In the spring of 2000, I sat with fifteen of my classmates in our twelfth grade Church History class, listening to Mr. Jones talk about early Christian monks. As we learned more about the monastic traditions of our desert fathers and mothers, he mentioned offhandedly how interesting it might be to try and live as a monk for a day.
He met our immediate enthusiasm for the idea with wide eyes and a momentary loss for words. He pushed his glasses up the bridge of his nose and asked, “Are you sure you’d be up for it?”
And we, thinking with relish about missing a day’s worth of classes in favor of a church history experiment, answered with a collective and resounding “Yes!”
What I learned from being a monk
Mr. Jones began preparing immediately. He picked a Friday a few weeks out. He coordinated with the Home Economics teacher, and the students in that class prepared big batches of beef stew for our lunch. Somehow, he procured a long brown hooded robe for each of us, complete with a length of white rope to tie around our waists.
On the Friday in question, we gathered in the auditorium and donned our robes. Dressing the part was the easiest. The real test of our commitment was the vow of silence we took for the day, some girls breaking it immediately with their hushed whispers. We walked in a silent line, our robes swishing, to the prayer chapel on the third floor of our school building. Mr. Jones led us in a morning liturgy – throughout the day, we would practice praying the hours, a novel concept to all of us from evangelical church backgrounds.
Between these regular intervals of prayer and worship, we were responsible for copying passages of scripture as well as doing some light yard work. We stopped for a silent lunch at a long table, slurping our beef stew and trying to talk with our eyes.
At the end of the day, we took off our robes and resumed our normal lives. Some of us thought that it was a challenge to get through the day. Others thought that it was a fun experiment. I saw the appeal in having a structure to the day in praying the hours, and having a purpose to our tasks.
What is a rule of life and why do you need one?
Much later, I learned about the monastic “rule of life” made popular by St. Benedict. Contrary to how it sounds, the rule of life is meant to act as a framework for freedom, “a way of living out our vocation alone and together” according to the Northumbria Community. Its’ purpose is to:
intentionally create time and space to enjoy deep fellowship with God, so that he can reorient and direct your days to increasingly glorify him along the way.– Jeremy Linneman
There have been many times, as a mom to young children, that I have wished for my own monastery – a place of silent retreat where I was free to focus on my relationship with God and step away from the demands of my everyday life.
And now more than ever, with the whole world stuck inside thanks to this pandemic, we need a rule of life to guide our days and keep us focused on God. We need to cultivate healthy rhythms for our family, our personal life, our relationships, and our spiritual life.
How I created my own rule of life
Your rule of life will naturally look different depending on your circumstances. There is no “one size fits all.” Prayerfully consider your responsibilities and your role in this current season of life. Then make a plan.
During this time of quarantine, here is what mine looks like (remember this is an example, not a list of “shoulds” for you to follow).
- Waking up before my kids so I can greet them with a smile
- Being available to my kids during the 2-3 hours of homeschool
- Intentional time together playing cards, board games, or getting outside
- Practicing patience
- Making the bed and getting dressed every day (even though I’m going nowhere)
- Writing for at least 15 minutes every morning
- Practicing 10 minutes of yoga every day (with the Sworkit app)
- Doing something fun every day (usually reading)
- Getting enough sleep / napping if necessary
- Hanging out with my husband and making a point of laughing together
- Reaching out to three friends a day (by screen or phone call)
- Checking in with family members who live far away
Relationship with God:
- Starting each day reading a chapter from the Bible and praying
- Practicing being aware of His presence
- Listening to God-centered podcasts or the Pray as you Go app
- Ending each day journaling my gratitude
Today I encourage you to make some time for reflection. What habits, routines, and rhythms can you implement for you and your family during these uncertain times? What rule of life can you commit to in order to make space for spiritual growth?
You don’t have to be a monk in a monastery to grow in your relationship with God. You can do it anywhere – even stuck inside the walls of your own home!