One of the exercises I require for the Benedictine Spirituality course I teach at Central Baptist Theological Seminary is for each learner to craft a rule for life.

Rather than a set of “rules,” a rule is more like a trellis supporting the growth of a plant. It helps determine the direction one goes and fosters intentionality for achieving specific goals.

During the week at Conception Abbey in Conception, Missouri, we observe what it means for a community to live according to the Rule of St. Benedict, which has been guiding monastic communities for more than 1,500 years.

It is a very practical set of prescriptions that has been adapted over the years as culture has shifted. Yet, it remains secondary only to Scripture in shaping the life of the Benedictines.

Here is the guidance I offer for this project:

Rule (rool) n. 1. A prescribed, suggested or self-imposed guide for action and conduct; 2.The teaching of a wise spiritual guide, such as St. Benedict; 3. An aid to spiritual growth, like a trellis is for a plant.

  1. Write as concisely as you can what you want out of life, what you want to do with your life – long term and short term. Of course, you will want to include basic needs as well as ultimate concerns.
  1. List what you need to do or to have in order to obtain what it is that you want.

Here you need to be practical. As a Christed human person, you need sleep, food, friendship, work, study, recreation, exercise, prayer, sacred reading, spiritual disciplines and so on. Reflect on what you concretely need in order to practice vocational discernment.

  1. Now look over the last couple of years (or even the last six months) and ask: “What has been preventing me from doing what I want to do, getting what I want out of life – in myself, in others, in my life situation?”

List these things, and confess them, if need be. In the school of life (or the monastery), we fall down and get up again.

  1. Using the data you have gathered, formulate a rule for yourself that includes daily, weekly and monthly rhythms.

You may want to factor a time of retreat in, schedule an appointment with a spiritual director, get a massage or include a time of fasting.

For some, a rather strict and precise rule works better; others may find this constricting.

A rule is very useful in the process of vocational discernment and clarification. One can grow in insight and clarity, and one can summon a practical response to obstacles to the rule.

Each year, I undertake this practice also. I have found it formative along the way.

Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared on Marshall’s CBTS president’s blog. It is used with permission.

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