Rule of Life Reboot

By Rebecca Hall

The beginning of a new year brings inspiration to examine our lives and to set priorities for the months to come. Instead of making New Year’s resolutions, the Christian tradition encourages spiritual seekers to live by a rule of life – a set of guiding practices and principles that orient us toward God and bring our lives a Christ-like shape. Writing a rule of life can be simple, although it often feels like a daunting task.  January is a good time to re-examine our Rules or to write one for the first time.

A group of us just finished reading The Rule of Benedict: A Spirituality for the 21st Century.  The Rule was written by St. Benedict of Nursia in 516, and Benedictine sister Joan Chittister offers wise and inspiring commentary that brings life and relevance to this Rule for our 21st century lives. Benedict’s Rule is considered the standard upon which most other monastic rules are based.  In a monastery, the Rule has a specific purpose: to form individuals into a community of people who live not according to the world’s principles (individualism, wealth, worldly power, social status, and dare I say, freedom), but according to God’s dream[1] for the world. Important to emphasize is that Benedict was knitting this collection of people together to create a new fabric, a new way of life.  They were not simply individuals, each living on their own and deciding for themselves what practices to undertake and trying to discern how to live well.  They gave up the freedom of personal choice for a deeper and more fulfilling type of freedom. 

Therefore, we are at a slight disadvantage when, as individual householders, we sit down to write a rule of life.[2]  We are individuals choosing what to include and what to leave out.  Yet it doesn’t mean there isn’t value in living according to a rule, even if it is a rule for one.  By starting with the same question Benedict does – How can I live my life according to God’s dream for me and the world? – our lives acquire depth, meaning, and a flow that is part of a greater fabric, part of a communion of saints if you will, that binds us together. By each trying to embody God’s dream in our own lives, by trying to be Christ-like, we put ourselves on a unitive path toward God and with each other.  So, we are not actually going it alone.

Another difference between monastics and householders is that, if we look closely, we will notice, we already have a rule of life.  We have routines and practices that govern our time and energy.  We have families, jobs, responsibilities in our communities and churches, for example.  People who enter monasteries leave these frameworks behind, and so the monastic rule provides for them the pillars for their lives that householders naturally have. 

This Rule of Life Reboot begins with the recognition that we already live by a rule, and this exercise is a matter of helping to bring that to awareness and then choosing whether and how to tweak our rules to help us along the path toward God. 

An Image for Our Rules

I offer the image of a tree for this exercise.  Your life is the tree.  Close your eyes and allow an image of your favorite kind of tree to come into your mind.  Trees have three main sections: the trunk, the leaves and branches, and the root system, each representing a different part of our lives. 

This Rule of Life Reboot is a three-step exercise that could be done in one sitting, maybe over the course of an hour or so.  But I invite you to take this exercise slowly if you are willing, pondering each step over time, allowing insights to come to you about your life as time passes.  Not only is examining our lives a valuable exercise in and of itself, but it may also help our rules of life “stick” if we take our time.  Perhaps you’d like to draw your tree or journal about it or simply ponder it using the questions to guide you. You can find the steps outlined here.

[1] I thank Roger Temme for offering us the language of “God’s dream” instead of “God’s will”. 

[2] Some people become Third Order Oblates of a monastery so they can live a rule connected to other people while not actually joining the order.

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