This phrase is borrowed from the Recovery Movement of the 20th century, which focused on helping people whose lives were riddled with addiction and unhealthy habits. Central to the success of the Recovery Movement, involving 12-step programs like Alcoholics Anonymous was the idea that we are creatures of habit. We do things in patterns, rhythms, and cycles. And this phrase, “living your way into a new way of thinking,” highlights the strength of that movement – action can change the way we think. Doing things (or not doing things) has a way of altering our perception, thoughts, and beliefs. How we act and what we do is deeply connected to what we believe, think, and know.
The World Christian Discipleship (WCD) program, which I am currently participating in, borrows from the Recovery Movement. I ought to be up front about the fact that WCD is not primarily a recovery-modeled program, but it does borrow from the wisdom in that movement. How so?
As a participant in WCD, I am living according to a Rule of Life. If you are like me, the phrase “Rule of Life” is a strange phrase that doesn’t mean a whole lot. However, a brief explanation goes a long way toward understanding it.
First, this is a relatively old idea. In fact, one of the readings WCD has done so far is The Holy Rule of St. Benedict, which is a collection of rules, precepts, and guidelines that monks would live according to starting around the 6th century. Many Christian monastic communities have been living according to a Benedictine rule ever since. I’ve found St. Benedict’s rule to emphasis reasonableness, humility, communal sharing, and obedience. However, Benedictine rule is pretty intense. Actually, the WCD group noticed immediately that we don’t really want to live according to some of his guidelines. Example: “Not to love much or boisterous laughter.” This caused many of us to laugh… and even a little mockery happened. Although many of Benedict’s rules could be easily translated into today’s church life, there was the occasional rule that really just rubbed us the wrong way. The reality is, we in the WCD program are not called to a Benedictine Rule. We are not monks, some of us are married, we all have jobs, and we all love to laugh. So, no worries. Our Rule of life is much different than St. Benedict’s.
Marjorie J. Thompson in Soul Feast defines a rule of life as “a pattern of spiritual disciplines that provides structure and direction for growth in holiness.” Benedictine rule was one pattern and our WCD group also has a pattern, similar yet different. Thompson also says, “We need structure and support, otherwise our spirituality grows only in a confused and disorderly way. The fruit of the spirit in us gets tangled and is susceptible to corruption, and the beauty of our lives is diminished. We need structure in order to have enough space, air, and light to flourish. Structure gives us the freedom to grow as we are meant to.” Wait… did she say that structure is freedom? Yes, partly. This idea directly challenges the assumption that many Christians live under: we grow in our faith by doing things spontaneously according to the Spirit’s leading. Although, this assumption is partly true because the Spirit is constantly guiding and whispering to us, Thompson rightly reminds us that being Christian is not merely a romantic faith. Disciplines are very important. We are Christ’s disciples. This idea is peculiar, but I’m learning that it is very true.
In response to this idea, WCD participants all live according to a rule of life that is both personal and united to the group. I’ve chosen to commit to a scripture memory practice and weekly fasting. All of us are praying through the Celtic Daily Prayer book, as well as meeting weekly to share a meal, and observing a Sabbath. These rhythms and ones like them are the structure that allows for us to grow. Like a plant that flourishes when given a trellis to grow upon, our lives are enabled through discipline.
In the 2 months that I’ve been living through my Rule of Life, the practice of creating space for God to speak and work has been good to me. A rule of life is not meant to be a legalistic formula that yields a perfect faith; rather, I’m learning that the Recovery movement folks were onto something when they suggested the practice of “living your way into a new way of thinking.” From St. Benedict, to Alcoholics Anonymous, and even for the participants of WCD, there is great wisdom and transformational power in discipline and structure when it is approached with God’s grace.