My kids know that one of my big pet peeves is the response, "I didn't mean to." Now I'm ok with this common excuse if, say, an otherwise observant and considerate person very accidentally bumps into someone they truly were unaware of. For instance, if you've been standing in line at the librarian's desk all by yourself and then you engage in conversation with said librarian and meanwhile someone very quietly comes up and stands right behind you and when you turn around to go hunt for your book you quite accidentally bump into this stealth line stander, that is understandable. At that point, an "Oops. Excuse me; I didn't mean to bump into you" would be quite appropriate.
But if I were to tell my English-major mother, "Oops. I didn't mean to write such a long run-on sentence in the paragraph above," that would not be acceptable. To me or my mother. (Neither would that sentence fragment, by the way.)
When you've been taught something, warned about something, made aware of something, you don't get to use the excuse, "I didn't mean to."
When you have spell check, calculators, online dictionaries, and printed directions at your disposal, you don't get to explain away your mistakes with, "I didn't mean to."
And when you're given plenty of time, ample resources, huge doses of encouragement and assistance, and even special allowances, you just can't throw all that grace back in one's face and say, "Well I didn't mean to."
Because my response will always be (just ask my kids), "It's not enough to not mean to; you need to mean not to."
Fortunately for me, while my retort may come off sounding somewhat intolerant and ungracious, the Bible actually backs me up on this one.
Let your eyes look straight ahead,
and your eyelids look right before you.
Ponder the path of your feet,
and let all your ways be established.
Do not turn to the right or the left;
remove your foot from evil.
(Proverbs 4:25-27, NKJ)
My translation? "Mean to or mean not to, but be intentional and not apologetic."
My kids have gotten in trouble for everything from not meaning to leave their clothes in the floor to not meaning to not say good morning. Just how do you not mean to not say good morning?
But truthfully, I've used this excuse in some lousy ways too. I've not meant to skip my daily Bible reading, not meant to leave someone out, not meant to lose my temper, not meant to watch television instead of working, and not meant to eat so much. Maybe I really did mean to do just the opposite in each of those cases, but I must not have meant it enough -- enough to actually follow through, stick to my plan, and do the thing right.
The Bible teaches us not to pave our paths with good intentions, but to walk in heartfelt obedience instead. We need to know the path of righteousness and, by the grace of God and out of love for Him, stay on it.
According to Proverbs 4:26, we're wise to think about what we do and say carefully, ahead of time. We should establish a plan for how to live and intentionally carry that plan out. We need to know our weaknesses, our tendencies to pull to the right or the left (Proverbs 4:27), and make some plans to steer a straighter course.
For me that means I have to make a more concentrated effort to be considerate of others (I can get a little self-absorbed), to stay on task (I'm easily distracted), to eat healthy foods (I gravitate toward fats and more fats), and to speak quietly (my voice tends to rise as the conversation goes on). And when I mess up and veer to the right or the left? Then I need to steer clear of "I didn't mean to" and fess up to my mistake. I need to own my flaw and get back on the right path with a sincere apology.
I just want my daughter to mean not to leave her dishes in my office for now. But in the long run, I'm hoping I instill in her that not meaning to just isn't enough of a reason for repeated offenses. We've got to get serious and mean not to. Otherwise our lives just turn into one big, lousy excuse.
If you are to follow the advice of Proverbs 4:26 and really "mean not to" do the things that keep tripping you up, what will that mean for you? What have you been making excuses for that you just need to get real about and address head on?