Rule of Life: Spiritual Disciplines

Here we are in a new year—2017. I heralded it in with Scott by my side, standing in the back of a room filled with my parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins. One of the little ones hadn’t made it to midnight, and she was dead-to-the-world asleep on a blanket on the floor.

The time marker of the New Year sparks reflection—joy and thankfulness over the blessings of the past twelve months and tears over losses and disappointments.

This is also the time of year when people make resolutions—these goals of how to improve ourselves over the next year. The resolve with which we tackle the fulfillment of these resolutions, though, can be reflected in the comical levels of dusty exercise equipment for sale on the curb or unused gym memberships come early spring. We have the best of intentions, but our resolutions are often too abstract or far reaching to carry through to completion.

But what if instead of setting a far off goal, we instead looked at values and patterns we wanted to encourage and prioritize now, today, tomorrow, the next day? What if we focused on what is already at hand, and allow those small decisions to take us somewhere?

A Rule of Life can provide a picture of the values, habits, and patterns we want to structure our lives. These rhythms and priorities help us develop our relationship with God and others and engage in our role in His Kingdom.

Rules of Life were a strong part of monastic communities; perhaps the most well known is the Rule of St. Benedict, which has shaped the spirituality and lifestyle of Benedictine communities since the 6th-century.

But a Rule of Life can be crafted for an individual Christian—it just requires some personal reflection. It is simply a declaration of the rhythms we want to incorporate into our lives. As with any other spiritual discipline, a Rule of Life, in spite of its name, is not about “rules” or do’s and don’ts, and it should not be burdensome. Instead, it should provide clarity and freedom as you shrug off the chaotic swirl of demands and focus in on simple patterns that fit into life as it now is.

Set aside some time for reflection and consider how you want to grow this year, what your sense of calling is, what your limitations are. At the beginning, choose no more than 10 values or patterns you want to emphasize this year. Write them down and post them in a place you’ll see often. They can be as simple or a detailed as you feel is necessary.

Here are some examples to get you thinking:

  • Practice hospitality by hosting a guest (or guests) once a month for a meal
  • Take time to reflect on the day before bed, both giving thanks and confessing sin.
  • Eat sensibly.
  • Participate in a small group or meet with a prayer partner.
  • Develop my artistic talents by devoting 2 hours a week to painting/writing/composing/etc.

A Rule of Life will vary person-to-person and over our lifetime. It is a tool to help us structure our lives in such a way that we can grow deeper into our life as disciples. It emphasizes patterns and values over goals, focusing on the power of a lifestyle submitted to the Lord to slowly craft lasting change.