In 8 days, my second book, At Home in this Life is coming into the world. Which is both utterly amazing and surprisingly ordinary. Sort of like the birth of a child- A complete miracle, and yet, expected.
This book is the story of how I learned to make myself at home in my life – the life I had, not the life I wanted. It is the story of how I learned to water the grass under my feet, instead of wasting all my time pining for new and different grasses.
I did these things – the grass watering, the staying put business, because I had reached the end of my rope, and the end of myself.
I did these things because I needed a new way to live, a new way to order my days, a new way of being.
At Home in this Life is a book full of mistakes, foolishness, lessons learned, truths unearthed, tears shed, ceilings repaired, gardens dug and an immeasurable amount of grace given. And while the story is about a specific time in my life, a specific set of days and weeks and months, the lessons I gleaned are ones that continue to change and shape me.
One of the greatest lessons I learned from the entire experience to come out of both living through and then writing about The Awful Year (as I call in the book) is that I begin to understand my great need – our great need – for what the monk’s call A Rule of Life.
A Rule of Life is an intentional pattern of spiritual disciplines that provides structure and direction for growth in holiness. A Rule establishes a rhythm for life in which is helpful for being formed by the Spirit, a rhythm that reflects a love for God and respect for how God has made us. – C.S. Lewis Institute
What I learned in that season – what I continue to learn and believe more and more – is that to really live into the wholeness that God has for us, we – me, you, everyone – is that we have to keep showing up – to the table, to each other, to our lives. We have to keep practicing spiritual disciplines (after all to be a disciple is to be someone who is teachable, not someone who has all the answers,) day in and day out.
This idea – that there are certain spiritual practices that are able to both anchor, rescue and propel us forward – essentially helping us remain present to our life no matter the circumstances, helping shape and form us in the image of God is called A Rule of Life.
And I think we all need one.
My favorite monastic tradition, the one I write about in At Home in this Life, is the Benedictine Tradition, which is based on the writings, teachings, and monastic order established by St. Benedict.
Within this tradition Stability (or what I call, Steadfastness) is one of the key vows of a Benedictine monk takes. Stability comes from the Latin word stablis, which means to stand, to be still, to stand firm, to be rooted. When a Benedictine monk takes this vow, he is committing to both the people and the geography of a certain place, believing it is through both that God will do a good work in him.
When I began to develop my own Rule of Life, and a Rule format that I could share in workshops and with families, I wanted to include the vow of stability, but with a new name – a name that would remind me of the true intention of the word – the intention that we should remain steadfast in our commitment to both the people we live with and among, and the geography where we do this living.
Which is why Steadfastness is the first Rule.
When we are learning how to being present to our lives, seeking wholeness, I believe that we should begin by nurturing our desire and commitment to remain faithful to the people and place that we have been called, that we have been planted. We must find ways to dig into our lives and the goodness of God right where we are.
Now there are many, many ways to practice Steadfastness. There are many spiritual practices that can help us live out this vow, to really live into the heart of this “rule.”
For me, in this season of life, the way that I am choosing to practice Steadfastness is through the discipline of Stillness.
Stillness isn’t just a physical act; it is also an internal act. Stillness is about being present. About having the humility to say, “This isn’t all about me or what I can do or what I can say.” Stillness is about being intentional in our how we divide our attention. It is about cultivating an awareness within ourselves.
As someone who tends to be in her head a lot planning out the next event/idea/to-do, as someone who tends to over-commit, and who (being a good Enneagram 7) wants to do ALL THE THINGS, learning how to be STILL – eternally and externally – is a discipline that I have to really put effort and intention into… But it is also a practice that helps me dig in and remain a steadfast, active and present participant in the life I am living.
When I practice Stillness with intention, asking for God’s grace to guide and sustain me, my mind and my body are able to settle down, making space for the needs of others to be noticed.
When I practice Stillness with the intention of cultivating steadfastness, my heart and mind are opened up in way that allows me to offer my full attention and presence to my family, my neighbors, the lady at the gas station, my church members, my friends, and the guy who sells me my pig feed.
When I am still – inside and out – I notice the tension in my son’s voice, the way another son’s shoulders droop, the effort my husband has been making to fix a broken mower. Only out of the room this stillness has made, do I have the energy or the wherewithal to say
What’s going on?
Come, sit, talk to me…
Would you like some help?
When I am practicing Stillness, making an effort to take my mind off of my to-do list or my next project, I am notice birds chirping in the air, the baby lambs crying one farm over, the way the clouds are casting shadows over the orchard and I am filled with wonder at the gifts that creation continue to give. I am filled with gratefulness that I live where I live, and that I have eyes to see and ears to hear.
I bet some of you are asking “But how do you practice Stillness?”
The answer is: Several different ways – some of which I talk about in At Home, some of which I have only recently discovered. None of which are efficient, or will make your rich or thin.
Here are a few favorites:
- Sitting on the couch in the morning, cup of coffee in hand, staring out the living room windows at the trees, for at least 15 minutes. No TV, radio, phone, books, or people. Just me, coffee, couch, window, and God.
- Sitting in the presence of Sweet Man while he does something – gardening, cooking, fixing a mower. Sometimes I help, but sometimes I just sit and watch, or listen, whatever is needed. I might hand a screwdriver or shovel over, I might refill a water bottle, but mostly I am just THERE. Oh, and I leave my phone behind.
- Stitching or crocheting or making pom-poms on a church bench, in a waiting room, at my in-laws, on the porch, or while Miles practices his saxophone and I listen.
- Choosing visual and audio quiet. Intentional times when I don’t turn on the radio or podcast in the car, when I putter around the house without the television on, when I stand in line at the grocery store and I don’t look at my phone. I just drive, or pick up socks and shoes, or wait my turn.
- Listening to others without interrupting or interjecting my opinion.
- Laying on my swing, or in my pool, or a blanket in the front yard and staring at the clouds or the stars.
I am sure there are a million ways to practice Stillness, these are just the ones that work for me.
And I know there are several ways to nurture and grow the commitment to Steadfastness (like the practices of Listening, Service, Hospitality, Contemplation) but for me, for this season of life and for where I am in my own journey, practicing Stillness is where I feel God calling me.
And so, hard as it is sometimes, I am working to dig in and spread out in my practice – taking it more serious than ever before, being more intentional about carving out space for Stillness, leaning deeper into God’s grace and mercy as I seek to live a whole life.
Over the next month, as part of the At Home in this Life book launch celebration, I thought I would unpack this process and idea a little bit here on the blog. Over the next few weeks I am going to look at what each of the four overarching themes (or “vows” as they are called in the Benedictine tradition) that I think help frame an easy-to-use, but completely trans-formative Rule of Life. One that helps me dig into the Spiritual Practice of Being Present, and I think might help you too.
To read the initial post and download the free worksheet Click HERE
Next Week’s Vow: Transformation
(And make sure to go and order your copy of At Home in this Life and get all the pre-order goodies before May 23!)