By Rebecca Hall
To Recap from last week:
The start of a new year is a good time to write or re-visit our rules of life. What is a rule of life? Simply put, it is a framework for our lives that includes supporting practices and orientations. Read a short overview here.
The framework we will explore in this Rule of Life Reboot is a simple, uncomplicated structure. It is a good foundation, and if you wanted to elaborate – adding more categories to flesh it out – you could easily build on it in the future. I will be using the image of a tree for our rules of life. I invite you to imagine the various steps of our rule-discovering as parts of the tree such as the trunk, the branches, or the roots.
You can do these exercises on your own at your own pace. You can also join in on Rule of Life Reboot Check-in Sessions on Mondays, 4:30-5:30 pm on Zoom on January 18 and 25. These sessions are not a class, but a time to reflect on your rule, ask questions, and hear about others’ rules.
REGISTER HERE for the Check-in Sessions and Zoom will send you a link.
Step One: Examining Vocations
(You may recognize some of this from last week’s post)
“Vocation” comes from the Latin word, vocare – to call. So, examining your vocations means looking at the ways that God is already calling you. How are you currently being a conduit of grace in the world? Paid work, raising children, maintaining intimate relationships/marriage, maintaining friendships, staying connected to a family of origin, maybe volunteer work, and elderly parents or family who need care can all be examples of current vocations. If you have said yes to these vocations, there is a certain amount of responsibility and obligation that accompany these callings. They are not to be discarded or changed without discernment.
Notice: We have more than one vocation at a time. Out of God’s abundance, God offers us multiple ways to be conduits of grace. Vocations change, they are, generally, not permanent. Children grow up, we change careers, friends move in and out of our lives, parents grow older and their needs change, even the nature of marriage changes over the decades. This isn’t to say that some of these vocations disappear, but that they may change. The nature of obligation and responsibility, the amount of energy, time, and resources invested in a particular vocation may change. Some vocations end abruptly, and not by our choice. A divorce, loss of a job, a natural disaster, or an illness are examples of how vocations can be taken from us. When vocations change – be it by our choice or not – is when many people seek (or should seek) therapy and spiritual direction to help navigate these waters and discern a path forward. At these times, space opens up for new vocations, new callings, new ways to be conduits of grace.
At times, something that looks like a hobby for one person could actually be a vocation for another. This could be an artistic pursuit, activism or volunteer work the community, or an interest that, although it doesn’t generate income, takes significant time and energy and is part of that person’s core identity.
I think of vocations as the trunk of our tree. They provide a frame and shape for our lives.
Out of our vocations flow manifestations of our vocations and shorter term callings. Think of these as the branches and leaves that flow out of a tree’s trunk. If parenting is a vocation, it may manifest itself in being the president of the PTA or the Little League coach for a time. If writing is a vocation it may start as doing The Artists’ Way and years later become writing a book.
Discernment is a constant practice for us. How are we going to let our vocations come to life? Where do we feel growth? Where do we feel change? Pruning is an important practice. Sometimes we have to let one thing go in order for another to emerge.
Reflection Questions for Journaling, Pondering or Drawing
What are your current vocations?
Think about each vocation separately. What is your current relationship to that vocation?
How do you feel about it?
How has it changed over the years?
Is that vocation growing, shrinking, retiring, or is it stable?
Are there new vocations emerging in your life?
What are the ways your core vocations manifest themselves in your life?
Is there growth in a particular branch?
Can you feel a new branch emerging or wanting to emerge?
Where do you find obstacles to the growth of one branch or another?
Are there branches that need to be pruned? Ironically, -pruning often brings more growth to the branch.
Sometimes a branch is dead or dying and actually needs to be removed. This might let more sun hit the branches which are trying to grow. Do you have any dead or dying branches?
