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Transformation Thoughts – Impact over Intent

By February 5, 2024March 15th, 2024No Comments
Impact over Intent poster

Poster designed and sold by Jennifer Mazzucco

Impact over Intent: And a Story of Forgiveness

In the fall of 2022, I gathered with the other faculty members of the Center for Ministry and Lay training for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion training. Just before leaving for the training, I hurt someone by an action I took. When they told me they were hurt, I replied, “It was not my intent to cause you discomfort.” And I left it at that.

Just before lunch on the first day of the workshop, the leader said, “It is the impact, not the intent, that matters most.” To say I was convicted might be putting it too mildly. As the training broke for lunch, I got out my phone and drafted another email. This time, I confessed that my initial response probably caused more harm and that I was sorry for how my actions (initially and in response to being called out) caused harm. I explained what I had just learned about impact and intent and vowed to do better in the future, both with the individual and with everyone.

After we returned from lunch, there was a debriefing time, and I shared the story with the group. Since then, I have been keenly aware of the impact of my actions and have worked diligently to make sure both the impact and the intent of my actions align with who I am and who I believe God is calling me to be.

Fast forward to late January 2024. In some of her opening remarks about making the Remind and Renew conference a safe and welcoming space for all people, Phillips Theological Seminary President, the Reverend Doctor Nancy Pittman, said to the conference, “Remember your impact is more important than your intent.” Nancy was in that room in ’22, so I caught her attention and mentioned that I nearly gasped aloud when I heard her comments. I said something about the prior shared experience, and then we headed in separate directions for a break.

The following day, after the first plenary session, Nancy asked to interrupt a conversation I was having because she needed to tell me something. (I suspect you have people in your life that when they talk, you listen. Nancy is one of those people for me.) She looked me in the eyes and said, “Alex, I don’t remember anything about the story you told me yesterday. I know that I replay, with vivid detail, all my mistakes, but I don’t remember yours.” The conversation continued for a few more moments, but that was the word I needed to hear. My intent was NOT to keep myself mired in a past mistake, but the impact of my unwillingness to forgive myself had done precisely that.

My awareness of my impact does not erase the damage done. It doesn’t justify what I did. But, remaining captive to those mistakes was not serving me, either. I am so very blessed to have people call me out and call me in. May we all have those trusted people who remind us of our impact and remind us to offer ourselves forgiveness and grace just like we would show it to others.

Journeying Together,