Religious communities use a Rule to help them live in a way that reflects their priorities, and so can your family.
by Heidi Indahl
One of the primary uses of a family mission statement is in making decisions about daily routines. We want to be sure that our time is spent in a balance of activities of work, play, and rest that work together to build our family’s mission.
The idea of intentionally using time in a routine or outlined way is not new to Christian ways of life. In fact, monastic life for centuries has been built around “rules” of living. These rules give a structure for the daily life and activities of religious community members. There are intentional times for productive work, prayer, community living, and more. These rules can vary significantly, depending on the community, but all religious communities have a rule. It is part of what defines them as a community.
Several years ago now, I read A Mother’s Rule of Life by Holly Pierlot, which led me to realize how appropriate it was to incorporate the ideas of a monastic rule into the structure of family life. There are dozens (possibly hundreds) of books and programs to help families structure their time but this was the first one that made sense to me. Maybe because it was more of a philosophy of family living than an instructional manual. Using the 5 P’s proposed by Pierlot (Prayer, Person, Partner, Provider, Periphery), I began to look at the rhythm of our day.
I realized that there were areas of imbalance both for myself and for our family. I noticed that prayer was something I was doing…but that I was doing it almost exclusively alone and almost exclusively in one sitting. In doing it this way I was short-changing some of my other priorities. My children didn’t even know that I was spending time in prayer, so how was I to expect that they develop their own prayer lives?
I set a goal to focus less on a strict schedule, but more on a daily rhythm that floated through all of the priorities by addressing each of them in cycles throughout the day.
Looking at prayer specifically, I thought through our day to times that would be possible to make simple changes. Looking at the monastic model of scheduled times for prayer and the liturgy of the hours, I thought about how I could be praying during each portion of the day. Mornings, while the kids slept, could still be reserved for my private prayers, and evenings for prayers with my husband. In between, however, I realized we could add a simple morning offering to our breakfast meal prayers.
We started with a morning offering at breakfast and eventually added an evening prayer routine as well. After several years of a simple morning offering, we began to add other prayers to our morning routine.
I did the same thing in looking at other periods of our day. Were there long periods of the day that I was devoting to periphery-type activities? Were there periods I was focusing on my own needs to the exclusion of others? (The answer, by the way, was yes… that uninterrupted Facebook or TV time in the evenings after the kids were in bed had gone far beyond simple rest and relaxation.)
I have a child with autism, and as a result, over the years, I became accustomed to keeping a fairly regular schedule for his benefit. Changing our routines took time, but it was something that we did one step at a time to provide a better balance of priorities for everyone in our house. We have an ebb and flow in our daily routine that provides for a balance of our physical, spiritual, and emotional needs as a family. Looking for the purpose in each and every one of our activities of daily living helped us better orient our family towards a Christ-centered mission.