Putting it all together - A Rule of Life

 

When I speak of a Rule of Life, you may imagine developing an actual list of rules for your life – don’t do this, do do that; that sort of thing.  That’s not what a rule of life is, the use of Rule here is more like a ruler (a stick with demarcations of length, not a king) that is used to measure your life against your goals.

 

The basic premise here is to figure out what kinds of things are life-giving, things that bring you contentment, satisfaction, or joy and do more of those and then figure out what things bring you down, distract you, or cause you problems and do less of them.  And just to be clear, doing the practices I’ve outlined above, Worship, Prayer, Service, Study, Sabbath, and Generosity are things that will bring you contentment, satisfaction, or joy.

 

Each person will have their own rule that may be very different from yours.  Your rule is about living into the person you were created to be, about discovering your gifts and your calling.  Which also means it needs to be realistic.  This isn’t a pie-in-the-sky plan to be your perfect you; it’s a practical and pragmatic guide to developing your spiritual life.

 

Also, this isn’t meant to be the plan for your life forever.  This is for your life right now.  Each rule should have built into it a time for assessment and an invitation to make alterations as you go along.  Maybe you think twice yearly silent retreats sounds doable and sound like a lot of fun, but after trying one you discover they just aren’t for you.  That doesn’t mean you should give up on taking a spiritual retreat.

 

It’s also really great if you could find someone to help keep you accountable to your rule.  Studies have shown that forming new habits is easier if you’re part of a group doing it together.  If there’s a not a person who can keep you accountable to the whole plan, maybe you could identify partners for different aspects of it, especially parts that you may consider a little challenging or a stretch goal.

 

Below are a series of exercises to help you develop your rule.  I recommend actually pulling out a piece of paper and a pen or pencil and going through them.  There’s just something very spiritual about crafting something, even just a list, with your own hands in the real world.  But if you use your phone or a laptop, honestly, no one will know, but please do go through to the end.

 

 

Exercise 1: Joys

What is Life-Giving to You?  Imagine the best day you’ve ever had.  What was that day like?  Who were you with, what did you do, where were you?

 

 

Exercise 2: Vocations

What activities bring you joy, or do you wish you could spend more time on?  How often or how much of these would be satisfactory?

 

 

Exercise 3: Responsibilities

What are the things you absolutely, positively have to do?  In other words, what responsibilities do you have?  When do you do those things and how much time does that take?  Can you differentiate which are non-negotiable and which are really voluntary?

 

 

Exercise 4:  Relationships

Who are the people that are most important to you?  Who are people you’d like to get closer to?  Who are people that you’d like to avoid or spend less time with?  Are there any social or relational activities you’d like to have in your life

 

 

EXERCISE 5: Disciplines

Looking at the six disciplines outlines in this book, can you think of ways you might be able to begin doing them?  Here are a set of questions to get you started/

 

  • Where and when might you worship?
  • Is there a time each day you can pray? Can you do it more than once each day? Remember, this can be done while doing something else, like walking or exercising
  • Can you find thirty minutes each week, either all at once, or in blocks to sit quietly?
  • What kind of volunteering opportunity(ies) sounds interesting? Maybe you’re already volunteering, stick with that if it works for you but remember, look for an opportunity to serve at church as well
  • Can you find one hour each week, either all at once or in blocks, to read?
  • How much of your money can you give away? Who will you give it to?  When will you do that and how? 

 

 

Exercise 6: Goals

Are there things you’d like to make a part of your life that you haven’t accomplished yet?

 

 

Drafting the Plan

To help you see how to take the results of the exercises, I’ll show you an example using myself.

 

Here are my answers

Exercise 1

My best day would start with me enjoying a cup of tea in the morning in quiet by myself as the sun rose somewhere near water and trees (not the beach), I’d spend time with my wife and kids and meet with friends.  I’d have time to read and I’d eat great food with good wine.  There’s be something fun and physical to do, swim or ski or hike, something like that.

 

Exercise 2

 

Drawing, making art, creating daily

Writing

Fishing

Biking

Making bread

 

 

 

Exercise 3

Walking the dog – daily 30 minutes

Feeding the dogs and cats – 2x daily, 5 minutes

Parenting – always?

Husbanding - alot

Leading Sunday morning worship – weekly 5 hours

“Office” hours – Mon-Thur daytimes

Visiting parishioners – during office hours usually

Managing my websites – daily 30 minutes, Fridays and Saturday a couple of hours

Kid’s activities – gymnastics, scouts, 3 evenings

Making dinner/shopping: daily 1 hour, shopping weekly 1 hour

Rotary – weekly, 1 hour

Hospital volunteer shift – monthly, overnight on call

Church committees- 3 times monthly, 1 hour each

 

Exercise 4

For the sake of the example I’ll say Albert, Julia, Abraham, Marie, Larry, and Ann are people I’d like to maintain close relationships with.  I’d like to spend more time with George.  I’m in a good place right now regarding toxic people so no need to worry about that.

