“Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.” Jeremiah 6:16
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” Matthew 11:28-29
In the previous post I wrote about the promise of a rule of life (you can read it here). A rule of life is a pattern and structure of rhythms and routines (regular practices that shape our daily/weekly living), relationships (intentional relationships and community), and renunciations (the “no’s” we say which enable a stronger “yes” to Jesus) that frees us to live well and grow more like Jesus by forming the life of God in us.
I’ve been studying a rule of life for over 15 years now, finding in it such hope for renewed discipleship and Christian formation. However, in talking about it with others I’ve found there are a few immediate, and often strong, reactions to it. For many, the connections of a rule of life to monastic communities make it feel removed and remote from regular living, something only elite Christians can do in cloistered communities (but remember, a rule, or regula, is meant for regular Christians). However, the most dominant response is the misunderstanding of a rule of life as a burden of legalism, a narrow, smothering set of rules for a graceless religiosity.
No doubt, a rule of life could be twisted to become a tool of soul-distorting moralism (see Lauren Winner’s The Dangers of Spiritual Practice). It is, however, not a relic of legalism but a pattern of grace — making it always invitational and freely embraced rather than forced upon. Living a rule of life is never a means of proving worth or merit but is always an expression of love for Christ.
It is certainly not meant to add more burden to an already full life but to assist in the reordering of our lives around communion with God. A rule of life helpfully reveals the operative patterns that currently form our lives according to lesser loyalties, and so guides us to reorganize our lives around the “unforced rhythms of grace” of Jesus.
We give ourselves to the everyday practices of a rule not as a form of legalistic obedience but instead to shape our hearts and rightly order our loves, directing us to love God and his Kingdom. As James K.A. Smith reminds, “We learn to love, then, not primarily by acquiring information about what we should love but rather through practices that form habits of how we love.”
At the heart of a rule of life is the invitation of Jesus to weary and burdened people — find rest in a pattern of habits through which we share in the relationship Jesus enjoyed with his Father. It is the invitation to a well-ordered life. We are not passive spectators to salvation but invited to be full participants in God’s trinitarian life, as it is revealed and given to us in Jesus Christ. In following a rule of life, we willingly embrace the life Jesus Christ invites us into, we gladly welcome God’s choice of us and respond by offering our ‘yes’ to Christ in this way of life.
Here’s the hope – there is a good way where life can flourish, where our bodies live within created limits and rhythms of work and rest, a path that frees us to be fully human. There is a good way where we are not alone but find ourselves connected with real people in embodied community. There is a good way where we participate in the “unforced rhythms of grace” of Jesus, a communion with God that is our very purpose and end. It is the ancient path, the good way where both Jeremiah and Jesus promise: you will find rest for your souls.
Think of a rule of life, then, as the church’s way-finding tool, orienting us to this way of salvation. It is how we are found and formed in the way of Jesus, the ancient path of saints and sinners, pilgrims all, walking through life, moved by the same gracious invitation — to come back home to communion with God.