Rule of Life Self-Paced Workshop

By Rebecca Hall

Any time of new beginning 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 recognizing and honoring our major life commitments (which I call vocations), supporting practices (such as prayer and contemplation), and orientations (directions in which God is calling us to grow).  

The framework we will explore in this Rule of Life Workshop 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 use the framework of concentric circles.

The outer circle is our vocations – how we spend our time and the commitments we’ve made to others. It is essentially our life, and the rest of the rule of life supports and honors our vocations and helps us live them in a Jesus-shaped way.

The middle ring is for our orientations and wellness practices. Orientations help us notice and affirm in what ways God is calling us to grow. Wellness practices ensure that we experience peace and joy as part of our Jesus-shaped life.

The inner circle is where we name our spiritual practices, both individual and communal. Consistently showing up for these practices is how God continually helps us mature in every way.

Step One: Examining Vocations

“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 place vocations in the outer, largest circle because they are the framework of our lives. They’re scaffolding, so to speak. They provide a frame and shape for how we spend our days.  

Out of our vocations flow manifestations of our vocations and shorter term callings.   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. 

ON YOUR WORKSHEET: Name Your Vocations in the Outer Circle

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: 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 how a plant 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. 

ON YOUR WORKSHEET: 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”[1]

Step Three: Supportive and Foundational Practices

Care and feeding of our lives come from our practices -like 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 might be in your rule.  The examples are meant to spur your imagination. While there are no “shoulds”, there are a set of practices in the Christian tradition that are consistently encouraged by spiritual masters. They include, but are not limited to: reading and reflecting on scripture (using Lectio Divina, for example); affective and contemplative prayer; spiritual reading; and corporate worship. Note that all practices can be done individually or in a small group. Our spiritual growth depends on showing up each day for individual time with God. But it also depends on having a spiritual community to sustain and nurture us.

Prayer Practices:

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

Wellness and Joyful Practices: 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. 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?

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. 

Communal Practices: Do you have a spiritual community, such as a small group, that you belong to that supports, sustains, and listens to you? This is different than a purely learning group (like a class). A spiritual community is primarily about sharing the journey.

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. 

ON YOUR WORKSHEET: Name Your Practices

Start by naming the practices that you already do regularly. Maybe corporate worship? Maybe intercessory prayer? Maybe exercise? Add one practice from one of the categories above (prayer, wellness, job, communal) to add it IF you feel like you need it. Refrain from the temptation to add to much and create a rule of life that is not actually sustainable for you. Review your vocations. What do you have time to do and what do you feel particularly called to do. Simply add that one thing. You can always review later and add another practice as living your rule becomes part of your routine.

Tips for Living a Rule of Life

Make it simple. Make it sustainable. Make it fit and serve your vocations.

Choose a time of day and a place for your spiritual practices. Try to be consistent with time and place. Start with 5, 10, or 15 minutes. Not longer.

Be exceedingly generous and forgiving with yourself – as generous and forgiving as God is. Practice non-judgement. When you miss a day (or many days), simply acknowledge that and re-commit to the practice. As Julian of Norwich says, “seeking is as good as finding for as long as our soul is allowed to labor.”

Review your rule of life once a year and tweak it to make it fit you as your life changes.

[1] 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.