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A Personal Rule of Life: Why, How, & What 🤔
be like St. Benedict — everyone's doing it
I’ve been talking about Rules of Life for what feels like ages now, but true to how most trends go on the internet, the topic seems to be everywhere now. I call that a good thing. Rules of Life are fantastic.
First off — what aren’t they?
A personal Rule of Life is not a list of goals. But, I’d argue that you should write your Rule of Life before you make anything resembling a list of goals. Since that activity is always a popular one in early January, I thought we’d dust off the topic.
What is a Rule of Life, you ask?
If you’ve hung out with my words and ideas for any length of time you probably already know the answer to this, but it never hurts to review... I define a Rule of Life simply as a commitment to live your life in a particular way. Church mothers and fathers created rules for their communities nearly since the birth of the Church itself, but St. Benedict’s from the sixth century is arguably the most well-known. This document fleshed out the rules for his monastic community (the first recorded one that we know of, by the way), and to this day people still use his framework as a method for writing out what matters most to them.
In short, a Rule of Life is a document that describes the ordinary particulars of your life to help you live congruently with what’s most important to you.
It’s not about everything — whether you should have ham and cheese or PBJ for lunch; what type of car you should buy; whether you should visit family over the holidays or the summer (though a good Rule could help you make those decisions). It’s about the foundational ideas, the core values that help you become more human. Like a ruler, a good Rule of Life is a tool to help you make straight lines in your life: decisions, focuses, and actions that lead to peace as you pursue rhythms that help you flourish.
I’ve written my own Rule of Life for years now, and though different versions have taken different iterations, my Rule has now settled comfortably into an overall document that requires only tweaks here and there as the seasons change. I visit it twice a year: on my August birthday and at the start of the new year.
Here’s my current Rule of Life.
Ora et Labora:
Christ says to love God and love my neighbor, so this is my priority.
I embody my faith through time-tested practices, independently and communally.
I honor the global Church and her local parishes, and participate in both through word and deed.
I am a lifelong learner.
I prioritize reading.
I create with my hands for its own end.
I need plenty of sleep and movement, so I prioritize both.
I eat intuitively, usually with the family around the table.
To live within my temporal and physical restraints, I live as analog as possible, using digital to enhance my real life.
I prioritize my vocation as a wife and mother.
I point to truth, goodness, and beauty in everything I create.
I prioritize creating things that will last over trendy ephemera.
My work is healthiest when it’s in tandem with rest and play.
I say no to almost every opportunity so I can say yes to the above.
Our marriage is the centering relationship of our family.
We value how our children are uniquely made, yet also value our family unit as a clan.
We spend lots of time together, both one-on-one and together as a family.
We share in the labor of daily home life.
We regularly evaluate the things we participate in.
We financially support our kids, yet they also work.
I invest in life-giving friendships.
I prioritize our local neighborhood and neighbors.
I protect my healthy boundaries.
What do I do with this?
I don’t memorize it, flip to it when I need to choose pizza toppings, or bash Kyle over the head with it when we need to decide a paint color for the house siding. I write it on the first page of my planner and read it about once a week (over time, I’ve come to know it well enough to remember the important points, but a regular re-read always helps).
When we need to make a big decision, I can reference the Rule to see if there’s a clearer choice that aligns with our priorities (i.e., should Kyle buy the business he works for?; does this education plan still jive with our family ethos?). If there’s a smaller action step to potentially take and it just doesn’t seem right, it’s often because it’s out of alignment with the Rule (i.e., adding one more extracurricular activity that leads up to more evenings out of the home than we want).
When I know I’m making the right choice but it’s an unpopular one (i.e., stepping away from Instagram), reviewing my Rule reminds me why it’s the best choice for me, even if it’s not the choice others have made.
Simply put: a written, concise, specific-to-me Rule of Life gives words to my core values. As well-intentioned but fickle humans, words help. We need clear reminders when life is fuzzy.
A few choices I’m making in 2023
Last year was an excellent reading year for me, and I plan to continue — more details coming at the end of the month.
I’m starting grad school this summer, and though I’m in absolutely no hurry and want to slowly savor every second of my experience, I’m eager to start.
I hope to finish my novel.
I plan to write with more conviction about my values, the ones I think are important enough for others to share — but still with grace, humility, and perhaps even a dash of winsome wit if I can muster the courage.
I plan to embark on monthly themed challenges because there are ventures I’d like to undertake out of curiosity about whether they’d benefit me, but I don’t want to commit to a full year. A few:
Five o’clock wake-up time
A twenty-item wardrobe
…and a few more. I’m not doing these to suffer for suffering’s sake, I’m doing them to see if they provide a net benefit in my life. If they do, I may keep them. If not, well then, at least I’ll know. I’ll write about my experiences, good and bad, throughout the year.
Both these monthly challenges and my annual ambitions line up with my Rule of Life, and if done in the right spirit, they’ll hopefully become a means to the end of my increased virtue. After all, that’s the point of life, and I want to pursue that noble cause well.
A Bit of Housekeeping…
I’m still going to send you Common Place Periodicals, but I’m moving them to quarterly and a few pages longer for each issue. I truly enjoy doing them, and I love that they line up with my desire for all of us to live more analog, but ….they actually take me quite a bit of time (and thus screen time) to create. Alas.
My plan here at TCP is to provide monthly space for two types of community conversations: book chats, where we can all share our current TBR stacks (and do our absolute best not to add even more to our lists after reading everyone’s), and gratitude chats, where we’ll intentionally share ten small things we’re grateful for (or as I will absolutely call them: Grat Chats). That was one of my favorite things we did here last year, enough so that I think it should be a regular practice.
I also plan to share essays and stories several times a month, along with occasional treats like bonus podcast episodes here and there as they arise.
And speaking of — Seth and I will be back in your podcast feed this week, starting off 2023 sharing our year’s challenges!
I’d love to hear if you have anything you’re pursuing this year: a goal, a theme, a word of the year, or whatever. And I’d love to hear if you have your own Rule of Life! Don’t feel pressured to share it, but if you’d like to, I’d love to read it. Share any and all in the comments!
Happy New Year, friends — here’s to 2023!
Ora et Labora,
p.s. If you’d like to create your own and would like a friendly bit of hand-holding, you probably know I’ve created a four-part self-paced audio workshop to help you do just that. I plan to update it over the summer, but any current enrollees will have access to all updates when they release!