I recently had a conversation with a friend of mine in which he spoke of being a mentor to a colleague. This colleague, he explained, needed help in developing certain activities and habits needed to govern his work at their company. My friend would lead him through a series of activities, designed to help him uncover how he wished to grow in his work. In the end, this individual would produce a document—a Personal Development Plan—that would reflect his values and govern his future projects. My friend spoke about how beneficial he found it to be working with this fellow as it helped him focus in on his own Personal Development Plan.
After he was done explaining this situation, I asked, “So, would you ever consider doing that for your spiritual life?” It seems like a silly question. After all, why would we need to write a document saying how we would be a Christian? Isn’t it enough just to be a Christian? Don’t we just say that we believe in God, and then move on with the rest of our lives?
Think about it: we write these type of plans—or rules as they were traditionally called—for other areas of our lives. In school, we call them learning objectives, or individual learning plans. At work, we call them development plans, or expected outcomes. We even do this with our finances. We comb through our accounts, detailing how much goes in and how much goes out, and we end up developing a document governing how we will live financially. Sure we don’t use the word rule—instead, we choose the word budget—but it’s a rule, nonetheless.
If we find it beneficial to write these types of documents for school, work, and finances, then why not write one for our spiritual life? Actually, there is a long history of doing just that. Traditionally, these plans have been called “a rule of life.” A rule of life is a document intended to guide you in your own spiritual living. It details the specific exercises through which you will live your life with God. For example, if you believe that prayer is important in your spiritual life, your rule might detail what your prayer life will look like: will you pray before meals? Will you say Morning and Evening Prayer?
A rule of life is twofold: it is a combination of things that we are taking on in order to place ourselves in God’s presence, as well as things we are taking on because we are in God’s presence. This is what stops the rule from becoming a condemning document. The rule isn’t about earning God’s presence or love. The rule of life is a means of expressing grace, not a means of obtaining it. The rule that we create for ourselves is written in response to God’s presence in our midst: it is about uncovering the activities in our life that help us experience the joy of the Lord. Joy, not judgement, is the keynote of a rule of life.
We might think that a Rule of Life is designed only for those professionally religious—monks, nuns, and clergy—but the fact is, they are beneficial for all people. In fact, The Book of Common Prayer encourages everyone create a rule of life. On page 555, the BCP records:
Every Christian should from time to time frame for him/herself a RULE OF LIFE in accordance with the precepts of the Gospel and the faith and order of the Church; wherein he/she may consider the following: The regularity of his/her attendance at public worship, and especially at the Holy Communion; the practice of private prayer, Bible-reading and self-discipline; Bringing the teaching and example of Christ into everyday life; The boldness of his/her spoken witness to his/her faith in Christ; His/her personal service to the Church and the community; the offering of money according to his/her means for the support of the work of the Church at home and overseas.
So, why not write your own rule? It doesn’t have to be formal, or even very long. Simply write about how you want to live your spiritual life. Importantly, a rule is based on the life you live, not the life you don’t. Just as the key to making a good budget is knowing exactly what our financial life looks like, we write our rule based on the particularities of our life as we live it. There is no use saying we will pray for 3 hours each morning if we there is no possible way of making that happen.
The above passage from the BCP can provide a wonderful template get you started.
- How often will you go to church, or gather with other Christians for a time of worship?
- What will your prayer life be like? How often will you pray? Will there be defined times of prayer?
- When will you read the Bible? How much will you read?
- How will you express your faith to others?
- What will govern your spending? What does it mean to spend your money ‘faithfully’?
If you do create a rule, I would suggest showing it to your priest, or to a trusted friend. A rule is most beneficial when understood as part of community life. It is important to have someone go through your rule with you, to make suggestions, to offer ideas, and to be a sounding board. Maybe you were unduly harsh, or placed too high a burden on yourself? Maybe there is an area of life that you forgot about? Showing your rule to another is a good way of involving other people in your spiritual walk.
If you want to investigate a bit more about what a rule of life might look like for you, check out the following websites. Each will have insightful and practical suggestions in how you can develop a Rule.