I’ve often said the first part of life is figuring out who we are meant to be while the second part of life is being more of it. Clarifying one’s mission and cultivating one’s call is certainly fulfilling, but it goes far beyond that, reflecting something of God’s glory, His unique imprint on our lives, and, consequently blesses those around us. It is becoming who we were created to be, fully alive. A Rule of Life helps us do that.
Clarifying our mission and cultivating our call does not come naturally to us
I don’t know about you, but last year was a bit hectic for me, and I do intentionality pretty well. It was a battle to stay focused; it always is. Let’s face it, life can be unruly. It can be busy, tiring, full of unreasonable expectations (our own and those of others), and it’s often a blur. There can be a constant feeling of being behind and way too often, we make subtle agreements along the way that we “don’t have what it takes” anyway. Resignation can set in and before we know it another year has ticked by and we are no further along in enjoying God, our life, or our families and friends. I for one, refuse to live that way. Becoming what we are supposed to be is indeed a challenge, and it takes great intentionality to stay in the game.
Have you ever noticed how rare it is that we stop to ask this simple question, “Why am I so busy?”
I’m not sure the question can be asked of us meaningfully until we hit our forties or fifties. There’s something about those decades that places us in a unique position to hear it, namely, that we begin to realize how short life really is. We watch children grow up and move on, perhaps we become grandparents, some of us start caring for our own parents, and many of us realize our marriages more closely resemble the relationships of roommates, rather than lovers that value, pursue, and know each other.
For those of us in those decades, the question haunts, “Why am I so busy?” Once it’s out of the bag, it can’t go back in. We may try to avoid it by citing all the reasons why we feel overwhelmed, or couldn’t do things differently, but it doesn’t go away. Simultaneously, we’re confronted with the next question, “Do I have the courage to answer it…to do something about it?” I hope you do.
We have to stop and answer the questions, not just ask and dismiss them. We have to learn to be intentional. Every decision matters, especially in the second half of life.
Unless we stand for something, we’ll fall for anything
For many, we’ve found we no longer know who we are or what we’re supposed to be doing. Somewhere along the way, we lost sight of the forest for the trees. Answering questions like these in our younger years seemed a luxury we could not afford at the time. But now, it is presented to us like a long overdue bill with a stiff late fee.
Not taking the time to set our face like a flint toward that which is ours to become has allowed us to be tossed to and fro, merely responding to life, doubting, falling for anything that we thought seemed “good” and “useful” for us and those around us. The irony is that many of the things that have been spending our time and energy have indeed been “good,” but now more than ever, it’s time to ask, “But, what’s the best?” That’s a great question to set us on a path of intention in the coming year!
Here’s one way to force us to stop, ask the questions, and answer them with intentionality in the coming year; create a simple Rule of Life.
A Rule of Life helps us to set a course for the “best” over the “good”
The idea of a Rule of Life has been around forever in the spiritual formation circles, but the concept can be applied to all of life. It is a plan that establishes priorities and a regular rhythm for living, an intentionality if you will.
A Rule of Life can be quite complex and deeply personal, but it is much better to learn to walk before trying to run, and I’m a big proponent of the “law of small wins.” So, if you are eager to gain some clarity and start setting intention towards the best over the good, and have never done this kind of thing before, keep it simple.
Five Domains of Life
One of the ways to do that is to consider life in terms of five domains. These are just five general categories that most of life can fit into, and certainly, they overlap.
- Personal: health, finances, time off, hobbies, solitude, etc.
- Family: time with family, intentional conversations, relational investment, gatherings, etc.
- Work: development of skills, priorities, communication with others
- Faith: time, service, depth, routine, cultivating passion
- Community: friends, volunteering, service organizations, depth of relationships, etc.
As we begin to think in these five categories, it is much easier to answer the question, “What’s the best over the good?”
As you ponder these domains, ask yourself:
- What’s working?
- What’s not?
- What needs to be let go?
- What do I need to start?
- What is it I dare not forget in the coming year?
- What is it I dare not repeat in the coming year?
Saying “no” in order to say “yes”
…then, ask, “What can I commit to in the five domains in the coming year?” This list becomes your list of absolute “yeses” while anything that would compete with them becomes a “no.”
This is not the place for unrealistic goals, but a written plan for a realistic level of engaging life in a manner in which you can honestly and truly be held accountable. It surely doesn’t cover every responsibility or commitment we have, but it specifically addresses those areas we are being called into in the next season of life.
Think of the Rule of Life as the minimum standard for your life that you do not want to drop below, your “absolute and first yeses.” Think of it as articulating the major things that must stay in place, well-maintained, if you are going to head in the right direction, operate at your personal best, and be the best to those around you.
Here’s a sample Rule of Life; three simple things in each of the five domains:
Sample Rule of Life
1. I eat in a manner consistent with healthy living.
2. I exercise 5 times per week.
3. I honor my days off.
1. I intentionally engage my wife in conversation about her interior world and our relationship each week, often over a dinner, just the two of us.
2. I take my wife away, just the two of us, on 2 get-away weekends each year.
3. I take 1 get-away trip a year, each, with my son and daughter, at a place of their choice.
1. I maintain mentoring relationships, as both a mentor and as a mentee on a monthly basis.
2. I attend 2 training events each year to stay current in my field.
3. I respond to all communications within 24 hours of receiving them.
1. I spend 45 minutes a day in prayer/study/journaling.
2. I read the Bible through each year.
3. I remain active in my men’s group 2 times per month, and participate in worship on a weekly basis.
1. I get together with 2 friends, 2 times per year, out of town, for deep connection, recreation, and encouragement.
2. I am involved in at least one community service organization each year.
3. I host dinners/events with friends or parishioners at least 1 time per month.
When creating your Rule of Life, you may find that one domain needs more commitments than the others. That is ok. It may mean that the particular area has greater need for development and expression right now. Do remember, however, you are striving for balance in your life, so if any category has fewer, be sure it is because it is already doing well, not because it is being avoided or neglected. Every “yes” to something is a “no” to something else; make your “yeses” count.
Now comes the commitment. Here are four things you can do to help ensure that you stay on track with your Rule of Life.
- Schedule: If any of your items are tied to events or recurrences, they go on the calendar now at the beginning of the year, so that nothing else can crowd them out. If you do not take charge of your schedule, others will. Remember, these represent your “yes” to the “best” over the “good.”
- Share: Share them with people that can hold you accountable. I recommend a family member, a friend, a peer, and where appropriate, a subordinate and a boss.
- Visible: Place the list somewhere you will see it often, perhaps the bathroom mirror, next to your computer, or on your dashboard. Become intimately familiar with it. Be able to recite it.
- Evaluate: Evaluate often, especially if this is your first time. In the beginning, we make two mistakes: being too general or too specific. If we are too general, we will not be accountable. If we are too specific, we create unneeded guilt; guilt is never a very good motivator. Revisit your list often to rearticulate in a manner that is both accountable and doable. Sometimes you will find that you need to add things, sometimes you will recognize things no longer need to be on the list.
Ready to answer the question, “What’s the best over the good?”, but feel like you need to process this some more? Does this concept really resonate with you, but having trouble narrowing it down into a manageable plan of your own? Scared at what this might mean, but know this is something you have to do as you head into the second half of life?
These are all common reactions. CLI has helped many people, people just like you, choose the “best” over the “good” and get on with living life fully alive. Simply contact CLI to find out how they can help.
Charlie Vensel – MDiv, ACC, CSD (Former CLI/ALI Participant)