As my wife and I continue to attempt to live out our ten-week “rule of life,” life keeps getting in the way. Between preparing to move to a new appointment, buying a home, walking with our oldest through graduation, reading for future classes while finishing up current projects, searching for scholarships, and saying “goodbye” to so many people we have come to love, our “rule of life” is often dropped.
I am thankful to Harold Miller’s book, Finding a Personal Rule of Life, and Ruth Haley Barton’s Sacred Rhythms: Arranging Our Lives For Spiritual Transformation. Both Miller and Barton are clear that one is not to make a “rule of life” a legalistic experience. Barton also stresses that there are different seasons to life, some more difficult than others. She writes, “Our expectations about ordering our life during the different seasons need to take into account what’s real and can’t be changed; otherwise we set ourselves up for frustration and failure. This is a place for learning how to be compassionate with ourselves, because God certainly is.”
My wife and I are certainly in a difficult season of transition and find ourselves having to be “compassionate with ourselves” when it comes to our following the “rule of life” we developed for this DMin project. I have quickly discovered that the “rule of life” I have created, that calls on my wife and I to practice seven spiritual disciplines over a ten-week period, is somewhat unrealistic. As Barton points out, “Developing a rhythm of spiritual practice takes time” and it is also extremely personal. Our “rhythm of spiritual practices also needs to be ruthlessly realistic in view of our stage of life,” Barton writes. Certainly, practicing seven spiritual disciplines over ten weeks together during a difficult season in our lives is somewhat unrealistic; yet, it has not been unfruitful.
My wife and I have certainly prayed more together in the last couple months than we had been recently, and we have heard God speak to us through His Word, through music, through messages, and through others, addressing directly issues we are dealing with in our lives during this period of transition.
But I have come to believe that the best approach to developing a “rule of life” would be to focus on one spiritual discipline such as prayer or meditation, silence or fasting. Work on that spiritual discipline over the course of a couple months, practicing it as often as possible, allowing it to draw you into the presence of the Creator. This is what I hope to do following this project, having read, studied, and practiced the seven spiritual disciplines of Prayer, Study (both Biblical & Devotional), Meditation, Silence, Solitude, Fasting, Vigil Keeping. I plan to focus on one or two disciplines at most, diving deep into God’s arms. As Barton suggests, “It’s best to try each discipline one at a time and work with it for a while rather than trying to load on too much all at once.”
For those of you following this blog and our process in following the “rule of life” we developed, perhaps instead of attempting all seven spiritual disciplines being practiced for this project, you might pick one or two to focus on. Remember, as Barton explains things will not always work out as planned as life happens, but “The point is that we know that we have set our intention. We are faithful to it to the best of our ability and to the extent that the day-to-day circumstances of our lives allow.” God sees our heart and when we are unable to maintain the disciplines as we planned, God, seeing a heart yearning for a deeper relationship with Him, will seek us out in the midst of our real life, in the midst of our day’s activities.
Don’t beat yourself up, don’t give up, and don’t set unrealistic expectations. Make it your clear intention to grow closer to God, to open your heart and life up to Him more so that He may descend and make you whole. The spiritual disciplines do this and allow God the opportunity to enter your life in ways more powerful than can be described here. Focus on one or two spiritual disciplines. Write a “rule of life” that is realistic and regular, allowing God to do remarkable things in your life each day. And never forget, when the day gets away from you and you find that you have not prayed or meditated or had any time of silence and solitude, you realize you have not followed the “rule of life” you set, get back up and commit yourself once more to spiritual practices that will open you up to God’s transforming work in you.
Rev. Drew M. Christian
As I’ve mentioned, my wife and I are attempting to live a “rule of life,” practicing seven spiritual disciplines over a period of ten weeks. Currently, we are exploring the discipline of Lectio Divina or “divine reading.”
We are currently in a whirlwind of change and transition, perhaps more than we have ever experienced. We are attempting to pack a house to move to a new community, a new congregation, and to move into a house we just purchased (a new experience for us as we have lived in parsonages for the last seventeen years). Furthermore, our son graduated this past Saturday and has left us for the next few weeks to live and spend time with his best friend forcing us to experience a short period of the “empty nest syndrome” (something we are definitely not ready for). On top of that I am working on a doctoral project, we are short by over $7000 for our son’s college tuition for 2013-2014 and scholarships are hard to come by, our finances are strained as there are many expenses involved with moving and buying a home, and I am attempting to transition the churches in Rock Hall to a new pastor while at the same time attend meetings and meet leaders as I transition to the new church in Rising Sun. There are times we just sit unable to move because we are overwhelmed with the to-do list.
Yet, yesterday, with many of these things on our minds, we sat down to pray and practice Lectio Divina. The lectionary passage we drew from was Luke 7: 11-17.
In this passage, Jesus, entering town, runs into a mother, a widow, who is burying her only son. Jesus saw her and had compassion on her. He says to the young man, “Young man, I say to you, get up!” The dead man sat up and Jesus gave him back to his mother.
The people were amazed and shouted praises to God. They said, “God has come to help his people.” And news spread about Jesus throughout Judea.
Before reading the scripture, my wife and I prayed that God would speak to our hearts through His Word, that God would speak to our situation, our need, our fears and worries.
We then read the scripture aloud three times, pausing between readings to simply sit in silence and think about the Word we had just heard.
After the third reading and the third period of silence, we asked one another what stood out for us in the scripture.
For both of us, the phrase “God has come to help his people” stood out. In the midst of all the difficulties, stresses, responsibilities, transitions we face, God’s truth does not change or tremble. “God has come to help his people.” And my wife and I, along with you who are reading this blog, are His people. We need not be afraid.
There was one other verse that stood out for me during our time of reading, listening and reflecting. “Young man, I say to you, get up!”
I felt God saying “Stop wallowing in worry…stop being concerned with what tomorrow will bring…stop allowing the weight of responsibility and tasks that need to be done to weigh you down…”get up“…”get up” remembering that “God has come to help his people,” God has come to help you.”
“Get up” and do what you can to complete the list of responsibilities before you, but also “get up” in prayer, looking up to God, remembering that God will help you, will provide for you, will carry you if need be.
My wife and I then prayed, asking God to help us “get up” when we started to feel the world weighing down on us. We asked God to help us remember that He was alive and well, ready to help us through our difficulties, through the upcoming life transitions. We prayed that God would send His Spirit to help us trust fully in Him for all things. We thanked God for His Word and for speaking to our hearts and our situation.
Through Lectio Divina, through prayer, through intentional time focused on God Almighty, we cry out to God with the words of Frederick Littledale’s hymn:
“Come down, O Love divine, Seek Thou this soul of mine, And visit it with Thine own ardour glowing; O Comforter, draw near, Within my heart appear, And kindle it, Thy holy flame bestowing.”
“God has come to help his people.” Just spend some time in prayer, and in reading and meditating on His Word, and you will discover this truth. “God has come to help his people.” Wow! What a privilege! What a blessing! What great comfort!
Rev. Drew M. Christian