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Rule of Life

The Terrible Thing about a Rule of Life

For every spiritual discipline, there is a cost.  For fasting, there is hunger. For Bible Study, there is the time it takes and the intellectual work of reading and thinking. 

The meta-discipline is writing and living by a Rule of Life. The concept actually goes back to the monastic rules, of which the Rule of Saint Benedict is preeminent. The little book of the rule guided the monastery in both large concepts and mundane details and rule assignments. A Rule of Life should also do both.

Spiritual directors and group studies often suggest a Rule for your life that you create. I rewrite mine twice a year. I do not make changes that often, but I rewrite it to keep it fresh in my mind. I tweak it every year to work on things I know are weak or needing attention. But while some parts change, most parts really, change very little over decades.  

A personal rule is often very personal. I will introduce you to a rough outline of mine at the end here. I am sure it will change a little as I enter into next year, but it has been consistent for decades. So what is the terrible thing about that? 

A Rule of Life constrains your life. It makes decisions for you, and it takes away some options. That is very unnatural in our culture, to intentionally give up choices. We actually do give up choices all the time when we take on commitments or get serious about our weight or our faith. But the Rule constrains choice across whole areas of life.

In my Rule, I always begin with a section of “I am” statements. They are both factual and ambitious. In my mind they are the Prologue for my life. “I am a man of God.” “I am Amy’s husband.” “I am an Episcopal priest.” In each statement is a purpose that guides my first level choices. They have driven me to stay quiet about issues I want to share my opinion on, and they have goaded me to take children on camping trips that I instinctually have done alone.

The next section is a restatement of my core faith and principles for the year. It is a personal statement about where I feel called to follow Christ. It was in writing this section seven or eight years ago that I first started praying for a pastor’s heart. I had realized that I was managing more than caring for souls. And as I wrote out this section, I realized that I needed to act, first in prayer and then in practice. This last two years this section has been a series of ambition statements that I pull goals from. “I provide for my family first.”

The last section of my rule is where I write out practices both perpetual, “I will do the Daily Office twice a day, once daily with Amy.” “I will write at least one page every day.” These get very mundane with daily, weekly, and annual goals. I try to make them very concrete. Pass or fail. Yes or no. Did I do this thing or not?

I always then write a prayer for my life in the year. This year’s prayer was, in part, “Lord, be my shepherd, and I will follow you wherever you lead.”  

So the Rule of Life takes in your whole life and directs it toward God. It is an act of will and purpose, but it is also a guide to living. Will you write a Rule of Life this year?

If you need a little help, see the Daughters of the King or the Brotherhood of Saint Andrew rules. Steven Macchia has a wonderful guide that has you work through a much more detailed process called Crafting a Rule of Life. I highly recommend it.


The Very Rev. Daniel Paul Richards
Christ Church of the Ascension
Paradise Valley, Arizona