 

I’d like to meet with friends at least once per month

A monthly (at least) date night

 

Exercise 5

  • Where and when might you worship?
    • Sunday and Wednesday mornings at St Luke’s
  • Is there a time each day you can pray? Can you do it more than once each day?
    • Each night before bed
    • Each workday first thing at work doing Morning Prayer
    • While walking the dog each morning
    • At the gym on the elliptical Monday, Wed and Fri
  • Can you find thirty minutes each week, either all at once, or in blocks to sit quietly?
    • Uhh, maybe? Tuesday and Thursday mornings and Saturday nights
  • What kind of volunteering opportunity(ies) sounds interesting?
    • I already volunteer at the hospital and my actual job is ministry
    • I’d like to volunteer at the Canal Park and maybe at the Zoo
  • Can you find one hour each week, either all at once or in blocks, to read?
    • Yes! 30 minutes each evening before bed at least
  • How much of your money can you give away? Who will you give it to?  When will you do that and how? 
    • My goal is 10% of my monthly salary
    • St Luke’s, Episcopal Relief and Development plus others as needs arise
    • I’d also like to support my public radio station and be able to make other small gifts as needs arise
    • Each month, set up automatic withdrawal

 

Exercise 6

Travel

Annual retreat

One half-century (biking) annually

Family camping trip

 

 

Themes and Patterns

Looking at your responses are there particular themes or patterns that stand out to you?  See if you can identify at least two or three main ideas in your answers.  These are the things you will want to make sure are explicitly planned for in your rule.

 

Looking at my responses I see a couple, things like doing creative work, some fitness goals, friends and family, time alone, and church would seem to summarize my responses.

 

 Make a time table

For most people, their lives are lived in one-week blocks that tend to repeat themselves.  So we will start by laying out a table to track how we use our time, beginning with only our responsibilities from exercise 3.

 

Sunday

Monday

Tuesday

Wednesday

Thursday

Friday

Saturday

Early morning

Church

Feed pets

Walk dog

Feed pets

Walk dog

Feed pets

Walk dog

Feed pets

Walk dog

Feed pets

Walk dog

Web work

Feed pets

Walk dog

Web work

Mid morning

Worship

Church office

Church office

Church office

Web work

Dad time

Clean House

Late Morning

Worship

Church office

Church office

Worship

Discussion Group

 

Dad time

 

Noontime

Church

 

Rotary

 

 

 

 

Early Afternoon

Call mom

visits

 

Church planning

 

 

 

Late Afternoon

 

visits

 

Church planning

 

 

 

Evening

Make Dinner

Make Dinner

Grocery Shop

Gymnastics

Make Dinner

Make Dinner

Scouts

Make Dinner

Yard Work

Make Dinner

Gymnastics

Clergy gathering*

Make Dinner

Nighttime

 

Church Board*

 

 

Hospital Volunteer on-call*

 

 

* these things only happen once each month

 

Our next step is to add in the items from Exercise 2 (Bolded)

 

Sunday

Monday

Tuesday

Wednesday

Thursday

Friday

Saturday

Early morning

Church

Feed pets

Walk dog

Feed pets

Walk dog

Feed pets

Walk dog

Feed pets

Walk dog

Feed pets

Walk dog

Web work

Feed pets

Walk dog

Web work

Mid morning

Worship

Church office

Church office

Church office

Web work

Dad time

Clean House

Late Morning

Worship

Church office

Church office

Worship

Discussion Group

Creating Time

Dad time

Biking (in good weather)

Noontime

Church

 

Rotary

 

 

 

 

Early Afternoon

Call mom

visits

Creating Time

Church planning

 

 

 

Late Afternoon

Baking

visits

Creating Time

Church planning

 

 

 

Evening

Make Dinner

Make Dinner

Grocery Shop

Gymnastics

Make Dinner

Make Dinner

Scouts

Make Dinner

Yardwork

Make Dinner

Gymnastics

Clergy gathering*

Make Dinner

Nighttime

 

Church Board*

 

 

Hospital Volunteer on-call*

 

 

 

 

Next we add in items from exercises 4 & 5 (again in bold).  This can be when it gets difficult and some compromises might need to be made.