Step Two: Supportive and Foundational Practices
Care and feeding of our lives come from our practices -the root system of the tree. I imagine God as the soil, the ground of our being, in which we are firmly rooted. Our roots spread out into and are nurtured by the soil. We connect to this soil, grow our root system and keep ourselves healthy through practices. (Conversely, we can keep ourselves unhealthy through practices, too – practices that do not connect us to God and each other, but to things less vital to our flourishing.) It is here that we add practices that help us grow spiritually and promote emotional and psychological health. What follows are just examples, and do not constitute an exhaustive list of what should be in your rule. There is no “should”! The examples of meant to spur your imagination.
Examples of Liturgical and Corporate Prayer Practices: (These practices are less “about us” and what we need or want. They put us in a posture of praising God and praying for others.)
- Corporate worship
- Intercessory prayer
- Daily Office
Examples of Affective Practices (devotional, individual practices that feed us where we are on our journey. These practices may change throughout the course of our lives.)
- Contemplative Prayer Practices
- Movement Prayer Practices
- Chanting Prayer Practices
- Examining Prayer Practices
- Reflecting on Scripture or wisdom literature
Self-care Practice: What practices make you feel cared for, taking special consideration for your body and your mind, as your soul is cared for in prayer. Some of these practices might be exercise (which you might not enjoy) but some should be activities you look forward to like getting a massage, etc.
Spending time with friends, family, therapy, spiritual direction, all belong in this category. Do you make enough time for deep relationships in your life? Are you expanding your capacity to love? Expanding your capacity to love yourself will expand your capacity to love others.
Joyful Practices: What do you do that brings you joy, renewal, regeneration, and support? These probably are activities, but their purpose is intentionally to enliven us and facilitate growth. For example, if you feel alive when you listen to music, garden, cook, or paint these are examples of joyful practices. Do you make time for activities that make your soul sing?
Practices to Limit: What practices/habits do you need to limit in order to live a joyful, compassionate, Christ-shaped life? Do you consume too much news? Spend too much time on Facebook? Are there people who are toxic or damaging to you in some way? Are there foods or drinks that you need to limit? It is helpful to examine if there are practices in your life that are stumbling blocks to other things you’ve named that will bring you Life.
Step Three: Setting Our Life-Orientations
Life orientations are values that we intend to live by. They are ways of orientating our lives (as opposed to adding things to our to-do lists) that, over time, help us become Christ-shaped. Think about our tree that grows oriented toward the sunlight.
Orientations are not the same as our core values and identity. We can choose orientations as intentions to live into; they can make us stretch just a little. Sometimes they are values we currently live into and have for so long they feel like they have core values. But sometimes they are new or aspirational, maybe uncomfortable because they are helping us grow. We could determine we need to grow in generosity, for example, even though our natural tendency is to be anxious about money.
Set intentions for your life orientations. Usually 2-3 are a good number. What are your intentions for this life-orientation?
These might be or involve practices. They might also be attitudes or stances. Remembering them throughout the day or week could prompt us to behave differently or make certain decisions, but probably does not have to add many activities to our lives.
Examples of Benedictine life orientations:
Hospitality: I intend to be opening and welcoming to all who come to places where I live and work, and to put their needs first, as appropriate
Stability: I intend to be stable in my vocations and where I live and work, in order to grow deeply,
Conversion: I intend to be open to growth and change and actively pursue it, engaging in practices that both energize and challenge me.
Other examples of life orientations:
Wholehearted Living: I intend to live the Gospel wholeheartedly, with joy and gratitude.
Love: I intend to meet each life situation, no matter how small or large, with love for others, even when it means saying no or engaging in conflict.
Generosity: I intend to meet every situation with generous intentions.
Hope: I intend to view the world and respond with a theologically hopeful outlook.
Resilience: I intend to “shut up, suit up, show up”
 This is a “life orientation” that I heard on a podcast interview about Resilience with author Jim Hollis. He shared that every morning as he leaves his house, he looks in the mirror and tells himself to “shut up, suit up, and show up”. No matter how he is feeling, he still gets up, gets dressed, and goes to work every day.