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Index of Posts for Counsels of Perfection Book Study
Some Examples of Rules of LIfe
Elizabeth Leseur's Rule of Life
Today we are reading chapters 5 and 6, The Need of a Rule of Life and Promptness in Rising. These two chapters are challenging for me to read, let alone discuss, but here goes!
Chapter 5: The Need of a Rule of Life
I was surprised when I first read this chapter on a Rule of Life. Before that, I had thought that a Rule was basically the same as an Horarium. I had the impression it had to be comprehensive, to basically account for every moment of the day.
Msgr Lejeune seems to think of the Rule we make for our lives as more like scaffolding or a frame. I am going to list a few things he says about it.
A Rule is not just for those who dwell in monasteries. Every serious Christian should have some sort of rule.
It is advisable, though not necessary, to write it out.
"When written out, it will have much more precision than if it were only in the memory"It doesn't have to be extensive, especially at first.
"A few simple resolutions, clearly stated, will be entirely sufficient."It is and should be subject to modification.
"A rule is not immutable; we can always add to it according as divine grace directs us. Indeed, it is better to add to a rule than to subtract from it."
Advantages to a Rule
- Avoids caprice
- Avoids the danger of naturalism, of living just like our culture.
- Makes our lives more fruitful
- Helps us to get done what we need to do.
"Ask any Christian mother who accomplishes an astonishing amount of work, yet never has an air of depression, ask her, I say, the secret of her activity. She will tell you that she works methodically, because she is guided by a rule."
Suggested Essentials to the Rule:
- "Determine the hour of your rising and retiring." -- he suggests early rising. More on this in the next chapter.
- Say morning and evening prayers kneeling.
- Spend a quarter of an hour on spiritual reading.
- Receive the sacraments. He says that this is the part of the Rule most likely to change as one takes one's walk with God more seriously. One will want to go to the sacraments more and more.
"I will propose this rule for the distribution of your time. Give your attention above all to the most important duties. I mean those of your interior, and station in life. Then attend to the less important duties; the remainder of your time may be spent on duties of pure decorum -- if any more time remains."
Last but not least,
"Since your rule has been made for God, it is for God that it should be carried out."Remember to offer the day to God as often as you think about it.
If you don't have a rule already and don't have an idea where to start, taking one or two of his suggestions might be helpful. I suppose it might make sense to start with the one you are closest to feeling able to do, or most motivated to try, and go from there.
For me, the book's advice has been both been refreshingly simple AND rather challenging to follow. I like the way the essential points are all targeted directly to my interior life. Since when I am busy, I have trouble remembering the Presence of God, the main area I need help is in remembering that "One Needful Thing". However, none of the things he suggests are particularly easy for me. I feel like a toddler first learning to walk and talk; approximations are signs of progress but also inducements to humility.
Chapter 6: Promptness in Rising
This is a strong chapter! He does not hesitate to say
"The spiritual life is absolutely impossible for her who is irregular in rising."He says that the main thing is to set an hour for retiring and for rising, and stick to it. That allows for those of you who have demands on your time, like work that keeps you up late or a night-owl husband or small children, to adjust your rising time to reality without giving into whim.
He adds the recommendation that the rising be early, before dawn if possible. That obviously means going to bed earlier -- he recommends at least 7 hours of sleep, but not more than 8.
There is more in the chapter.
Let me add a couple of considerations that occur to me as a mother of several who was either pregnant or nursing over a period of 2 decades.
The Church generally exempts pregnant and nursing mothers from fasts and I believe the same principle applies by analogy to sleep (especially as there are no official disciplines about sleep per se, only various venerable monastic disciplines, and also quite a few scriptural reminders to be vigilant, rise early and not doze when you should be watching).
