In several different posts (Set Your Mind on Things Above, The Beauty of Discipline, among others) I have written about the dangers of living life without intentionality, without deep mindfulness, without a strong internal compass helping to point our lives in the right direction.
I believe that, for most of us, we get derailed in life not because of big moral failings, but because we fail to live with any real sense of direction, purpose, or intention. We float along like a boat upon the waves, tossed to and fro as the winds blow, hoping we reach safe harbor, but very rarely pointing our sails in that direction.
We find that time dictates direction: we hustle to work, punch the clock, race to class, hurry to meetings, keep a full calendar, without any deeper sense of purpose beyond the grind.
Though this certainly is exacerbated in the modern era, it is not a new phenomenon. Internal peace has always been circumscribed by external striving, a problem that the fifth century monk, St. Benedict of Nursia, faced. Worried that the temptations of life might seduce monks from their contemplation of God, St. Benedict set out to create an order of discipline that would prevent monks from straying off course from their higher callings. This order became known as the Regula Benedicti–The Rule of Benedict.
Benedict set out to organize the monastic day into regular periods of communal and private prayer, sleep, spiritual reading, and manual labour – ut in omnibus glorificetur Deus, “that in all [things] God may be glorified” (cf. Rule ch. 57.9). Over time, the Rule of St Benedict came to be one of the most important written works to shape medieval Europe, both for religious and secular communities alike.
The Rule of St. Benedict (later to be known simply as the Rule of Life) derives from the Latin ‘regula’ which means ‘rhythm, regularity of pattern, a recognizable standard’ for the conduct of life. The word for “rule” is also connected to the Greek word for “trellis,” that which upholds a plant and helps it to grow.
A Rule of Life provides deliberate rhythms and routines to life that habituate us toward desired ends. To borrow from Stephen Covey, it moves us from a reactive response to life towards a proactive mindfulness that keeps us pointed towards that which we identify as our “True North”.
It keeps us from falling prey to the seductive trap of “freedom” by providing purposeful restriction: We choose to say “Yes” to the things that take us where we want to go and “No” to those that don’t.
As one author states, “The purpose of a Rule is to lay down working guidelines for the inner life and also provide a framework for the balanced ordering of work, leisure and social relationships. Hence a Rule of Life is not only relevant to the monastic tradition: the principles can be used by anyone who is concerned about how they live their lives.” It becomes for us “an exterior framework for an interior journey.”
“A Rule must be appropriate. It must inspire a journey of exploration, aided by perceptive guidelines, themselves applicable to and interpretive of the real life of each traveller.” Alex Whitehead
A Rule is meant, like a trellis, to be a spur to growth by providing structure and support to every aspect of life. It should challenge us, pushing out into the deeper waters, beyond the shores of complacency, apathy, and conformity. It creates space wherein we can think, meditate, reflect, rest, journal, unplug, and, to quote Frederick Buechner, listen to our lives.
If all of this sounds too monastic, mystic, or just plain restrictive, remember: You already have an unwritten personal rule of life. We wake at certain times, get ready for our days in particular ways, use our free time for assorted purposes and practice rhythms of work, hobbies, and worship. How often do we go through the same routine day after day, never questioning the purpose behind it all? How often do we find ourselves hitting the snooze (in the morning and in life), or eating in front of the TV, numbing out as hours of our lives tick by? We look around and feel that something should be happening, and get angst-ridden when the malaise of the mundane sets in. Mindless repetition of the same thing is what Einstein called insanity and what Camus called the Absurd. Indeed, we are already habituated to one rule of life; the point I am trying to make is that we must take conscious, deliberate control over which rule of life we wish to follow: that of the culture, or that of our own choosing.
What, then, would a personal Rule of Life look like? It typically includes daily, weekly, monthly, yearly, seasonal, and/or liturgical rhythms. It should include things you want to work on below the waterline, things that have internal worth (things like contemplation, confession, relationships, health, etc.). It is not a means of organizing your day so that you achieve greater efficiency or effectiveness; rather, it is a way of ordering your life so that you become a certain kind of person (a person of blessing, wisdom, wholeness, peace, shalom, rather than a person of regret, ruin, emptiness, brokenness).
I can only offer my own Rule of Life as an example; you must personalize yours for your own rhythms and seasons of life. I would also suggest that, if you are married, you should consider a Rule of Life for your marriage, and, if you have a family, a Rule of Life for your family.
Here, then, is a sample of mine. I have abbreviated it; under each heading, there is much to be fleshed out (for example, I did not include my reading or workout schedule), but you can get the general gist:Personal Rule of Life: –Read a minimum of two hours every day –Spend a year reading through one subject (examples include my yearlong study of Abraham Lincoln) –Workout 3-4 times a week –Spend daily time in personal devotion, scripture, and solitude –Spend time in deep relational community with like-minded/hearted folk as often as possible –Write minimum 1000 words a day –Speak intentionally into my kids everyday –Intentional focus on: integrity, wisdom, virtue, and gratitude –Invest deeply in shalom-makers: those who spend themselves on behalf of the voiceless, the marginalized, the suffering; those who love, grieve, and bleed over their city; those who are working to make all things new. Family Rule of Life: –Story time with kids, followed by prayer, every night –Regular date nights with my wife (including weekend “staycations”) –Date trip with my wife once a year (examples have included everything from lounging on the beach to traveling through Europe) –Family trips that shape purpose, exploration, discovery, and identity (examples have included camping trips, ski trips, historical trips, service oriented trips, and the like to local, national, and even international locations) –Maintain Sabbath –Build from the oikos out –Create a home wealthy in hospitality, grace, fellowship, love, and laughter
I’d love to hear from you about what you might include in your Rule of Life. Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments section!
**I am indebted to the following sources for much of the information concerning the concept of the Rule of Life:
Rule of Life.com for resources, instruction, and examples
Why Do We Need a Rule of Life? An explanation on the meaning of the Rule of Life
A book that offers the history, meaning, and purpose of creating a personal Rule of Life