shake a stick at, but good intentions are good for only one thing, and that’s not the paved road I’m traveling on. It’s what I do that counts, not merely what I mean not to do. Whether or not Think Tank meant to spill the water doesn’t matter if my sock gets wet when I step on the kitchen floor. Yet, in the end, only God can truly judge our heart’s thoughts and intentions (Hebrews 4:12).
What about you? What are some important things you’re “fixin’ to do”? It’s not that you should base your life on completed to-do lists; I don’t think that’s what Jesus meant by being “doers of the Word, and not hearers only.” (James 1:22) Maybe like me you just need to get busy actually doing all those things you “mean to” do and “mean not to” do all the rest.
And I really wish I would.