Rule of Life
Perhaps somewhere in the subterranean chambers of your life, you have heard the call to deeper, fuller living. You have become weary of frothy experiences and shallow teaching. Every now and then you have caught glimpses, hints of something more than you have known. Inwardly you long to launch out into the deep. (Richard Foster)
An increasing numbers of us (individuals, communities, and even secular programs for personal development) have begun to develop our own Rules of Life as a strategy for fostering intentional change and growth.
If creeds are what we believe and Christ is why we believe, a Rule is how we seek to live out that faith, day-to-day as a disciple in the power of the Holy Spirit.
For those longing to launch out into the deep waters of God, Rules of Life have always provided the way ahead. It’s as elementary to the spiritual life as learning the A-B-C is to growing up:
A Rule enables us to develop a faith that is authentic and consistent with our convictions. Mountain-top experiences will never transform our characters without daily discipline, covenant community, and a set of personal values.
A Rule of Life can be a COMPASS in confusing times…
A Rule enables us to develop a balanced, sustainable, and enjoyable rhythm of life. By mapping out the different dimensions of our faith in a few simple principles and practices, we are better able to balance the multiple demands of our diaries, in a life that is well lived and not driven by inner insecurity and outer expectation.
EG: The Benedictine Rule of St Benedict (right)emphasizes the daily balance between work, rest, and prayer lived out in community.
If we are to stay faithful in the long haul, without blowing up or burning out, a Rule of Life may well be the METRONOME we need to keep us moving forward “in step with the Spirit” (Gal. 5:25).
A Rule enables us to centre our lives on Christ. It calls us back continually to the place of prayer and worship as the life-giving spring from which everything else flows. A Rule can cut across the self-complicating tendency of Christianity, keeping us grounded in Christ’s simple presence.
EG: St. Francis (right) gave us the key to his Franciscan Order when he wrote: “Every day I find so much sweetness and consolation in meditating upon the memory of the humble witness of the Son of God, that should I live till the end of the world, there would be little need of my hearing or meditating upon anything further in the scriptures.” [Legend of Perugia, 99]
A Rule is a PLUMB LINE measuring everything we say, think, or do against the example of Jesus.
How to create a rule of life
When you create a Rule of Life for yourself, ask for the help of a companion, a spiritual director or friend, or a priest. A companion can help you see the direction of your life more clearly, and help you find clarity and balance in your Rule.
When you begin, consider the shape of your daily life and commitments — your family & friends, your work, your church. Look at the things you already do — your prayer & worship habits, volunteer efforts, charitable contributions, and such. Most of us already live according to a kind of rule — we just have not thought about it in this way, and made it “official.”
Next, consider what general areas of life and experiences are important for you to include in organizing your Rule.
Some areas to explore are:
- The traditional areas of poverty, chastity, and obedience, which address our relationships with the things of the world, with our bodies and our selves, and with others
- The Baptismal promises, as a guide to organize your Rule around prayer and worship, relationships, reconciliation, and renewal
- Your commitments to your parish and to serving others
- Study, which deepens your understanding of the faith
- Stewardship, the way you use your resources of time, talent, and treasure
- Personal health
Any area of your life can be included in a Rule in order to lift it up in the spirit of prayer, dedication, and service. Create a unique set of themes, or combine all of these in creative ways, which blend your personality with communal and traditional themes.
When you’ve done this, begin to put the parts together — place your current practices within the framework you’ve created for yourself, and ask yourself where you might stretch a little (or maybe a lot) to deepen your life in Christ.
- After you’ve brought all the pieces together, ask yourself, ‘Does it look like me?
- Does it mirror your personality, your faith?
- Does it challenge you in the right places, and affirm you in others?
- Is there a balance of being and doing — prayer and action; engagement and solitude; words and silence; speaking and listening?
While a Rule will probably challenge you in some areas, it should not exhaust you in any. It should be do-able (do not set yourself up to fail), but not superficial (do not just take an “easy way out”); it should be a commitment, but not a straightjacket.
Your Rule should fit your life…
If you find yourself feeling burdened, or frustrated by your Rule, or if you feel it’s actually getting in between you and God, go back and see what needs adjusting. Your Rule should reflect who you are and what “faith in action” means to you. Do not be afraid to make changes that help you keep getting clearer about what it means to live faithfully. Always be careful not to take “easy outs” — things that are difficult sometimes are the very things that will bear tremendous fruit in time if we keep going. When you feel a need to change, talk with your spiritual companion who can help you discern what is just not a good fit for you, and what’s a spiritual growing edge.
Above all, living according to a Rule should always help draw you closer to God — so pray about your Rule when you write it, and when you change it. Use it, work with it so that it works for you, strengthening your life in the Spirit, in the Body of Christ. The Rule should, in the words of St. Paul, build you up in love, bringing you to the measure of the full stature of Christ (Eph. 4:13, 16).