Ch. 10: Go The Next Step To Develop A "Rule Of Life" (Peter Scazzero, Emotionally Healthy Spirituality)
We are called to order our entire life in such a way that the love of Christ comes before all else.
The Ancient Treasure of a Rule of Life
The word rule comes from the Greek word for trellis, which is a tool that enables a grapevine to get off the ground and grow upward, becoming more fruitful and productive.
In the same way, a Rule of Life is a trellis that helps us abide in Christ and become more fruitful spiritually.
What is a Rule of Life?
Simply put, it is an intentional, conscious plan to keep God at the center of everything we do. It provides guidelines to help us continually remember God as the Source of our lives. It includes our simple combination of spiritual practices that provide structure and direction for us to intentionally pay attention and remember God in everything we do.
The starting point and foundation of any Rule is a desire to be with God and to love Him.
Let us go back to Daniel and early Church history to consider the roots of this hidden treasure.
Daniel's "Rule of Life"
Daniel was a teenager when he was taken off into exile in the Babylonian court of Nebuchadnezzar. They changed his name and exposed him to their culture and philosophy. Their goal was to eliminate Daniel's distinctiveness as a God-follower and absorb him into the values of their culture.
How could Daniel resist this enormous power with a minimal support system?
He had a "Rule of Life". He oriented his life around loving God. He renounced certain activities, like eating the king's food, and engaged in his 'Daily Office'. In this hostile environment he blossomed into an extraordinary man of God.
A Short History of 'The Rule'
From the end of the 3C to the 5C, men and women withdrew from society into the deserts of Egypt, Syria, Palestine, and Arabia to seek God, to free themselves from any distractions between them and God. A number of communities were formed and daily life was organized around a plan consisting of work, prayer, and study of Scripture. A number of writings evolved formulating "Rules of Life".
The best known of the monastic rules was written by St. Benedict (A.D.480-547) and has shaped Western monasticism for the last 1500 years.
Its goal is to regulate our lives in such a way that we truly prefer the love of Christ above all things.
Getting Started--The Big Picture
Our goal is: union with God in Christ, transformation into His image, and the freeing of our hearts from anything that stands in the way of Christ living in and through us.
We are all uniquely wired and gifted and how we get to that goal will vary depending on our personality, season of life, geographic location and calling from God.
So there can be a number of variations for a Rule of Life.
Here is a suggested list of 12 elements to consider:
2. Silence and Solitude
3. Daily Office (Prayer)
7. Play and Recreation
WORK / ACTIVITY
8. Service and Mission
9. Care for the Physical Body
10. Emotional Health
12. Community (Companions for the Journey)
You have to be self-aware to learn how to formulate your own Rule of Life. For example, what kinds of spiritual practices bring you closer to God? What drives you away from Him? How can you discern the right combination for your particular Rule of Life?
It will be a work-in-progress, changing as your life changes and as you examine yourself.
[An example under Prayer:
- Pray the Jesus prayer ("Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner") several times each day.
- Take 15 mins. for silence at lunch 3 times a week.
- Practice the Ignatian prayer of examen 3 nights a week before going to bed.
- Fast for 1 meal every Wednesday during Lent.]
If possible find someone to walk alongside you and don't be hard on yourself.
THE ELEMENTS OF A RULE OF LIFE
God speaks to us in and through His Word. The key is to read slowly, chewing over the words and allowing them to feed and transform you. Prayerfully memorize small portions each week.
Silence and Solitude
(Ps.37:7) "Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for Him." A challenging and least practiced discipline for us. Dallas Willard says, "Silence is frightening because it strips us as nothing else does, throwing us upon the stark realities of our life. It reminds us of death, which will cut us off from this world and leave only us and God."
Need for structure, variety and spontaneity in how you approach this. Scazzero uses Phyllis Tickle's Divine Hours to provide a skeletal structure to his prayer times and uses the Common Book of Prayer lectionary for reading through the Psalms daily. He also likes having a devotional classic as part of his morning Office.
Growing maturing Christians are always exploring, reading, and learning. Study can take on different formats: inductive Bible-study; workshops; mature teachers etc. Consider studying for the purpose of formation in Christ. Pray back to God what you are learning.
