I don’t know about you, but life can be a bit hectic for me. It is a battle to stay focused; it always is. Let’s face it, life can be unruly. It can be busy, tiring, full of unreasonable expectations (our own and those of others), and it’s often a blur. There can be a constant feeling of being behind and way too often, we make subtle agreements along the way that we “don’t have what it takes” anyway. Resignation can set in and before we know it another year has ticked by and we are no further along on the road to enjoying God, our life, or our families and friends. We are in the ditch off the shoulder, in the weeds, stuck in mud.
HAVE YOU EVER NOTICED HOW OFTEN WE ASK OURSELVES, “WHY AM I SO BUSY?’
I’m not sure the question can be asked of us meaningfully until we hit our forties or fifties. There’s something about those decades that places us in a unique position to hear it, namely, that we begin to realize how short life really is. We watch children grow up and move on, perhaps we become grandparents, some of us start caring for our own parents, and many of us realize our marriages more closely resemble the relationships of roommates, rather than lovers we used to value, pursue, and deeply know.
For those of us in those decades, the question haunts, “Why am I so busy?” Once it’s out of the bag, it can’t go back in. We may try to avoid it by citing all the reasons why we feel overwhelmed, or couldn’t do things differently, but it doesn’t go away. Simultaneously, we’re confronted with the next question, “Do I have the courage to answer it…to do something about it?”
We have to stop and answer the question, not just ask it. Every decision matters, especially in the second half of life.
THE CAR WILL GO WHERE WE ARE LOOKING
For many, we’ve found we no longer know who we are or where we are going. Somewhere along the way, we took our eyes off the road and starting heading into oncoming traffic. Honks, swerves, fingers…all the warning signs we are not in our lane fly at us faster than the speed limit.
Not paying attention to the road which is ours to become has allowed us to be tossed to and fro, merely responding to life, doubting, falling for anything that we thought seemed “good” and “useful” for us and those around us. The irony is that many of the things we’ve been spending our time and energy on have indeed been “good,” but now more than ever, it’s time to ask, “But, what’s the best?”
Here’s one way to force us to stop, ask the questions, and answer them with intentionality as we travel along. It is called a Rule of Life. Think of it as spiritual driver assistance features. Things that help us become aware of our blindspots, keep our eyes on the road, and stay in our lane.
A RULE OF LIFE HELPS US CHOOSE THE “BEST” OVER THE “GOOD”
The idea of a Rule of Life has been around forever in spiritual formation circles, but the concept can be applied to all of life. It is a plan that establishes priorities and a regular rhythm for living, an intentionality if you will.
A Rule of Life can be quite complex and deeply personal, but it is much better to learn to walk before trying to run, and I’m a big proponent of the “law of small wins.” So, if you are eager to gain some clarity and start setting intention towards the best over the good, and have never done this kind of thing before, keep it simple.
FIVE DOMAINS OF LIFE
One of the ways to do that is to consider life in terms of five domains. These are just five general categories that most of life can fit into, and certainly, they overlap.
- Personal: health, finances, time off, hobbies, solitude, etc.
- Family: time with family, intentional conversations, relational investment, gatherings, etc.
- Work: development of skills, priorities, communication with others
- Faith: time, service, depth, routine, cultivating passion
- Community: friends, volunteering, service organizations, depth of relationships, etc.
As we begin to think in these five categories, it is much easier to answer the question, “What’s the best over the good?”
As you ponder these domains, ask yourself:
- What’s working?
- What’s not?
- What needs to be let go?
- What do I need to start?
- What is it I dare not forget?
- What is it I dare not repeat?
SAYING “NO” IN ORDER TO SAY “YES”
…then, ask, “What can I commit to in the five domains going forward?” This list becomes your list of absolute “yeses” while anything that would compete with them becomes a “no.”
This is not the place for unrealistic goals, but a written plan for a realistic level of engaging life in a manner in which you can honestly and truly maintain. It surely doesn’t cover every responsibility or commitment we have, but it specifically addresses those areas we are being called into in the next season of life.
Think of the Rule of Life as the minimum standard for your life that you do not want to drop below, your “absolute and first yeses.” Think of it as articulating the major things that must stay in place, well-maintained, if you are going to head in the right direction, operate at your personal best, and be the best to those around you.
Here’s a sample Rule of Life; three simple things in each of the five domains:
SAMPLE RULE OF LIFE
1. I eat in a manner consistent with healthy living.
2. I exercise 3 times per week.
3. I honor my days off.
1. I intentionally engage my wife in conversation about her interior world and our relationship each week, often over a dinner, just the two of us.
2. I take my wife away, just the two of us, on 2 get-away weekends each year.
3. I take 1 get-away trip a year, each, with my son and daughter, at a place of their choice.
1. I maintain mentoring relationships, as both a mentor and as a mentee on a monthly basis.
2. I attend 2 training events each year to stay current in my field.
3. I respond to all communications within 24 hours of receiving them.
1. I spend 45 minutes a day in prayer/study/journaling.
2. I read the Bible through each year.
3. I remain active in my men’s group 2 times per month, and participate in worship on a weekly basis.
1. I get together with 2 friends, 2 times per year, out of town, for deep connection, recreation, and encouragement.
2. I am involved in at least one community service organization each year.
3. I host dinners/events with friends at least 1 time per month.
When creating your Rule of Life, you may find that one domain needs more commitments than the others. That is ok. It may mean that the particular area has greater need for development and expression right now. Do remember, however, you are striving for balance in your life, so if any category has fewer, be sure it is because it is already doing well, not because it is being avoided or neglected. Every “yes” to something is a “no” to something else; make your “yeses” count.
Now comes the commitment. Here are four things you can do to help ensure that you stay on track with your Rule of Life.
If any of your items are tied to events or recurrences, they go on the calendar now, so that nothing else can crowd them out. If you do not take charge of your schedule, others will. Remember, these represent your “yes” to the “best” over the “good.”
Share them with people that can hold you accountable. I recommend a family member, a friend, a peer, and where appropriate, a subordinate and a boss.
Place the list somewhere you will see it often, perhaps the bathroom mirror, next to your computer, or on your dashboard. Become intimately familiar with it. Be able to recite it.
Evaluate often, especially if this is your first time. In the beginning, we make two mistakes: being too general or too specific. If we are too general, we will not be accountable. If we are too specific, we create unneeded guilt; guilt is never a very good motivator. Revisit your list often to rearticulate in a manner that is both accountable and doable. Sometimes you will find that you need to add things, sometimes you will recognize things no longer need to be on the list.
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