A rule of life is a commitment to live your life in a particular way. It is meant to be crafted with prayer and discernment, in partnership with God, as you consider the way God made you and the values He has inscribed upon your heart. Once written, it serves as a tool that can help you make decisions for your life and determine how best to order your days.
The first example of a Christian rule of life came from the Desert Fathers, a monastic community of mystics living in Egypt around the third century AD. The most well-known rule is the rule of St. Benedict, written fifteen hundred years ago, which was created to help his community of monks translate their faith into the habits and rhythms of their shared daily life. His famous rule has inspired many communities and individuals to develop their own rules with a similar intention.
What is a rule of life?
Our English word rule is derived from the Latin regula, meaning “a straight piece of wood,” “a ruler,” and, by extension, “a pattern, model, or example.” Esther de Waal, a longtime student of monastic spirituality, writes that “regula, a feminine noun, carries gentle connotations: a signpost, a railing, something that gives me support as I move forward in my search for God.” A rule of life, then, serves as a gentle guide that keeps you trained toward God.
In this way, a rule of life is different than the goals, intentions, or resolutions we tend to set for ourselves. Those methods are task-based and measurable, and they’re often focused on what we do. A rule of life, on the other hand, helps you become. It is comprised of several simple statements that guide the posture of your life and the living of your days. It is not lived perfectly but can be lived faithfully while fostering within you an integrated and embodied life of faith.
Why create a rule of life?
Most of us do not belong to communities, monastic or otherwise, that give us a rule to follow, but all communities and families share values and expectations, whether or not they are clearly articulated, and these values and expectations form us, often without our awareness. By crafting a rule of life, we become intentional about the forces and dynamics that shape who we are becoming.
How do I get started?
Allow your rule to develop slowly over time. Listen for God and realize that the unique expression of Christ in you, your family, and your church will look different than the expression of Christ in others. It can be helpful to remember that the kingdom is built by the whole of the church body, so you need only seek to be a faithful hand or foot. Ask God how to live your part faithfully.
Consider inviting others into this exercise with you, such as a spouse, a spiritual director, or members of your community. Regard your rule as a living document—something you can review and adjust as you live it out.
—Jenn Giles Kemper
Below, you'll find an ever-growing collection of resources to help you deepen your understanding of a rule of life and develop your own. Some of the resources were created by members of the Sacred Ordinary Days tribe, and the list has been—and will continue to be—curated by the tribe. Share your own recommendations for additional resources in the Sacred Ordinary Days Facebook group to have them added here.
Wisdom Distilled from the Daily: Living the Rule of St. Benedict Today by Joan Chittister
At Home in the World: A Rule of Life for the Rest of Us by Margaret Guenther
Crafting a Rule of Life: An Invitation to the Well-Ordered Way by Stephen A. Macchia
Thrive: Life-Giving Disciplines for a Chaotic World by Markene Meyer
You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit by James K. A. Smith
The Rule of the Society of Saint John the Evangelist by the Society of Saint John the Evangelist
The Artist's Rule: Nurturing Your Creative Soul with Monastic Wisdom by Christine Valters Paintner
S1 | E5 : Ordinary Time + Rule of Life with Jenn Giles Kemper and Lacy Clark Ellman on the Sacred Ordinary Days podcast
An Invitation to a Well-Ordered Way with Stephen A. Macchia and Nathan Foster on the Renovaré podcast
Rules of Life: A Brief Introduction by Evan B. Howard
Trailer: Framework for Freedom: Living a Rule of Life by the Society of Saint John the Evangelist
The Stuff of "Real Stuff" Hours (Part II) by Lauren Bee
A Year Without Resolutions by Nicole T. Walters at Christianity Today
A Visual Rule of Life by Stephen A. Macchia at Crafting a Rule of Life
myRULE examples by Stephen A. Macchia at Crafting a Rule of Life
Instructions for Developing a Personal Rule of Life posted on the C. S. Lewis Institute website
How Do You Define Success? (I Needed a New System) by Betony Coons at Giants & Pilgrims
Writing a Rule of Life—Resources, Quotes, and Ongoing Upkeep by Jean Wise at Healthy Spirituality
Making (and Keeping) a Personal Rule of Life by Carl McColman
Rule of Life sample from New Life Church
What Is a Rule of Life? by the Northumbria Community
A Framework for Freedom: Living a Rule of Life by the Society of Saint John the Evangelist
Growing a Rule of Life: Lent 2016 Videos and Workbook by the Society of Saint John the Evangelist
Living Intentionally: A Workbook for Creating a Personal Rule of Life by Br. David Vryhof at the Society of Saint John the Evangelist
A Living Tradition: An Online Conversation with the brothers of the Society of Saint John the Evangelist
I Used to Be a Human Being by Andrew Sullivan
Creating a Rule of Life for Yourself and Your Family by Michael Thorne Jarrett at The Trinity Mission
The Practice of Writing a Rule of Life at Westminster Presbyterian Church
End of Busy: A Deliberate Life vs. Reactive Life, with Jonathan Fields by Leo Babauta at Zen Habits
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