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.
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.
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
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?