When I had small children I tried very hard to sleep when my youngest child slept, and that was my regulation for that season. Obviously I could not sleep as many hours as my newborn could -- I had toddlers to take care of and a life outside the bassinet. But I felt that adequate rest (and time spend cherishing the little one) was just as important, if not more important, than adequate nourishment. If I was dealing with prolonged sleep deprivation, I could actually feel myself becoming mentally ill. When God gave me a sick or wakeful child, I received the graces to handle sleep deprivation, but when I tried to impose an extrinsic discipline on my sleep habits, then I quickly overloaded.
I have decided that in those days, my children were my "monastery bells", and basically the unpredictable, sudden, intense demands of my vocation WERE the essence of my Rule back then. I often felt like a sentry or EMT tech -- I had to keep myself in a state of vigil, neither too comfortable nor too depleted. I often thought of Milton's sonnet especially the ending:
They also serve who only stand and waite.Or in this case, hold a child's hand in the hospital room, or rock him in the rocking chair in the small hours, or get up in the middle of the night to change a diaper.
Even after my last child was past toddlerhood, we still had regular (but unpredictable) medical emergencies. I tended to try to keep a reserve of rest available for those all-nighters in the ER or midnight trips to the transplant hospital 250 miles away. Plus, I taught myself to doze in the most unlikely places. I almost always snoozed a bit in the dentist chair, and I could get a decent night's sleep in a chair in the PICU if I had to.... at least enough to survive.
Now my youngest is ten and everyone is reasonably healthy and so when I read this chapter again I asked myself what was preventing me, these days, from getting up before dawn, and I couldn't come up with an answer.
So for Lent I tried to set my alarm for 5 am. just to see how it would go. Lent is a good time to tackle things you aren't sure you can handle, because even failing is winning because of the humility check! I have seen several benefits from getting up before dawn. One is that I have some quiet time for devotions. Another is that I get to see the dawn, which I love. Another is that I feel closer to my deceased parents who habitually got up at 5 am, and my parents in-law who still get up at 5. Another is that I can start getting ready to go to sleep shortly after dinner! That helps me get through the afternoon because it doesn't feel like I have a second shift starting. Finally, by going to sleep earlier, I avoid the temptation to snack on low-quality carbs after dinner. I think I felt that temptation because I was getting sleepy.
Now that I am getting up at 5, the hardest two parts are (1) going to sleep in time to get enough sleep (2) getting up right away.
For going to sleep on time, my best strategy is not to do anything that revs me up after a certain point in the evening. If I read fiction, or start a project, or exercise vigorously, or drink something caffeinated, I am going to be up late,which is going to mess up my rising.
And in the morning, when it is cold and dark and I want to stay in bed, my best strategy has been St Josemaria Escriva's Serviam! I guess it is what St Michael said "I will serve" in contrast to Satan's Non Serviam. For some reason, probably a boost from my guardian angel, the short motto makes my muscles activate enough to pull me out of bed and then I can usually manage to stumble down and start the coffee maker, and then my morning routine kicks into gear.
So that is my past and present experience with this topic.
I researched online and found that most productivity sites recommend early rising in order to get more done. (I will admit I still have trouble getting things done even when I do wake up earlier, so I haven't yet seen that benefit) However, the health benefits aren't as clearcut. Physiologically, it doesn't really seem to matter so much what time you go to bed or get up. What makes the biggest different in health across the board is simply getting ENOUGH sleep. There is a modern epidemic of sleep problems; probably very few adults these days sleep TOO much; perhaps that was more of an issue back when there wasn't universal electric lighting and indoors temperature control.
So I think it's important to arrange your life prayerfully to make it most likely to get adequate rest and sleep; then when you are there, take into consideration Msgr's advice about rising early. I think he accounts for this when he recommends starting with fixed hours of rising and retiring. But again, I think mothers with small children need to think generously with their sleep requirements, both for their own health and the health and well being of their unborn and small children.
I would really love to hear your experience with rising at a fixed hour or rising early. I would like to hear both positive and negative feedback. Have you made any changes in your habits or are you considering any?