Develop a rhythm for setting apart a 24-hour period weekly for replenishment. Trust God to run the universe without you. Plan in advance how you will balance the 4 elements of Biblical sabbaths--stopping, resting, delighting, and contemplating--during that time.
(1Corinthians 7:32 MSG) "Live as free of complications as possible [so] you're free to concentrate on simply pleasing the Master". The primary issue here is to remove distractions and remain free from attachments. This may include not enrolling your children in 3 sports while learning violin. Or letting go of that perfectly cleaned house and elaborate meals. Or giving up cable for a DVD player.
Tithing also helps us keep detached from the power of money.
Play and Recreation
Engage in activities that are pure and healthy and that breathe life into you. Many Christians are 'fun-deficient'.
Ecclesiastes 3:4 there is: "a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance."
Service and Mission
In what way is God inviting me to serve Him at this stage of my journey? How can I embrace my God-given limits and not go beyond what He is asking me to do?
There are numerous volunteer opportunities in our churches and communities. We can also get involved in bridging racial and economic barriers; working for justice; world mission.
Care for the Physical Body
This is also an act of worship. Are you exercising? Eating a balanced diet? Getting adequate rest? Scripture says sleep is a gift of God. (Psalm 127:2) Getting an annual physical?
Are you listening to your body? For example, a headache, stomach knot, insomnia and exhaustion may be God calling you to slow down or change directions.
This may be as simple as paying attention to your feelings and journalling them to God a couple of times a week, asking God how He might be speaking to you through them?
Applies to both married and single people.
For example, what can I do this year to grow in parenting my children? It is very easy to fall into passive patterns. Or how can I relate better with my parents and siblings?
Community (Companions for the Journey)
What kind of companions do I need for this stage of my journey? Ask God for direction. Could be an older mature Christian. A spiritual director.
Rethink your Rule of Life frequently. Begin slowly working on only one or two elements at a time. It is a trial and error process. St. Benedict wrote: "Your way of acting should be different from the world's way. The love of Christ must come before all else."
BROADER APPLICATIONS OF A "RULE OF LIFE"
Here are 3 other applications to consider as we enter the 21C:
The Local Church
Every Church has a "Rule of Life". The problem is that it is usually unconscious. The challenge is to identify and authenticate it with clarity to provide boundaries for the church community. This might include:
-history and particular gifts of the local church (mission statement);
-small groups and community;
-Lord's Supper and baptism;
-the poor and marginalized;
-serving the larger community;
And then within the broad Rule of community, invite each member to continually work on the specifics of their personal Rule of Life.
A Small Group or Task Group
A small group may commit together to certain practices and habits to follow Christ.
This could release great energy and focus as a family to apply the development of a Rule of Life.
LIVE FAITHFULLY THE LIFE GOD HAS GIVEN YOU
Carlo Caretto, a member of the Little Brothers of Jesus community, was asked by his friend Paul's mom, "I have made him an engineer....why can't he work as an intellectual in the church?" Paul had chosen the life of Little Brother in North Africa leaving behind a lucrative career as an engineer. It forced Caretto to ask himself, "What is my place in the great evangelizing work of the Church?"
He came to this conclusion: "It is love that justifies our actions and initiates all we do. If out of love Brother Paul has chosen to die on a desert road, then he is justified. If out of love...others build schools and hospitals, they are justified. If out of love...scholars spend their lives among books, they are justified...The Lord asked me to be a poor man among the poor, a worker among the workers... I can only say, "Live love, let love invade you. It will never fail to teach you what you must do."
May God give you the courage to faithfully live your unique life in Christ. And may love invade you.
Lord, after reading this chapter, I just need to be with You--for a long time. I know that at other times I have rushed and cut You short, but I can see there are a lot of things in me that need to change. Let this time be different, Lord. Show me what one small step I can take to begin to build a life around You. Help me pay attention to Your Voice. By faith, I obey, trusting that even small changes will grow into powerful winds of the Holy Spirit blowing through and overtaking all of the areas of my life. Thank You. In Jesus' Name, Amen.