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  • David Kleinhans

A Rule of Life for a Flourishing Life

I've recently noticed a subtle shift in my life. In the past when I was asked the routine "how are you?" greeting question, I used to reply with the routine, “good and you” response. Recently however I've found my response taking on a different hue. Something in my subconscious seems to have adopted a new refrain: "busy."

Busyness has become the anthem of this chapter in my journey. Fresh off the completion of my final degree, I navigate the intricate dance of life: balancing the demands of work, embracing the role of an intentionally present husband and father, carving out space for friends, finding time for reading, trying to make time for physical activity, and maintaining a healthy spiritual life.

My suspicion is that I am not alone in this, and I don’t doubt that most people who read this are possibly even busier than I am. But before this turns into a competition about who is the busiest, let’s consider for a moment just how out of rhythm we are with the natural world around us. How out of balance our lives are when we think about our spirituality, when we think about our time of non productive rest, when we think about our relationships with our family and friends, and our personal and professional work responsibilities.

I recently read a book titled “The Emotionally Healthy Leader” by the former and founding pastor of New Life Fellowship in New York, Peter Scazzero. One of the most unique aspects of this book focusing on leadership was where it started, that is, that emotionally healthy leadership flows out of a healthy interior life. Scazzero says it like this:


“We lead more out of who we are than out of what we do, strategic or otherwise. If we fail to recognize that who we are on the inside informs every aspect of our leadership, we will do damage to ourselves and to those we lead.”1


In promoting a balanced life, Scazzero proposes something he calls a Rule of Life. This rule of life is meant to give structure to our daily lives such that we can pay attention to God in everything we do. Scazzero builds this rule of life around the four categories of the Benedictine spiritual life, that is: (1) prayer, (2) rest, (3) relationships, and (4) work. This fourfold categorisation transcends the dualistic “personal” and “professional” categories that our world forces us to think in. Scazzero says that each of these categories are:


“not just a way of thinking about things I need to do, but a means of receiving and giving the love of God. The love of God itself is located at the center because, unless I am receiving and relying on God’s love all through the day, I have nothing of lasting value to give.”2


Therefore these categories are designed to enable us to live with our cups filled by the love of God so that we can continually give the love of God to others.

Burnout, on the other hand, as Parker J. Palmer3 notes, is usually regarded as trying to give too much, but from Palmer’s experience, it’s better understood as trying to give that which one does not possess. When we deplete ourselves by living the imbalanced lives that our world forces on us, then we will end up running on fumes trying to do anything meaningful for others, especially our families. Walter Brueggemann however helpfully reminds us:


“Divine rest on the seventh day of creation has made clear (a) that YHWH is not a workaholic, (b) that YHWH is not anxious about the full functioning of creation, and (c) that the well-being of creation does not depend on endless work.”4


Echoing the thrust of Brueggemann’s compelling book “Sabbath as Resistance: Saying No to the Culture of Now”, choosing to slow down, to breathe, and rest in an instant society will inevitably become acts of defiance, and will meet opposition from the Pharaohs who are only concerned with the production, growth, and consumption of commodity goods.

This being said, the purpose of this post is not an argument for rest alone, but instead for a balanced life. But when I look at people that I encounter all across town, the country, and the world, I often observe the deep dark bags under their eyes which stand as a silent testament to the latent exhaustion lingering within them from all the unseen burdens and fatigue they carry. Rest is a cry that our society needs to hear. And therefore striving toward balance would need to include serious thoughts about rest.

So what does this rule of life look like? For me, I have an online workspace that I designed for myself, and at the top of all my notes is a note that opens my rule of life. At the moment my Rule of Life looks like this:

Prayer:

  1. Sabbath (weekly): A 24 hour period of rest during the week where I do anything that fills me (productive or not). This could be drawing, reading, gardening, walking, training my dog etc. The goal is to recognise that I am not God.

  2. Lectio Divina (daily): A contemplative method of reading and soaking up scripture.

  3. Prayer (daily).

  4. Attend church (weekly)

  5. Attend small group (weekly)

  6. Daily examen: a reflective exercise typically done at the end of the day, involving prayerful review of one's experiences to discern God's presence and guidance.

  7. 3-5 day annual spiritual retreat (pending)

Rest:

  1. Physical exercise (4-5 p/week)

  2. Mindfulness (daily)

  3. Vacations (annual)

  4. Reading (daily)

  5. Being in nature (weekly)

  6. Watching sports (weekly)

Relationships:

  1. Intentional connecting with Alyssa (daily)

  2. Intentional connecting with Junia (daily)

  3. Supporting Junia and her schooling activities (weekly)

  4. Connecting with extended family (once per quarter or when we are able to go visit/have them over)

  5. Connecting with friends (weekly)

  6. Regular mentoring with Spiritual director (pending)

  7. Book club & Whiskey club (pending)

Work:

  1. The Gathering (All Saints Young Adults)

  2. Buddies (All Saints Friday Kids)

  3. Alive Youth (All Saints youth)

  4. Children’s church (Small Saints)

  5. Preaching prep

  6. Church Council

  7. Fundraising Committee

  8. Caretaker Responsibilities

  9. Personal Admin

When setting up your own rule of life, Scazzero warns against two dangers that one might run into when designing their unique rule of life, and that is: (1) feeling paralysed by the limitations it produces or (2) by doing everything possible and then flaming out by all the changes and commitments. Therefore a helpful initial guide according to Scazzero is to start by making a list of these three things: (1) all the things that nurture your spirit and fill you with delight (people, places, and activities); (2) all the things that drain you from being anchored in Christ, and finally (3) a series of have-tos that impact your rhythms in life (e.g. caring for ageing parents, children’s activities, or navigating stresses at work). Once you recognize what uplifts you, drains you, and holds priority in your schedule, then you start to establish a foundation for shaping your Rule of Life in the four categories of prayer, rest, relationships, and work. And as you consider each category, Scazzero reminds us that our desires matter, that God often speaks to us through them, so don’t overlook or avoid them, therefore make sure that your rule of life includes joy, play, and fun.5

This balance is meant to craft a way towards a holistic life. It is meant to make sure that we have boundaries in place that will help us make decisions in life, on whether we can commit to extra responsibilities, on whether we need to say no to things, or if we need to stop doing older things. It is meant to help us make choices about taking up new responsibilities in either category so that I don’t start stealing time from God, family, rest, or work in order to do so.

Footnotes:

1. Scazzero, P. (2015). The Emotionally Healthy Leader. Zondervan, p.47.

2. Scazzero. The Emotionally Healthy Leader. p.136.

3. Palmer, P.J. (1999). Let Your Life Speak. Jossey-Bass, p.48.

4. Brueggermann, W. (2017). Sabbath as Resistance. Westminster John Knox Press, p.6.

5. Scazzero. The Emotionally Healthy Leader, p.137-139.


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