Could creating or living by a Rule of Life be good for you in this extraordinary time?
I am part of a religious order (the Methodist Diaconal Order, MDO) and of the many things that means, it means we have a ‘Rule of life’. That may sound a bit harsh or restrictive, mainly because of the word ‘Rule’ I guess! But in fact, it is a way of sustenance, strength, freedom and also challenge.
So I am wondering whether this time – which for many of us, even if only sometimes, can be a time of change, fear, illness, instability, uncertainty – is the ideal time for each of us to consider our own ‘Rule of life’? It may begin as temporary in this time of crisis and we can decide whether to change it in coming months.
There are many perspectives on ‘Rules of Life’, but for me, the word ‘Rule’ in this context can be seen as ‘rhythm’, ‘pattern’, ‘routine’ or ‘practice’ – much like the ‘Rules’ that govern nature – the sun ‘by Rule’ rises and sets, the sea ‘by Rule’ ebbs and flows, and so on…
I find within our Rule of Life, the way to live in a rhythm or pattern that enables me to fulfill the ministry of my vocation as a Methodist Deacon. It also makes space within it for my vocation as a wife, family member and friend. The particular challenges of that vocation are supported, strengthened, and enabled to be sustained by living in the way the Rule guides.
For me, the Rule of Life helps me keep to a discipline, which is shared in our Order, and it challenges me to live in the way I have committed to. I seek to live in this way and to ‘inhabit it’ each day. It is not something to ‘beat myself up with’ but something I work with and try to ‘breathe in’ and become, recognising that sometimes I will be more ‘in tune’ than at others.
For me, it is also about balance – between living my interior life and exterior life, between time consciously given to ‘work’ and time consciously ‘switching off’ from that work. It reminds me that other people are important and that the vocation isn’t about being ‘busy doing good’ but about living the life I’m called to live.
I wonder what your ‘Rule of Life’ would need in it to support, strengthen and enable the ministry of your vocation to be sustained? Your vocation, your life-calling, may feel quite different at the moment than in usual times. We usually talk about ‘vocation’ in long term language, but in these days, I believe we can find our vocation, our life purpose, a useful way to look at what is newly being required of us at the present time and in coming days, which we very much hope will be short-term. You may suddenly be finding that your usual rhythms and routines are impossible, and that the way that you normally keep your balance and sustain your good humour, is under severe pressure, especially with social activities and gatherings only possible over the internet and gyms and interest groups needing to close. You may suddenly be at home more than you’re used to, or alone more than you’re used to; you may suddenly trying to work and parent full time, at the same time, or may be struggling to keep working in a ‘keyworker’ job which is under extraordinary pressure.
A Rule of Life can help to find that balance and remind us who we are, even in times of stress. It can help us to mentally ‘take a step back’ or pause for a moment to wonder how we respond in the context of our vocation.
In this sudden change of routine for most of us, this is when having a Rule of Life feels even more crucial that it could otherwise.
I encourage you to have a look at some Rules of Life, including if you like, the MDO Rule of Life (there are several links to Rules of Life at the end) and if you can, copy out the parts that resonate with you and make some additions that will be useful to you – you could ‘glean’ something from several perhaps?
All of these Rules of Life will have been written specifically for the vocation the followers of that Rule are called to. Therefore, looking at your own vocation will be important in deciding what to include in your Rule of Life. You may find it now in paid or unpaid work, in your life of prayer, in relationships and roles in family life, friendships and in other commitments.
In writing your own Rule of Life, if you are in a faith group, you may want to include aspects like worship and prayer (in ways that work with who you are), serving God and others, thinking each day or week about how God is involved in your life and the lives of others and how you might be being challenged to grow or change? You may want to commit to things/people you find life-giving, and to ensure you take periods of time ‘off’ for rest, and finding support. Vocation can be multi-faceted, and so your Rule of Life can reflect what you need to help you in that that means right now. It isn’t about writing yourself an impossible list, or something akin to ‘new years resolutions’, but to guide and enable, sustain and support.
A Rule of Life is generally a guide and written in a way that gives space for each day to unfold differently – it is more ‘principles’ than a tight schedule. A helpful guide on writing your own Rule of Life is referenced below.
There are many more things one could write about having a Rule of Life – the MDO is currently consulting on ours and whilst some common themes are emerging, it is also true that there is a diversity in how we express it, and what it means for each, and how it ‘works’ for each. We are all different, even though we all follow the same Rule. The Rule has space in it for both diversity and unity. Most Rules of Life are shared, and one is accountable to others in how one lives it (for example, in the case of a Religious Order) and indeed, you may want to get together with people you live with, or chat on the phone/online with friends about writing a shared one?
I believe that in this particular time, having a Rule of Life that you find sustaining and supportive, that offers you some guide and balance, which can be as simple as you like – could offer anyone – of a faith group or not, and in a group or following it alone – something special at this time.
About the Methodist Diaconal Order Rule of Life (uk)
On writing your own Rule of Life: (this link is being difficult! please put ‘Methodist Church, writing a Rule of Life’ into your search engine if there is a space here!)
The Benedictine Rule
The Franciscan Third Order, Rule of Life
The Iona Rule of Life (note differences for Community of Iona and Associate Members)