Trial and error when writing a Rule of Life

I can’t say exactly when over the past several years I first heard about creating a rule of life but I was instantly attracted to the idea. I am by nature a rule follower:  I stick to the speed limit, I carefully weigh and measure my ingredients when cooking, and I read the directions before I start anything. Spiritual rules that promised growth as a follower Jesus seemed perfect for me!

It turns out that my natural rule-following tendency didn’t translate into successfully creating and following a rule of life. Spiritual directors often appeal to the image of building a trellis on which a vine can grow and flourish as a metaphor for a creating a rule of life. With the structure in place a vine is free to grow, stretching toward the light, blooming and producing fruit, instead of crumpling over on itself and rotting away.

When I sat down to write a rule of life I always imagined a massive trellis that would support the weight of all of my ambitions, spiritual and personal, and allow me to bring the 17 areas of my life in which I wanted to improve under control in way that glorified God. I imagined my future, governed by an exhaustive rule of life, like a beautiful vine of Cabernet Sauvignon grapes winding its way down a long vineyard trellis, growing ripe in the sun.

Over the years, I’ve written and abandoned several extensive rules of life. They were too expansive and exhaustive for one tired, part-time church staff member and full-time mom and wife to ever follow. I had focused so much on the grand size of the trellis, its reach and height, that I neglected to even acknowledge what kind of plant I am actually cultivating.

It turns out I am more of small, potted cherry tomato plant than a magnificent vine stretching the length of the vineyard. I just need a few stakes in the ground in order to begin to produce fruit. A rule of life is meant to bring together essential spiritual disciplines into a meaningful pattern of life. And through the trial and error of writing several rules of life I’ve learned that tending to the roots are as important as building the right trellis. Take small steps and let the Holy Spirit be your guide as you start creating your rule of life.

  • Most people can’t give their attention to more than about five things at a time. If you can’t remember the things in your rule of life you probably won’t do them. Write them down and review the regularly as a spiritual practice.
  • Eventually some spiritual disciplines really do become deeply ingrained holy habits and you won’t have to think about them in order to do them. They are the spiritual equivalent of brushing your teeth—you just do it. This means that you will eventually begin to expand your trellis.
  • Try different spiritual disciplines until you find a “lynch pin” that makes the other disciplines possible. For me it is an almost-daily prayer of examine before I start to plan my week or day. It opens my ears to hear God’s voice, calls me to repent, and turns my attention the matters that are truly important in my schedule and relationships.
  • Always make reading God’s word central to your rule of life. The Bible corrects us and gives us balance in our obedience. In times when I have been to inwardly focused God’s word has called me back on mission and when I have grown weary from giving it has brought me healing and rest.
  • Every season is different. Set times on your calendar to review your rule of life and pray for God’s guidance for the upcoming season. Right now, I am awaiting the arrival of a new baby and adjusting to the idea of caring for a newborn again. God doesn’t expect me to keep the same disciplines and neither should I. Instead, I am asking him to show me what is essential and life-giving in this season.

I hope that you find a rule of life that makes you fruitful and flourishing in the presence of Jesus, no matter what kind of plant you may be. Find more resources for writing a rule of life and starting a TiE Group.