Eight members of EPIC spent the weekend at St. Paul’s for our annual winter retreat. The theme was “Living Our Faith,” and together we learned about Rules of Life with an eye toward each adopting one.
We discussed the purpose of a Rule of Life: an agreement between ourselves and God that we will, for the time being, live our lives in a specific way. Using materials from the Society of St. John the Evangelist (SSJE), we looked at some sample lists of practices used by famous Christians: Pope Francis, C.S. Lewis, and Martin Luther King, Jr. For instance, here are some practices of Pope Francis:
- Wake at 4:45 a.m. and spend time in prayer.
- Meditate on the daily reading and write a reflection.
- Take an afternoon nap.
- Hug and be present with each person I encounter.
This is a very basic Rule, and the pope may have a more developed one as well. But it’s a good one for beginning conversation. I myself would not wake at 4:45 every day, nor would it be appropriate for me to hug each person I encounter. This is the pope’s job, not mine. But this is clearly a good standard for him to hold himself to.
It follows, then, that a Rule of Life must be very personal, flowing from our God-given gifts and the skills we have developed over the years. It must not fit us too comfortably, though. It must challenge us to grow.
The SSJE curriculum suggested that we organize our Rules of Life according to the following categories:
- To shape my relationship with God, I will …
- To shape my relationships with others, I will …
- To shape my relationship with myself, I will …
- To shape my relationship with God’s creation, I will …
- To help me keep my Rule of Life, I will …
We asked ourselves, “What are some practices that I am doing already that could be folded into my Rule of Life?” A few examples:
- I go to church every week
- I pray on my walk home
- I thank people who serve me
- I call my parents at least once a month
- Meditation (though not frequently enough)
- When I disagree with someone, I pray for deeper understanding
In order to identify potential new practices, we first asked ourselves how we would like to grow. What are some virtues we admire in others? We listed a few, including these:
- Healthy living
Then we explored the flip side. In what ways do you find that you are not free, or even enslaved to forces beyond your control?
- Lack of motivation
- Mental illness
- Old coping skills and defense mechanisms
A virtue is a good habit developed over time through practice. We asked ourselves: What are some practices we could develop that would lead us in the direction of a virtue we admire in others? Here are some practices some people proposed:
- Pray for God’s guidance
- Limit myself to a one-hour break from homework
- Go to church and EPIC
- For one hour, work toward a solution to a problem I’ve been avoiding
- Make a to-do list for the following week
- Schedule a three-hour Sabbath outdoors, or in bad weather, doing something I don’t usually make time to do
Every other week:
- Make plans with friends
In the course of the discussion, we discovered that it can be very helpful to measure a Rule of Life against the “SMART” objectives we have learned from other fields:
- Is it specific?
- Is it measurable?
- Is it achievable?
- Is it relevant?
- Is it time-oriented?
When the students brought this standard forward, I placed my own Rule of Life against it and found it severely lacking. I have my own work to do to make my Rule of Life less vague. For instance, my Rule states that I will “be of help to others in their spiritual lives.” This is so vague that I wonder why I put it down in the first place.
While the name “Rule of Life” sounds very heavy and permanent, it is crucial to hold it lightly. We are to hold to it, to be sure, but we can also amend it at any time in response to prayer and discernment. What makes sense for my life today is certain to change in the future as the Holy Spirit exposes us to new experiences and opportunities.
So how about you? If you were to develop a Rule of Life, what would it definitely include? What are some areas you feel God might be calling you to work on? How will you hold yourself accountable for your Rule?
As members of EPIC present together, we agreed to create our own Rules of Life and try them out during Lent. Then, during Easter season, we will check in with each other about how it’s going.
Of course, that’s not all we did this weekend. We hosted and led Friday evening Stations of the Cross for St. Paul’s parishioners. We cooked, ate, and cleaned together. We watched the disturbing but wonderful movie Dogma together. We played Sardines. We scheduled time for homework. We shared Morning Prayer, Evening Prayer, and Compline. We went for a walk in the sunshine after the snow flurry had passed. And on Sunday morning, a group of us walked to Rocket Donuts for breakfast.