St. Bartholomew's Episcopal Church


St. Bart's Blog

Finding a Rule of Life

Posted by The Rev. Mary Lynn Coulson on

Often, I hear people say that religion is all about rules.

Do this. Don’t do that. People often push back against the religious life because they are resistant to rules, and to being told what to do.

But religion is so much more than rules. The word religion comes from the Latin, meaning “to bind or connect.” Religion isn’t about rules, it’s about relationship. It’s about connecting with God, with the self, and with one another.

A rule of life is a spiritual tool that can help guide us in our religious life, in our journey to continually reconnect with God, ourselves, and others. Don’t be scared away by the word rule – it comes from Latin for “line, or straight stick.” Instead of a list of dos and don’ts meant to keep us from having fun, a rule of life can provide us with a line, or a path, to follow. The path isn’t about keeping us fenced in and tame; it gives us a direction for spiritual growth.

Create a Rule of Life for Your Family
Do you practice a rule of life? Perhaps you already do, and don’t know it. Do you say grace before a meal? Do you attend worship on Sunday and receive communion? Do you regularly give money to the church and other organizations? Do you have a regular bedtime routine with your kids?

A rule of life is an intentional pattern of spiritual disciplines to which we commit on a daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly basis. It is a rhythm of prayer, learning, service, and reflection that can help center us in our identity as beloved children of God.

Whether you live alone, have a partner, have young children, or live in a college dorm room, you can create a rule of life. Here are some suggestions for getting started.

1. Take stock
What are your main roles in life – parent, child, spouse, caregiver, worker, artist? What is it about each of those roles that give you energy? What is it that drains your energy?

Where is it easy to sense God’s presence in your life? Where does it feel like God is not present and active?

What makes you come alive, or feel most like your true self? Maybe it’s public speaking, going on a walk, being in nature, reading, quality time with friends, running, gardening, tutoring, writing…what else?

2. Experiment
Try out a new spiritual practice and give it at least three weeks before you decide that it doesn’t work for you. Here are just a few suggestions and resources to help you get started:

  • Journaling. The practice of “morning pages provoke, clarify, comfort, cajole, prioritize and synchronize the day at hand.” Watch this video to learn more:
  • Centering Prayer. Join the St. Bart’s Centering Prayer group on Tuesday evenings at 5 p.m. Visit to learn more.
  • Daily office. Turn to page 137 in The Book of Common Prayer (if you don’t have one at home, take one home from the pew this Sunday!). You’ll find a brief liturgy you can say alone, with your partner, or with your kids. There’s one for morning, noon, early evening, and close of day.
  • Praying in Color. You don’t have to be particularly artistic to engage in this practice. On a piece of paper, write the name of someone for whom you’re praying. Or, write a word you want to focus on, like “peace” or “forgiveness.” Draw a shape around the word, and decorate it using colored pencils, markers, whatever you’d like. When your mind shifts to another topic or person, write that down. As author Sybil MacBeth says, “think of each stroke of your pen as a prayer for them. Take a breath or say “Amen” between each person.” Visit to learn more.

3. Reflect
What practices keep you centered on God’s love for you? What times of day do you need a reminder that you are a beloved child of God? What works for your family? Here’s an example of a rule of life for a family with young children:


  • At breakfast together, name one thing we’re thankful for
  • Read together before bed, say the Lord’s Prayer
  • Before bed ask: where did you see God today? What do you want to tell God about your day?


  • Read a Bible story, ask: where are you in this story?
  • Worship together
  • Practice “praying in color,” or another creative prayer practice
  • Take a walk and thank God for creation


  • Collect money to donate, cook a meal for someone in need

4. Share your rule of life
A rule of life helps us take the faith we profess on Sunday into our everyday lives. Whatever your life is like – full-time work, full-time kid care, retirement, traveling, commuting, studying – finding a rhythm for spiritual practices will help direct you toward God.

Share your rule of life with your family and try it out together. Change what needs to be changed. Share it with a small group who will keep you accountable to it. Share it with your priest, so we can pray for your journey.

Give yourself a lot of grace – it’s not about perfection, but intention. There will never be a “perfect” day with your rule of life. Think of it as choreography for the dance of faith.