Thursday, January 5, 2012

New Years Rule of Life

 Like most of the American population, I write New Years Resolutions every year, but unlike most of the American population, I am pretty good at keeping them. My secret is that I make them manageable - instead of say, resolving to lose 50 pounds, I resolve to take several long walks a week and walk 18 holes of golf at least twice a month. These are natural exercises for me. I enjoy them and look forward to them.

This year my New Years Resolutions were pretty thorough - I broke them down into several categories. As I was telling my wife about them she pointed out that my "resolutions" actually sounded a lot more like a rule of life. I had the pleasure of teaching on a rule of life last summer at Laity Lodge, and I was glad to learn that at least one person listened. There are a number of ways that people have defined a rule of life throughout the centuries:

  • Structured arrangement of spiritual practices
  • Pattern of attitudes, behaviors, and practices that is regular and routine
  • Systematic arrangement of life so that one is becoming more like Jesus
  • Commitment to certain pattern of living that helps reinforce habits in the long term. 
Saint Benedict created the most famous, and archetypal, rule for the communities he led in the 5th century He wrote up a thorough, and surprisingly detailed, plan for the monks who lived together in community, which has been called The Rule of St. Benedict. The word "rule" means norm or baseline, and thus his rule became the standard for behavior and practice in his monastic communities.

The way I defined rule of life last summer was this: A rule of life is a way of arranging the rhythms of your life - all aspects of your life - so that you can best embrace God's gifts. I then said "out of all the historical definitions of a rule of life, mine is the best." No one laughed. Shaking that off, I helped people break down their rules according to the categories Jesus gave us in the great commandment: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength."

So, even though we're a few days into 2012 let me propose that you make a New Years Rule of Life instead of New Years Resolutions. This will be particularly helpful for those of you who have already broken all of your resolutions. A rule of life is as personal as resolutions, but more changeable and more manageable. If you are failing regularly at your rule of life, then you have a bad rule of life and you'll need to revise it. The disciplines you include should be natural and desirable - they can and should stretch you some, but not to the point that you likely won't keep them.

By way of example, let me give you a few aspects of my new rule of life, broken down into the 4 categories of the great commandment:

Finish the manuscript for The Listening Life
Always have a fiction or biography book going, not only theology or history.

Heart (Relationships)
Cultivate friendships with the following people.....x, y, and z.
Make Sunday nights with my wife sacred - make a good dinner and have a good bottle of wine

Soul (Spiritual disciplines)
Pray The Divine Hours every weekday morning
Practice the appropriate spiritual disciplines of the chapter I am writing in my book
Practice the Ignatian examen every night with an emphasis on gratitude for God's work in that day

Strength (Physical)
Take long walks several times a week
Walk 18 holes of golf at least twice a month

These are a few of the disciplines I am incorporating into my rule of life. If it turns out that they are oppressive or impossible to keep, then I will change the rule of life. It is good to start with disciplines that come easy to you and then maybe include in each category one that will stretch you a bit more. It is not meant to be legalistic or guilt-inducing. You must be ruthlessly honest with yourself about your own life situation, abilities, time, etc. If you are a single mom, your rule of life will be very different than a retired man with the kids out of the home.

What do you think about a New Years Rule of Life? What disciplines or attitudes would you like to incorporate into your 2012 pattern?