Cultivating Rhythms for Spiritual Transformation Not So Easy
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