Lay people often overlook a source of deep spirituality and safety. One of the spiritual secrets of those in the religious life is a kind of spiritual guardrail system that helps them to know the path of peace on a moment to moment basis. This wisdom-born approach has aided thousands of ordinary people to become saints and to experience the heights of union with the Lord in this life. One part of this system is called a “rule of life.”
A “rule” could sound restrictive or negative but it is more akin to a guardrail on a nature trail footbridge than it is to any kind of restrictive, constraining force. I have had the opportunity to walk over many footbridges in dangerous and beautiful situations. When the guardrails were in place I was much more able to enjoy the beauty of my surroundings because I didn’t have to worry about getting off course and accidentally falling off the path into a deep valley or a hot pool of boiling mud. In the same way, a rule of life provides spiritual guardrails that allow us to rest squarely within God’s plan and to rest in His presence and grace.
Every year during this season many take time to reassess their life progress (or lack thereof) and to establish New Year’s resolutions. These resolutions are famous for being worth as much as the paper they are written on. One of the many reasons is that they are rarely tied to the most important source of life and living – they are disconnected from the life of grace. However, those that seek the Lord always find Him and in the seeking find far more grace and strength to overcome personal challenges in spite of challenging circumstances and limitations.
Instead of the traditional New Year’s resolution, why not take up a new approach that promises far more to the faithful pilgrim. In my book, Navigating the Interior Life, I offer a number key activities that can help you develop a rule of life.
One of the most powerful is what we call a predominant fault or root sin analysis. In this work we evaluate the sin patterns of our lives and try to identify the central hindering force of our desired soul-progress. We look at those things that we regularly take to confession, those struggles that constantly recur in our relationships or hinder our spiritual progress. One of the most clarifying lenses through which we can evaluate these challenges is through the seven capital sins. If we can look back and identify one particular capital sin that seems to hold the category we most often visit as we wander off the path, this is the starting point for a more positive analysis.
Once we gain clarity on our root sin, we can embark on a more positive reflection regarding virtues that stand in precise opposition to the vices we have embraced. A plan begins to emerge as we, on one simple page, identify the central things we must resist and how we will resist them, and the central things we desire to embrace and how we will embrace them.
Now you have a rule of life that is worth far more than the paper it is written on and next year you will likely find that your trek has yielded far more than you may have ever imagined.
Art for this post on navigating the new year: Le Christ apaisant la tempête (La Tempête Apaisée) (Christ Calms The Tempest), Raymond Balze, ca 19th century, meets public domain criteria.