I’ve been reading Justin Earley’s The Common Rule: Habits of Purpose for an Age of Distraction. Here, Earley advocates developing a “rule of life,” or a set of habits to commit oneself to in order to be more rooted in the pursuit of God and in loving others.
This concept is not new. Church Fathers such as Augustine and Benedict of Nursia developed rules of life. The Rule of St. Benedict dating from the 500s is the most famous rule of life. Benedict was the abbot, or the spiritual leader of a monastery, and developed “house rules” for the conduct of the monks under his care that would lead to piety and good works.
While one may not find all of the precepts of Benedict or Augustine to be appropriate for life in the 21st century, the wisdom of committing oneself to a pattern of habits and a schedule comes not only from ancient wisdom, but is backed by secular research such as Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit. A rule of life is also a wise response to many of the “default settings” of 21st century Christians.
1. Connectivity. Many of us feel the urge to be connected 24/7. We can’t go to bed or get up without first checking our email, responding to text messages, or checking the scores of ballgames on our ESPN app. By allowing ourselves to drift into this way of life, we miss out on communion with God and one another. We need a plan to keep our devices in their proper boundaries in our lives and not allow them to take over and rob us of life’s most precious experiences.
2. Slavery to the “to do” list. I live in Houston, which is a busy, busy city. I’ve met many people who have moved to Houston from all over the world because of economic opportunity. Houston has a booming economy (until the price of oil goes down) and has a reasonable cost of living. With long commutes and people seeking to take advantage of the opportunities here, work becomes a harsh taskmaster. Add to this all of the demands of school on one’s children and the pressure of extracurricular activities, and there is not much room for true rest and leisure. We are humans, not machines. We are creatures, not gods. Only God gets everything done. A well-thought out rule of life will place the essentials of well-being first and put secondary things in their place.
3. The evangelical urge for spontaneity. It would be interesting to see how many evangelical Christians schedule their workday in 15 or 30 minute intervals but believe that prayer must have an element of spontaneity in order to be sincere. If we believe that our main priority is communion with God, because he will be our companion for this life and the next, we need to schedule time for this and develop a framework for Bible reading, prayer, and family devotional activities. This takes planning, commitment, and building habits. A rule of life will take this into account.
Where I plan on going with this next is developing a rule of life, trying to keep it, and reflecting on how well I do in keeping it. I look forward to sharing the results.