A rule of life? Well, that sounds boring and terrible… and maybe even a bit medieval. Where is the freedom, the spontaneity, the enjoyment? Maybe it’s all well and good for people in monasteries and such (do monasteries still exist?) but how could it possibly benefit me in, you know, in my normal life and in the present age?
Our modern “independent” sensibilities balk at the thought of “rules” of any kind. We want to rotundly reject them as oppressive and out-of-date and live on passion alone! But for us in our “normal life” and in this present age, your rule of life isn’t something written by an old man in the 5th century (necessarily)…
What is a Rule of Life?
A rule of life is basically a schedule.
Its a standard by which you choose to live, a daily plan for how to accomplish that which is most important to you. From a practical standpoint in layman’s terms, it isn’t about regulating every second of the day to the point where you feel like you need to get permission from someone to use the restroom. It isn’t about finding ways to control or be controlling but rather, a way to prioritize our day and enable us to ensure that those things that are most important actually get accomplished.
Yes, the name does have a religious connotation. There is only one pursuit that brings us fulfillment and meaning, and that is the pursuit of God and His ultimate plan for our lives, thus, the Rule of Life has always been directed toward that end. And since that truth hasn’t changed, it makes no sense that the concept of the Rule of life would have changed either… just maybe adapted in its practical application to our particular lives.
How to make an INTENTIONAL Rule of Life
The fact that work or school begins and ends at a specific time and that your doctor’s appointment is at 3:00 this Thursday is the beginning of your rule of life. You already have certain responsibilities/priorities in your life that you are committed to accomplishing.
Now let’s just flesh it out.
I specifically used the word intentional here because I’m sure that you already have a routine you typically follow (ie. you already have a “Rule of Life”) – what is likely missing is the thought, purpose, & passion behind it. Most people see themselves as victims of their routine thinking they don’t have time for the things that matter. Well, that’s why we have to make the time.
That’s part of the beauty of the “Rule”. It might mean some things have to go in order to make time for the things that deserve to be there, and it will definitely make you question how important certain things are, ie. whether you are willing to replace a normal activity with one that you claim to prioritize.
First things First
- Sit down with a calendar (ideas/resources)
- Schedule in your non-negotiables/things outside of your control (ie. work, school, church)
- Add things in by order of Priority (Once things are added they also become “non-negotiables” – Plus, once you have an established routine, then specific commitments such as future doctor appointments, dinner parties, and/or play dates need to be scheduled according to the established routine and not the other way around)
- Plan to be both strict with yourself but also flexible (using reason and common sense)
- Reevaluate your rule each time your season changes (ie. significant life events should play a role in the “Rule” you commit to)
Items to add to your “Rule” listed in order of priority below
REMEMBER – Start Small. Implement changes one at a time and in order of priority. If you are struggling with 30min of prayer – start with 10, 5, or even the One Minute Pause App. Its ok to be a beginner. In the words of my friend Emily P. Freeman, “Humility looks good on you!”
God loves you and I love you right where you are, but we don’t want you to have to be stuck there forever, so let’s make a difference together!
#1 – PRAYER (Minimum)
Because the “Rule of Life” is directed at a deeper relationship with God and a deeper participation in His plan for our lives, it has always been and must continue to be centered around Prayer. Prayer is what gives us the strength to do any of this in the first place.
- Morning (30min+ is ideal)
- Night (10min+)
- Scriptural Reflection (do you have this somewhere on a daily basis?- could be included as part of your morning prayer time)
- Spiritual Reading (minimum 1 chapter/day) – for edification and motivation (note that reading and study are NOT the same as prayer)
- Time for specific devotions/community prayer
- Sundays (Are you truly practicing Sabbath Rest?)
- 2 distinct and focused one hour(+) blocks on separate days – Not Sundays
#2 – Sleep
- Work around your prayer time (Morning prayer dictates wakeup time – Work/school + commute and family responsibilities dictate morning prayer time) – Be strict with this
- How much do you actually need? (you might need to experiment to find out- but for the average healthy adult you need 6-7hours)
- Subtract those 7 hours from wake up time = non-negotiable bed time
- Note how things like caffeine or alcohol affect your sleep – they may need to be limited to put a prioritization on sleep (sleep is truer rest)
#3 – Food
- Plan when you will eat based on what is already in your schedule
- Do you really need to eat as much as you do? Maybe introduce some level of fasting into your life to make meals an extra special and intentional time with family.
- What can you do to simplify what you eat to make the meal prepping and planning process take less time?
- Have your last meal of the day at least 2 hours before bed.
- Plan when you will prep food (so you can be ready to eat at the correct times)
- Try to eliminate random snacking – food needs to become intentional (even if your meal consists of nuts and raisins, or string cheese and a granola bar)
- Grocery lists, meal plans, and shopping – schedule and implement
#4 – Physical activity
It doesn’t really matter how you feel about this. Whether you love it or hate it, you need oxygen, you need sunshine, and you need exertion in your life. Period.
- Schedule at least 30 minutes per day of physical activity, preferably outside if possible.
If your life/job is already active and/or outdoors, you may already have this covered, but if you “live” in a cubicle or a library, this is of critical importance.
If you are a mom, it could be as simple as being aware of your posture/“form” while doing household tasks and stepping out on the front porch every so often to take a deep breath… or even better, take a walk with your kids/ incorporate them into your workout routine.
#5 – Personal hygiene
Personal hygiene is important and should be prioritized.
