What is a rule of life?
A rule of life is a schedule and set of practices and relational rhythms that help us create space in our busy world for us to be with Jesus, become like Jesus, and do what he did—to live “to the full” (John 10v10) in his kingdom, and in alignment with our deepest passions and priorities.
While the word “rule” may strike you as a strict or binding constraint, the Latin word we translate “rule” was originally the word for a trellis in a vineyard. In the same way a vine needs a trellis to lift it off the ground so it can bear the maximum amount of fruit, and keep free of predators and diseases, we need a rule as a kind of support structure to organize our life around “abiding in the vine,” (John 15v1–8) as Jesus imagined.
It’s been said that we achieve inner peace when our schedule is aligned with our values. A rule of life is simply a tool to that end. Rather than a rigid, legalistic to-do list, it’s a life-giving structure for freedom, growth, and joy.
How do I craft a rule of life?
There’s no “right” way to make a rule of life, just as there’s no official, orthodox rule of life that’s been passed down over the millennia. There are however best practices we would all be wise to incorporate at some level, no matter our personality or stage of life: morning prayer, sabbath, church on Sunday, regular rest, etc. But there’s no one-size fits all approach. So do it however you want! Make your rule simple, or complex. Make your own or do it with a few friends. Program it in a spreadsheet or draw it on a canvass. We’ve created a template to get you started, but it’s just a suggestion: lean into your creativity.
What should I consider as I craft my rule of life? Here are a few recommendations:
Above all, never forget that a rule of life is a means to an end. The end is to be with Jesus, become like him, and do what he did. Or as Jesus put it, to abide in the vine and “bear much fruit.”
Start small: As with creating any new set of goals, it’s tempting to over-reach and attempt to live like a monk from day one. That is a strategy bound to fail! Start where you are, not where you feel you should be. Unrealistic goals just leave us discouraged and disillusioned. Doable, enjoyable goals move us forward in our spiritual formation. We’ve included a “baseline practice” for each of the seven categories, but you may need to work toward that as an eventual goal. If that means “daily prayer” is ten minutes to read one psalm and offer one prayer, great. Just start where you’re at and move forward at a deliberate, but relaxed pace.
Be specific: Look for practices that are practical, concrete, and embodied, not vague and ideological. I.e., “Sabbath on Sundays” not “be more relaxed.”
Consider your personality: If you’re introverted, carve out plenty of time to be alone in the quiet. If you’re more extroverted, make sure you get a lot of time with friends. But also do your best to architect a balance that works for you.
Consider your season of life and stage of discipleship: If you have little kids, start very small, go really easy on yourself, and remember children can be your “monastic bells” to remind you that your time is not your own, and shape you into a person of love. If you’re new to following Jesus and just beginning to learn about practices like silence and solitude or sabbath, don’t copy someone who is twenty years down the road. Just take the next step in your journey.
Keep a healthy balance of upstream and downstream practices: By upstream, we mean practices that may feel hard for you, but really move your soul toward growth. And by downstream, we mean those practices that you find fun, living giving, easy and joyful. As a general rule, we need just a few upstream practices, and lots of downstream practices.
Keep a healthy balance of structure and spontaneity: Don’t let your rule become rigid, boring, or a legalistic, dull obligation. And never let it override the Spirit’s frequently unscheduled interruptions in our days. A good rule should feel like freedom, not slavery.
Remember that a good rule is a working document: Like us, it’s dynamic, not static. Life is a bit of a moving target, so we have to regularly review our rule and make sure it’s still bringing us life with God and others. If you are sacrificing healthy relationship (with God or others) in order to accomplish your “rule,” this version of your rule has ceased to aid you in the goal of drawing closer to God and becoming a person of love.