How to Develop a Rule of Life

Christian tradition has a name for the structure that enables us to say yes to the process of spiritual formation day in and day out. It is called a rule of life. A rule of life seeks to respond to two questions: Who do I want to be? How do I want to live? Actually, it might be more accurate to say that a rule of life seeks to address the interplay between these two questions: How do I want to live so I can be who I want to be? (p. 147 of Sacred Rhythms, Ruth Haley Barton)

Creating a rule of life takes time, reflection, and a lot to experimentation with various spiritual disciplines. Spiritual disciplines are those practices that we engage in that form our souls in specific ways. One common misbelief about spiritual disciplines is that all of them are created equal. Some people treat them like an equation: Add Scripture memory to your day and you become more like Jesus. Eh, well, not really. Each of us is wired in a certain way, making our hearts more or less influenced by various disciplines. It’s up to us to try different ones out and figure out which ones help us to love more and become more like Christ.

When developing a rule of life, we have to try on various practices. We may even find that different practices are meaningful to us at different times, and that we may need to change things up when what used to feed our souls no longer does.

An effective rule of life will:

  1. Take into consideration one’s specific life stage (i.e. a college student’s stage of life is very different from a person who has 5 young children).
  2. Be balanced. Too much looking inward can easily make us self-centered and unaware of the importance of community in our lives. Too much outward movement and we lose the perspective of the inward work that must happen to sustain an active outward life.
  3. Be flexible. This isn’t a sprint, but a marathon. We have to be able to make room for those things that come up that we can’t predict or control. As I mentioned before, God works with us through our ordinary days too.
  4. Loving. If our rule of life is making us cranky, impatient with others, judgmental or self-focused, it’s time to take a second look. If we’re not more loving because of our spiritual practices, something is going horribly wrong.

Some questions to think about when developing a rule of life include:

  • What kind of life is my soul longing for? What are specific patterns I would like to see emerge in my life?
  • What disciplines are most helpful to my spiritual growth?
  • How can I make these fit into my daily, weekly, or yearly rhythm? OR, how can I rearrange my rhythms to make room for these VIPs (very important practices)?
  • Who do I need to talk to about these changes? Whose lives will be directly impacted and how can I include them in on this change?
  • Are there certain sin patterns that are deeply entrenched in my habits or attitude that I have noticed? What practices would be helpful to help weed those out of my soul?

Here’s my (short) rule of life when I first did it back in 2009. Wow, how things have changed (and how things have stayed the same!)

August 1, 2009

This season of my life is one that is very BUSY. Currently, I’m the mom of a 21-month-old and a 4-month-old, as well as going to school full-time. Every minute of my day is to be used intentionally. Hence, these are a couple of realistic practices that I think would be helpful as I strive to become more like Christ.

  1. I will work on taming the tongue, and saying only those things that are truthful, encouraging, or helpful to others. Practices will include silence before responding to something, and dwelling on those things that are lovely, pure, etc.

  2. I will laugh, play, and relax with my children to help me to be in good relationship with them, as well as seeing God through their eyes.

  3. Find a way every day to intimately connect with God in some way- whether that be through prayer, Scripture reading, going outdoors, journaling, etc.

 

I hope this has been helpful. I’m excited about thinking through and praying through a new rule of life over the next several months!

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