In her book entitled Sacred Rhythms, Ruth Haley Barton includes a chapter about how to develop a personal rule of life. Barton explains that a rule of life seeks to answer the question: How do I want to live so I can be who I want to be? The following entry is provided by Rev. Dianne Lawhorn, a Spirited Life pastor from Cohort Two. She recently crafted a personal rule of life for herself and wanted to share her perspective.
I was given an assignment recently to create a “simple, sane, rule of life.” As I looked over the instructions for this assignment, I saw words that resounded with my soul like “arranging our lives around our heart’s deepest desire . . . patterns most conducive to leading full & joyful lives . . . getting a bodily sense of where we might be called to live most vibrantly.”
This is something that I have been considering for quite some time now. I am convinced that the rhythm that our culture advocates is not good for our minds, bodies, or spirits. It’s an endless hamster’s wheel of activity, responsibility, and availability that is anything but life-giving. I think that Jesus desperately wants more for us and from us than this. I believe Jesus wants new life for us and this life requires a new pattern for living; a new rhythm that incorporates work and rest, and one that results in wholeness.
This lesson has been a difficult one for me to learn, being a person who has pursued activity, productivity, and most of all, work, my whole life. I feel that Jesus speaks tenderly to me in this saying, “Oh, dear one- your heart is so good, but this is not what I wanted for you, or what your calling requires of you. I want more for you than this- I want you to be well, healthy, and whole. Then, what you’ll have to offer will be so much better than anything you can produce on your own.”
This message has inspired me to look towards finding a better way to do life and ministry. It has reminded me that what I need most is a new rhythm. This draws my mind to what God’s dream for me in this might be. This has not yet been revealed, but I believe in time, it will. For now, my job is to create the kind of life that will allow me to be receptive to discerning whatever this dream might be. My first step is to create a balanced rhythm, where work, rest, and play flow together in harmony. This is the piece of the dream that is my work to do on this particular day. The rest will come; it will be revealed in time.
How I envision this rhythm is like a dance, to a Trinitarian beat, that is full of intentionality, but expressed with the kind of holy ease that I have been longing for. So, the rule that I have created is a dance of things that I believe Christ wants for me like silence, solitude, and stillness. I offer this to Christ and pray that the Spirit will lead my every step in the dance; that this rule will become my guideline for abundant living, thanks be to God.
– Rev. Dianne Lawhorn, M. Div.
—compiled by Angela MacDonald
I love the sentiment and am attempting to live into the same sort of rule —- but, what about the expectations of the parish: The folks who are dying, the families of those who have died, the sick, the crazy, the administrative duties that never end, the sermons that must be prepared week in and week out, Bible studies that need to be prepared for, confirmation classes to prepare for, meetings to be attended (and prepared for), bills to be paid, my birth family growing older and needing more of my time, my immediate family needing my presence, meals to be cooked, clothes to be washed, books to be read, visions to be encouraged, budgets to be balanced ……. I keep saying slow down, there is something greater to be accomplished in silence and space, but the phone keeps ringing ……
I wanted to offer a thoughtful reply to your comment. So, I asked our Director of Ed Programs, the Rev. Dr. Ed Moore for some insight. He offers the following piece in acknowledgement of the tension that you cited between taking care of self amidst the phone that always seems to ring. Here are his thoughts:
Reading Dianne’s piece and Jeanne’s response, I’m reminded of the Celtic concept of thin places. In a thin place the boundary between heaven and earth is barely perceptible and one can feel both at the same time. Thin places are as varied as the folk who need and experience them. For some it is the beach or a mountaintop; for others the Eucharist, Gothic stained glass or a Bach fugue. The Celtic tradition recognized the human need for thin places and assumed a life of devotion would seek them out; Jesus did likewise in the Gospels when he set himself apart from the crowds in a boat on Galilee or walked up a mountain, leaving the disciples behind.
In Dianne’s writing I sensed an awareness of the indispensability of thin places, in Jeanne’s an honest query as to how such space may be found among the many claims of pastoral and family life. The two pieces are blessedly symbiotic in leading the reader to imagine a place of wholeness between them. Perhaps the notion of thin places could inhabit this longed-for place of wholeness. By their nature, thin places assume a journey inward to inhabit them, and a journey outward, to take into the world the nurture and restoration experienced in thinness: Jesus always came down the mountain, and the Eucharist concludes with the people’s being sent forth.
The oldest labyrinth in Europe is laid into the nave floor of Chartres Cathedral in France. Walking it some years ago, I was reminded of the blessed paradox that lies at its center. After winding my way to the very heart of the space, I found I could not remain there – I had to begin the journey outward, literally and physically, back into the congregation. But out in the world, so to speak, I could not forget the center, and I was the more blessed for having stood there.
Grace and Peace,
I wanted to take a moment to respond to your comments about this article. I certainly understand the enormity of expectations of the parish. I’ve served in the role of pastor for thirteen years now. What I’ve found to be the case in ministry is that you can’t let the parish determine your pace. Pastoral work is never really complete, there will always be more to do.
I think we as pastors sometimes forget, in the face of all the demands put on us, that we are human, that we have limits, and that we desperately need margin. We can’t let other’s expectations determine our way of life. We need time to attend to our physical, spiritual, and emotional wellbeing.
In ministry, this time isn’t going to occur naturally, we have to be proactive about making it happen. We have to carve out time for ourselves and make this time a priority in our lives. Will that mean that fewer hospital visits will be made, that fewer church meetings will be scheduled, that we may appear less avaliable to our people? The answer is yes, but in the longrun we’ll be protecting the most precious gift that we have to offer our people. You are the precious gift to protect, and protecting it is simply good stewardship.
May God bless us, as together we all seek to find margin,
Finding thin places has been a way of life for me for many years with the most special one being the Isle of Iona, Scotland. I am now retired from local church ministry, so I no longer have to do any kind of balancing act of self care and care of congregation.
The issue for me was never one of finding those thin places or taking my time for holidays and days off. I knew how to do all of that and did. The problem came with church members not understanding that need and being critical at times when I was doing those things to help keep me healthy which meant I was out of town for a day or sometimes two. I suspect I am not alone.
To be honest, I’ve gotten a little weary of books about spiritual disciplines. I always end up feeling guilty that I’m not more disciplined and perpetually struggle with having a consistent quiet time, after many years of being a Christian. Ruth Haley Barton cuts through all of that putting “discipline” (or “rule” or “rhythm” whatever you want to call it!) into the context of “desire,” that we deeply long for God’s transformation in our lives. She stresses that we cannot transform ourselves, only God can do that. But, we can arrange our lives in such a way that makes the conditions for transformation optimal. This book is extremely practical, gracious, and FREES you to seek God, rather than bind you to a set of rules. I highly, highly recommend it.