I recently returned home from a 24-day trip feeling both tired and refreshed. Tired from sleeping in strange beds and a busy travel schedule, but refreshed because it was a break from the normal deadlines and routines.
Back in June, before I left, I remember wondering how the trip might impact my practice of the disciplines I’ve learned while studying Sacred Rhythms. Would I be disciplined enough to practice these important concepts while on vacation?
The answer, unfortunately, was no—or at least not ALL of the disciplines. But the good news is I practiced a few of the disciplines regularly. Looking at the bright side, I realized this showed me which practices had become deeply ingrained and should be included in a well-balanced, long-term plan for spiritual formation. The last chapter of our study speaks to this very topic!
Remember Where We Started
I hope you’ve been encouraged, stretched, and inspired in your spiritual journey by our nine-week study of spiritual disciplines. For me, the journey began at a women’s retreat in April with a longing for a deeper experience with the God I once knew intimately but with Whom I’d grown only intellectually acquainted. The opening quote of Sacred Rhythms (chapter one) both pierced me and drew me:
“The reason we are not able to see God is the faintness of our desire.”
Stoking my desire was the work of the Holy Spirit—as is all real transformation—and I’m so grateful for His gracious wooing. I was suddenly tired of my half-hearted longing and several of you expressed that same yearning.
Have we made progress?
That’s for each one to decide in those moments of silent solitude and self-examination, but I hope you’ve integrated some of the disciplines during the last eight weeks.
Now it’s time to assemble a pattern of daily/weekly/monthly/yearly practices—called a rule of life—that puts us in a receptive posture for God-directed spiritual formation.
Fitting the Pieces Together
If you’re like me, you need a reminder of the past eight disciplines before trying to form this plan. Here are the practices we’ve discussed:
- solitude and silence
- examen of consciousness
- self-examination and confession
- honoring the body
These disciplines fall into three categories, and the author encourages us to choose disciplines for our rule of life from all three:
- disciplines practiced in solitude (1-5)
- disciplines related to life in our body (6-7)
- disciplines related to life in community (8-9)
Making a plan is terrifying to some and second nature to others. I fall somewhere in the middle, but following the plan is a different story! Sacred Rhythms gives practical, step-by-step suggestions on questions to ask ourselves and others as we begin to incorporate these truths into our lives.
When you believe you’ve created a plan that fits your spiritual need, life circumstance and unique personality, it’s time to let it sit for a couple of days…and pray. If you can return to the plan with a fresh desire for God rather than a sense of duty or obligation, you’re on your way!
Several times in this chapter, the author suggests we evaluate our rule of life after any major life event: job change, surgery, marriage, divorce, childbirth, etc. Rather than use the world “evaluate,” she calls it “gentle noticing” just to be sure we’re not too harsh with ourselves. I like that!
Can’t Do It Alone
Notice that today’s chapter on Rule of Life is categorized as a discipline of community, underscoring the author’s conviction that we were never meant to grow spiritually…alone.
Jesus modeled the example of spiritual friendship when He chose the Twelve and then chose three from among them (Peter, James, and John) to share not only public ministry and life events but also His most vulnerable spiritual moments (Gethsemane prayer—Mk.14:32-34).
Spiritual friends might talk about the weather or their latest meal—once in a while. But their hearts burn to speak of deeper things:
“Ask me not where I live or what I like to eat. . . . Ask me what I am living for and what I think is keeping me from living fully for that.”
THOMAS MERTON, Thoughts in Solitude
Ruth Haley Barton encourages those of us who have formed a new rule of life to:
“Identify at least one other person, if not several, who shares your desire for God and is willing to walk the path of establishing spiritual rhythms with you.”
And she reminds us that when “the rubber meets the road” (my words, not hers), we are powerless to change ourselves. Only God can change us from the inside out, but He often uses iron to sharpen iron.
A Rule of Life for Technology
I love my phone. FaceTime and Skype are the lifelines to my grandkids. So, please hear me when I say: Technology is my friend—but it’s also my most insidious enemy. Anything with a screen can enhance my life or suck it dry at any given moment. These additions to our lives make it even more necessary to wisely establish and graciously follow a personal rule of life.
My sweet puppy has put a crimp in my extended silence and solitude. 😉 I’m learning to chop up my daily quiet time into parts (as I’m sure many of you, who work outside the home or have children, must do). Solitude and silence comes after Zeke’s early morning potty break and before breakfast—in those early hours when he naps and I can’t go back to sleep. Prayer and Scripture reading comes after our walk. Walking this little creature that’s turned my world upside down is a part of honoring the body. These are my daily disciplines. Self-examination and confession are bedtime disciplines that I confess aren’t a strength for me. I too often fall into bed exhausted from the day, but I’m praying about this. I’ve asked the Lord to keep me awake if He wants to have a conversation. 😉
Examen of consciousness and discernment are part of my Sabbath contemplations, and I hope to use the last Sunday of each month for broader reflection on habits that have formed—good and/or bad.
As you can see, my daily routine is dictated right now by a puppy. In six months that will (hopefully) have changed, so my rule of life will change. The “gentle noticing” that Ruth Barton suggests is a much better idea than the guilt and self-condemnation that usually leads me to abandon whatever helpful concepts I learn.
I pray I can be gentle with myself, determined in my desire, and vulnerable with my spiritual friends. I pray the same for you, dear ones.
- Spiritual friends might talk weather occasionally, but their hearts burn to speak of deeper things.
- Wisely establish and graciously follow a rule of life using disciplines you and God choose.
- Be gentle with yourself, determined in your desire, and vulnerable with your spiritual friends.
- What discipline(s) will definitely be incorporated into your personal rule of life?
Our kids/grandkids are coming for a visit, and I’ll receive my edits for Miriam later in August, so I’ve decided to take a little break from blog posts.
I hope you’ll develop your rule of life and put into practice some of the principles we’ve discovered during the last two months. If you have time, drop me an email and let me know how it’s going: firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d love to hear from you!