I’ve been taking a class on essay writing that has opened up a whole new world of possibilities, self-reflection, and a world of fun. This is part 2 of a draft, written for my first week’s assignment.
In more ways that I cared to admit, I had embraced an expression of spirituality and relationships that made me less instead of more than who God created me to be.
When had “doing” become more important than “being?” I wondered to myself. Why had I suppressed my creativity for so many years, denying myself the gift of meaningful work and creative community? When did I lose sight of who I was as an individual and as part of a community? Why had I settled for less than God had for me?
Insight flooded my soul, and I realized that the life I had been living was not my own. Unhealthy coping mechanisms, survival tools I had developed to survive an abuse-filled childhood, had become my default mode of living. Values, expectations, and belief systems placed on me by others bound me to a life that no longer fit.
I needed to say no to people and work that diminished me. I had to care for my physical health, which had been ravaged for years by the pain and fatigue of rheumatoid arthritis. And I had to discern my physical, emotional, and spiritual limits and learn to live within them.
Body, soul, and spirit need to align toward a singleness of eye; I had to align inner and outer worlds And I required structure and intentionality to move toward the life I desired to live.
A Rule of Life
Christian tradition has a name for a structure that fits the contours of our souls—A Rule of Life. Did I need to create a Rule of Life?
A personal rule of life would invite me to both frame and form my world, to understand my primary roles and relationships. It would invite me to explore my God-given gifts, talents, and temperament, as well as my purpose and my passion.
Author Stephen A. Macchia describes a personal rule of life this way: “Your personal rule of life is a holistic description of the Spirit-empowered rhythms and relationships that create, redeem, sustain, and transform the life God invites you to humbly fulfill for God’s glory.”
As I looked around the cottage, I finally understood why it felt so much like home. Everything about it suited me—the bold yellow walls and red loveseat spoke to my love of color; the mountains and rolling hills surrounding the room reminded me of love for nature and childhood outings with my father scouting the woods of Pennsylvania for natural springs and rabbits hiding under piles of broken twigs and branches. Even the horses echoed childhood times of feeling loved and time spent with my Dad, riding through the woods on horseback in Mountaintop, Pennsylvania.
Why had I denied this part of myself for so long?
I recognized, too, why this time of retreat, this time of uninterrupted hours of silence and solitude nourished my soul. My outward expression of faith and spirituality over the past several years did not fit the inner pull of my heart.
A Holistic Spirituality
I let my mind wander back to a time I felt most spiritually at home. Although it had been more than 25 years ago, I recalled the symbol, the metaphor, and the pageantry of the liturgy, the place of the altar, and weekly Communion in the Anglican tradition. I thrived with a holistic Christian spirituality, one that integrated the body, soul, and spirit, a spirituality that made room for a theology of suffering, one that understood lament as worship. What I left behind was rife with spiritual and personal meaning for me. How could I integrate it into my current expression of faith, at this hour, in this place God had called me to serve?
The soul-nourishing relationships during that season came with spending hours, weeks, and even years together, sharing not only our faith but also our lives. The four streams of Christianity woven together in my life during that time—charismatic, contemplative, sacramental, and Evangelical—suited me well. Why had I tossed out the contemplative lifestyle when it fit me like my favorite pair of jeans?
For me, it was a turning point, a day that would shape my life for years to come. Yes, there were external changes I needed to make to my life, but there was more—an inner shift had occurred. I knew it was real, more real than the mold I had been trying to squeeze into for so many years.
The deep sense of knowing who I am—who I have been all along—was as comfortable as the overstuffed loveseat I spent hours on, tucked in this private cottage, poring over books and writing in my journal. My soul was crying to live as bold as the colors in the room, and as open to life as the roses on the table.
Beginnings of a Personal Rule of Life
I opened my journal and in bold letters, I wrote: My Personal Rules of Life, across the top of the page. Below it, I penned a short, to-the-point list:
- Start the day in silence and solitude, writing in my journal, lifting my requests to God in prayer, and poring over his Word. No technology.
- Define a healthy, sustainable rhythm of life that takes into account my unique design, my passions and purpose, and those things that give me joy.
- Identify and eliminate the things in my life that drain me. Surround myself with people and activities that fill me, that give me life.
- Less work at work and more time with friends. Nurture close, soul-healing relationships with friends that allow me to be my authentic self.
- Retreat twice a year to a country setting for reflection, study, and prayer.
Satisfied—at least for now—I closed my journal. It would take me years to create a Rule of Life that fit me well, to discover the essence of who God created me to be.
However, what was most important was that I had begun my journey home—home to a healthy spirituality, a holistic faith that encompassed body, soul, and spirit. Tucked away in a little cabin, I chose life–for today and for tomorrow.
The Weekend’s End
My idyllic weekend, wrapped in God’s love and the beauty of His creation had come to an end. As I closed the door behind me, I took one more look at the rolling hills and the height and depth of Blue Ridge Mountains, drinking in its essence, it’s promise of spaciousness and freedom.
My weekend away had provided a much-needed place of peace, becoming for me a hatchery of clarity, vision, and hope for the future. A promise of new life.
As I drove down the road, I glanced in my rear-view mirror. The cottage grew smaller in the distance, and the outline of the mountains faded out of view. All too soon, the landscape around me changed—traffic, blaring horns, fast-food restaurants dotting the main thoroughfare back to suburban life.
But although my outer world had shifted, my inner sense of freedom and spaciousness remained. I mulled over the words of Ruth Haley Barton, “It is time to stand for what you believe and never look back.”
It was time. And I was ready.
And just recently, I came upon this Bible verse, which so vividly captures when I was feeling at that moment.
I can’t tell you how much I long for you to enter this, wide-open, spacious life. We didn’t fence you in. The smallness you feel comes from within you. Your lives aren’t small, but you’re living them in a small way…Open up your lives. Live openly and expansively! (2 Cor. 6:11-13, The Message).
It has been almost five years since that formative weekend, and I continue to press ahead. With the wide-open spaces of God calling me forward, I walk into the future, embracing my soul-satisfying spacious life—one day at a time.