This is the last in a series of 4 emails about ‘Rule of Life’. In times of chaos, people have always looked at using a Rule of Life as a way of living intentionally so as to best love God and love others. You’ll remember, a Rule of Life points us in the right way, it supports us on the journey, and it upholds us so that we can grow and be fruitful.
We’ve looked so far at our rhythms of prayer, work and rest and we come finally today to relationships. However, this last factor shouldn’t be seen as a factor in isolation from the others. As humans, we are social beings and so these relationships permeate and sustain our prayer, our work and our rest.
We will think today about two particular sorts of relationships – family and friends.
A Rule of Life is best lived out in what Saint Benedict referred to as a ‘school of love’ – a community where we learn first-hand to offer and receive care. We all grew up in households of some form or another and some of us will be part of wider households today. In both cases, the people we rub up against will leave a lasting impression on our lives, for good or for ill.
The single priest Ronald Rolheiser says that life in a family “humbles us, deflates our ego, puts us into Purgatory and then into heaven”. Maybe that was/is your experience too?! The writer Gary Thomas dares to raise an interesting question as to what the purpose of family is when he asks “what if God designed family more to make us holy, more than to make us happy?”
For many of us, there are wounds to tend from our ‘first family’. Where these aren’t tended, we can live out of the same scripts we received, either by repeating them or by jumping to the other extreme. As Richard Rohr has said, what don’t don’t transform, we transmit.
At the same time, it seems increasingly that for many ‘family’ is the way in which we most meaningfully think about church. As we think about ‘family’, then, we need to broaden our vision of it beyond the Western ‘nuclear family’ which is both culturally and historically an unusual way of framing things.
As part of our own ‘Rule of Life’, we might think about:
- Our responsibilities to our parents and grandparents. In prayer and in action. As the lockdown goes on, for example, my Mum is increasingly struggling with the sense of isolation. Our family Zoom chat on a Saturday at around 5pm has been a bit of a lifeline for her.
- Our responsibilities to any children, grandchildren and godchildren we might have. What are our commitments to them in terms of time and prayer and giving?
- I like the stress of Peter Scazzero in Emotionally Healthy Leader on living intentionally out of either our singleness or our marriage/partnership as part of our vocation. Whichever applies to us, we can choose to invest in that appropriately.
In an age of social media, we can easily become confused as to what true friendship looks like. Ironically, it seems that it is easier to connect with people, but harder to form deeper friendships with them. We are more prone to superficiality than ever before, which makes proper friendships, that can only be developed over time, so much harder. In the brilliant TED talk of Sherry Turkle, we can be ‘connected, but alone’.
Friends commit, they lift us up, they let us in, they speak the hard truth to us. (These are exactly the purposes that smaller groups in churches, such as our Life Groups, have. If we are to grow as followers of Jesus, we desperately need spiritual friendships like this.)
So, if we have friends like this, let’s be thankful and make it an intentional part of our Rule of Life to develop them even further, through play, face-to-face contact, service and prayer. (In a lockdown context, we’ll need to be especially creative here!)
If we crave for friends like this, Ken Shigematsu’s advice to us is threefold: firstly, to pray that God would give us such friends; secondly, to ask people to do things with us and to initiate opportunities to deepen our relationships; and thirdly, to be a friend to others.
We are all wired for relationship. We cannot flourish without them, and a lot of the strain in lockdown is felt in this exact area. Perhaps being deprived of the connections that we crave with people at the moment will make us all more intentional about cultivating them when lockdown is over.
And if you’d like to talk or pray about anything around family and friendship, please don’t hesitate to be in touch with myself or one of the team.
P.S. If you’d like to explore further about Rule of Life, I’d recommend Ken Shigematsu’s book, God in my Everything. I’d love us to look further into this whole area when lockdown is over, so do keep mulling it over…