Spiritual Practices — 4 — “A Personal Rule of Life”

Spiritual Practices -4- “A Personal Rule of Life”

Check out more in the Spiritual Practices Series here.

Everyone has a “rule of life” they follow. Even if the “rule” we follow isn’t obvious to us, most every human being is a creature of habit and pattern. There are certain rituals and routines we weave into the daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly fabric of our lives. Some of these rituals are deliberate while some are less so. Examples of these routines might include a regular morning wake-up to coffee and a newspaper or probably more realistically, coffee while checking email and Facebook ®. These examples and lists could be endless… watching certain T.V. shows regularly, following sports teams, hobbies, exercise habits, eating habits, social habits, and more. The point is everyone has a “Rule of Life” they follow.

A few years ago I participated in a workshop to help me develop a personal rule of life, something deliberate, thoughtfully considered, and intentional that might help me in my surrendered pursuit of becoming more like Jesus. The workshop I attended (June of 2009) was provided by Dr. Stephen Macchia who has a book coming out on this subject in the first quarter of this next year, 2012, Crafting a Rule of Life. Since crafting a personal and intentional rule for my life during that workshop, I have continued to practice this discipline faithfully and can testify that it has been one of the most beneficial of the spiritual disciplines I have participated in.

Personal Rule of Life—Beginnings

People have been using personal rules for life as long as there have been people. As I said earlier, we are creatures of habit; however, by exercising intentional and specific practices in our life we can work toward specific goals. The model I use is based on Benedictine spirituality. Benedict of Nursia is well known for a rule of life he wrote for monastic communities some fifteen hundred years ago. The beauty and the wonder of this fact is that a document and rule written so long ago is still popular, active, and practical today. Now, as it regards a personal rule, the Rule of St. Benedict isn’t transferable in whole; after all it was written for a community of monks. The principles that form the outline of Benedict’s Rule do serve as a great template for us though. The wisdom found in the Rule is based primarily around the spiritual life and the administrative flow of a monastic community. The Rule is very Christocentric (centered around the life and teaching of Jesus Christ). Forming our own personal rule around the life and teaching of Jesus helps us to focus on the pattern of practice and discipline that helps us to live the abundant life that Jesus promised to us. It is helpful also to realize the rule we establish for ourselves is not an iron-clad law, rigid and inflexible, but a covenant guide that helps us to develop the whole spiritual self in a holistic fashion encompassing all the “heart,” “soul,” “mind,” and “strength.”

But where do I start?

The first thing necessary in creating a personal rule of life is to identify the rule I already observe. This begins the practice of discernment and self-awareness by objectively observing how I spend my time during the course of a day. It can be very helpful to keep a journal of the activities and practices I keep for a few weeks. During this time of observing my own life, I can be intentional about praying and listening to God as I ask Him to show me the direction and practices He wants me to remove and the practices He wishes me to initiate. Writing down thoughts and impressions that flow through your mind will be beneficial later, so this is something you may want to consider doing if you’re serious about creating this personal rule.

If you are familiar with spiritual disciplines and have practiced them in some measure, you might be ready to proceed with construction of your rule. If your experience has been limited or non-existent with the practice of spiritual disciplines, you may want to continue with journal keeping and try some experimentation with a few of the disciplines. A great starting point for introduction to the various disciplines can be found in a few resources which follow: Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline is a great introduction to the general practice of the spiritual disciplines; Jan Johnson’s Spiritual Disciplines Companion and Adele Calhoun’s Spiritual Disciplines Handbook both introduce specific disciplines and the purpose (and expected outcomes) for each of them. If you’ve never practiced any of the disciplines mentioned in these particular books, this can be a great time of experimentation and discovery. The process of experimentation itself can be a rewarding discipline and wonderful time to hear from God in the process of prayer and discernment. Once more, I’ll stress that some form (journaling or otherwise) of recording your experience will be valuable to you as you set out to establish your rule.

Tell me more about this rule thing…

Following the work of preparing for crafting your rule, you’ll want to consider how you structure it. There are quite a few different and effective methods you might consider for your personal model; I have chosen the Benedictine rule to pattern my rule after. The Benedictine foundations include attention to three major pillars: stability—with the intention to remain with God through faithfulness in prayer and commitment to community; obedience—with intention to faithfully hear and respond obediently to God’s word through living the life He calls us to in the teachings of Jesus Christ; conversion—with intention to continually grow, develop, and progress as we are conformed and transformed to the image of Christ assisting in the work of bringing reconciliation to the world as we await the return of Christ.

The Benedictine model builds on these foundational pillars several practices that help to build toward the intentions (expected outcomes) of the pillars. These practices include prayer, study, work, recreation, and hospitality. The model of Benedict seems well-balanced and healthy to me, so I considered it when forming my rule. Two passages of Scripture have been extremely instrumental in my personal spiritual formation (Deuteronomy 6:4-9 and Mark 12:28-31) and I use them as the primary basis for developing my rule with an eye toward the Rule of Benedict for specific practices. The passages I mention teach us to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength… and to love our neighbor as ourselves (attention to community).

The questions you might want to reflect upon when writing your rule might include some derivations of the following: “What practices are helping me to grow in relationship with God at a personal level?” Prayer, Bible reading and study, Solitude, and Silence might be considerations relating to loving God with all your heart when you ponder this question. Another question, “Do I treat my body as it really is the temple of God?” Getting sufficient rest, eating right, and exercise are considerations here which might correlate to loving God with all your strength. As you reflect on questions like these, ideas may come to you for practices (disciplines) that can help you to grow toward your goal of becoming transformed in the image of Christ and living as a representative of God’s Kingdom here on earth.

I made a rule; now what?

Living a Rule of Life does not mean living an unblemished life. It does mean being intentional about taking on particular practices that draw us toward a life patterned on Christ. If this is the first time you have attempted to live (knowledgably) under a rule, it may take some practice and time to become adjusted to it. Extend grace to yourself. You may need to make some changes along the way tweaking your rule as you go. Listen for God in the process; the Spirit guides us and knows us better than we know ourselves. Prayerfully – and perhaps over an extended period of time – examine how God might be calling you to revise your current practice. You might consider several questions:

  • Is my present practice “right” for me in the present, truly reflecting who I am – or is it something arrived at by accident, or as a “leftover” from another time in my life?
  • Does my present practice reflect balance – among the four quadrants, and among the “prayer,” “growth,” and “service” components? Is the rhythm right for me?
  • Does some element appear to be missing or underdeveloped?
  • How might God be calling me to adjust my present practice – by adding one or two items, or by taking something away, or by changing frequency – in order to deepen my relationship with my Creator?

As you feel led to make a change in your practice, be sure to move into it gently. Be careful to test each change for a time, so you can determine if the new practice is a fruitful one. Remember that the object of the exercise is to deepen your relationship with God.

Make a review of how well you are practicing your Rule of Life regularly – weekly is the typical pattern Enlist the help of a trusted community of friends or a spiritual director to help you both perceive the Christ pattern in your life and understand how you are living into it. Revisit your Rule once a year (on your birthday, perhaps) to discern whether it still fits you. Revise it as needed, using the same process you used to write it.

As always, if you have additional questions or seek more resources, you can always contact me via the comments section of this blog post or you can contact me using the contact form here. Grace and blessings to you!

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