“Anoint your head and wash your face that you may not appear to others to be fasting” – Matthew 6:17-19
“He that has bathed need only to have his feet washed, for he is clean all over” – John 13:10
This also includes making the time to go to the dentist and learn how to dress with some self respect.
But He also gives personal hygiene a caveat. He warns that keeping the interior life the priority is the priority, not vanity. Hence He warns against washing the outside of the plate and cup (for show) but neglecting the inside. (Matthew 23:25)
We are called to treat our bodies as temples of the Holy Spirit, but are not called to justify spending 3 hours a day on our hair and makeup for the sake of vanity by calling it “personal hygiene”. Whatever we do must never be done in order to pretend that we’ve “got it all together”, or otherwise to manipulate people’s perceptions of us, but rather to be simple, clean, and honest, focusing above all on making our inside as clean as our appearance. For what good does it do to be a whitewashed tomb? (Matthew 23:27)
#6 – Cleanliness
Cleaning our homes and stewarding our spaces is very important.
Our exterior is naturally a reflection of the state of our interior.
However, while decluttering and prioritizing the things we surround ourselves with is very important, this does not mean spending an obsessive amount of every day detailing the grout in the master bathroom with a toothbrush. It simply means:
Clean what you dirty and put away what you get out + wipe off the table and sweep the floor.
- Figure out systems to incorporate everyone in your house (yes, even the very youngest) in these daily activities.
- If you have too much stuff or if things don’t have a place, it’s time to get rid of them.
#7 – Family/Rest/Recreation/Friends
- Incorporate family as much as possible into all of the above (especially physical activity + food planning and prep – PRAY AS A FAMILY – try to leave as much time as possible for each item to be done without irritation or rush.
- Evaluate your hobbies – how can you incorporate your family and friends into your favorite activities – Do your favorite activities need to be modified somewhat in order to be more conducive to incorporating family?
- Always keep this question in mind when preparing your “rule of life”: How can you maximize, prioritize, and essentialize your life with one goal – God?
- Make friendships intentional – know why each relationship is worth cultivating in your life.
Everything you pursue in your life is at the expense of something else. Every choice we make is a statement of our priorities.
A Rule of Life is simply a way of making sure your priorities are in line and that what you actually NEED to get done every day, does indeed get done.
Variations to your Rule of Life
It may take some time and practice, along with some reasonable common sense, a lot of surrender, and some trial and error to establish a functional scenario. Have patience.
If you don’t have set times for everything, that is fine, oftentimes you may discover that not having set times is even better to give you a little more flexibility – while still respecting the necessary “order of operations”. Ie. your wake up time should be consistent but maybe one day your prayer time is 15 minutes and another day its 45. Maybe some days you read 3 chapters and other days you only read 1. Maybe you only need a shower every other day, or maybe you do more strenuous physical activity only 3 days a week and the other days you just step outside for a few minutes…
Your “Rule”, the one you choose/committ to, will look decidedly different based on your “state in life” and should be revaluated/adjusted every time there is a drastic change in your season. For example, for a student who eats in a cafeteria every day life would look decidedly different from a homeschooling mom who has to feed her family 3 (to 400) times a day. The former might have to put more emphasis on physical activity and personal hygiene, whereas the mom will have a much more distinct focus on food prep, cleaning, and finding YouTube videos to help her kids memorize all the state capitals – but both are pursuing God and living their season to the fullest.
The Purpose of a “Rule of Life”
There are a thousand benefits of having a “Rule of Life” that are all the rage in modern psychology, they just call it by a thousand different names. In all the productivity and success advice they call it “Habit stacking” or creating a filter for your life. It helps determine all the no’s you need to say so that you can give strong resounding and wholehearted yesses to the things that matter most… They usually add “to you” at the end – “the things that matter most TO YOU”. But, in our case, as in the case with every Rule of Life, from the beginning of their existence, this end goal has been God and the living out of whatever our current state in life is to the fullest – whether it be student, parent, spouse, caregiver, employee, employer, or any combination of all of the above.
When this daily life plan is carefully crafted and taken to prayer, adopting it brings immense peace. It eliminates decision fatigue and bringing a sense of vision and purpose to lives and homes while freeing the participant to focus on responding to the changing demands of everyday from a structured and purposeful perspective. … and who doesn’t need that!?!
Why could a “Rule” Fail
- You didn’t take it to prayer, or give it due consideration/trial and error – in which case your rule is still in process and needs some more attention
- You aren’t doing it – A plan only serves its purpose if it is implemented.
This can all look good on paper and in your best intentions, but unless you actually DO the plan, make the changes and create new habits and routines, nothing is ever going to change. It’s ok to start gradual and not be able to accomplish everything overnight. Just get your morning and night routines down and strong first, and, with a little intentionality, the rest of the day will come rather seamlessly – you might be surprised.
Don’t worry if some days go wonderfully and other days you just want to rip the plan to shreds and throw it out the window. The point is that we are becoming ever increasingly more aware of how we use and value our time. The Rule of Life has a way of bringing to light specific struggles and weaknesses and flaws, but this is on purpose. This way we know what to work on and how to work on it. It gives us stability and direction, plus purpose and ultimate fulfillment when we discover that its natural end is a deeper relationship with God. Its hard and sometimes it hurts. It requires the frequent sacrifice of what you “felt like doing” in a particular moment, but the rewards are exponential! It’s ok to fall off the wagon, just remember to keep your priorities in sight and get back on as soon as you can. Each day will get just a little smoother as we get stronger, and we will truly begin to experience the fulfillment of a life lived on purpose.
You can do this.
You were made for it.
~ Carolyn ~