 

Sunday

Monday

Tuesday

Wednesday

Thursday

Friday

Saturday

Early morning

Church

Exercise

Feed pets

Walk dog

Feed pets

Walk dog

Quiet Time

Exercise

Feed pets

Walk dog

Feed pets

Walk dog

Quiet Time

Exercise

Feed pets

Walk dog

Web work

Feed pets

Walk dog

Web work

Mid morning

Worship

Daily Office

Church office

Daily Office

Church office

Daily Office

 

Church Office

Daily Office

Web work

Dad time

Clean House

Late Morning

Worship

Church office

Church office

Worship

Discussion Group

Creating Time

Dad time

Biking (in good weather)

Noontime

Church

 

Rotary

 

Lunch with spouse

 

Volunteer*

Early Afternoon

Call mom

visits

Creating Time

Church planning

 

 

Volunteer*

Late Afternoon

Baking

visits

Creating Time

Church planning

 

 

Volunteer*

Evening

Make Dinner

Make Dinner

Grocery Shop

Gymnastics

Make Dinner

Call Friends/write letters & Cards

Make Dinner

Scouts

Make Dinner

Yard Work

Make Dinner

Gymnastics

Clergy gathering*

Date Night*

Family Dinner out

Gather with friends*

Nighttime

Reading

Reading

Church Board*

Reading

Reading

Reading

Hospital Volunteer on-call*

Reading

Quiet time

 

 

Define larger goals.

Some things don’t fit into our weekly time table, but are still important for us. Things to consider here are goals associated with discrete happenings in the year (holidays, vacations, special events) and personal goals (run a marathon, take a retreat, write a book, etc.).  Here is also the place to set financial goals.  

 

When thinking of these larger goals we want to honor and build up our whole selves.  I recommend thinking of your life in four areas that work together to build up your whole self.  They are Sabbath, Stewardship, Formation, and Personal/Relational.

 

Sabbath has to do with taking time to rest and recharge.  In the creation story, God rests after completing the formation of the universe and remembering the Sabbath and keeping it holy is one of the foundational commandments in the Law of Moses (It is the fourth commandment of the famous ten)

 

Stewardship is about taking care of the resources God has granted us, keeping in mind our duties both to our community and to ourselves.  Here we can set our giving goals as well as our personal financial goals, like debt reduction or saving for a large purchase, like a home.

 

Formation is related to strengthening our spiritual capacities and our understanding of God and our faith.  Learning requires a commitment on your part and it is helpful to set a specific goal so that it doesn’t slip away form you

 

And Personal/Relational are those things that strengthen our bonds to others and that help us to thrive, to live into our potential, and to discern and answer God’s will for us.

 

I also recommend setting times in advance to review your Rule to see how its working and to make adjustments as needed (the church holidays of Pentecost and Epiphany are good times).

 

Here is my example

Sabbath           

  • Use all my allotted vacation
  • Go on at least one family camping trip
  • Go on at least one road trip
  • Take my days off

 Stewardship

  • Increase my giving by 1% of my annual income
  • Set up auto withdrawal of my gift
  • Make contributions to my IRA
  • Build up savings by at least $3000

 Formation

  • Go on retreat with a friend
  • Take a class
  • Do a Bible Study

 Personal/Relational

  • At least one weekend away with my spouse
  • Ride at least 500 miles this year
  • Take a drawing class
  • Have a special “dad day” with each of the kids at least twice
  • Meet with my father in law monthly for golf

  

Implementing Your Rule

All of us sometimes, in spite of our best intentions, can find it difficult to make changes to the patterns of our day-in and day-out lives.  Following Jesus means developing new habits and the science of change suggests that forming new habits is difficult, but completely doable!

 

The research suggests that habits have three fundamental components, a cue, a routine, and a reward.  For us, the routines are the six disciplines of faith; Worship, Prayer, Service, Study, Sabbath, and Generosity.  To develop them as spiritual habits, think about how you will remind yourself to do the practices you have decided to try.  It could be as simple as leaving your Rule of Life posted on the refrigerator, or maybe leaving your prayer book or bible somewhere conspicuous to remind you to follow Jesus.

 

Equally important are the rewards.  When you follow through on your commitments to follow Jesus think about what about doing them brings you joy - that’s a reward.  It’s also ok to grant yourself an external reward, a little indulgence of some sort.

 

Most of all, recognize that following Jesus isn’t something that you fit into your life but a new life altogether needing new patterns, new habits, and new ways of seeing and thinking about the world around you.

 

Jesus promises us that abundant life awaits those who follow him; and not just in some indeterminate future or after you’re dead, but in the here and now.  The kingdom of God surrounds us like another dimension intruding into our reality.  By taking up these practices and seeking to emulate Jesus you will begin to live in that other reality of the kingdom present which is where that abundant, richer life awaits - you.

 

Peace and blessings on you as you begin this wonderful, magnificent, and transforming journey