Reining in Wild Horses: Crafting a Rule of Life

In his YouTube talk, Rules of Life: A Brief Introduction, modern-day monastic practitioner and author, Evan B. Howard said, “One Christmas break [my wife and I] decided to take the reins of the wild horse[s] of our life, by God’s grace, and write our own rules of life.” Howard goes on to describe how, over several decades, together they defined and refined a way of life with God at its focus, and how you too can establish your own ‘rules of life’ to create boundaries — for work, for play, for prayer, etc.

Howard’s four-part series (so far), available on YouTube and Vimeo, is a simply-filmed, homegrown production, but his earnest, quirky personality makes him a delight to watch. The videos are an expression of the couple’s faith (my guess is his wife, Sherry, is  operating the camera off-screen) and a desire to reach others with the message of simplifying one’s life by establishing limits and boundaries.

The Myth of Self-Mastery

Christians talking about boundaries is nothing new. In my Evangelical Christian background, I was exposed to Henry Cloud’s Boundaries, which caused quite a stir when it was released and became required reading. A cursory glance at its updated edition available on Amazon today (4/12/18) shows that it’s currently listed as #1 in the Christian Counseling & Recovery category. So, still popular, apparently.

Likewise, Michael Hyatt, the former chairman and CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishers, has made a career out of helping people identify their core values, and chart a course to their best life ever. I’ve been following Hyatt for a number of years and some of his free resources have been helpful in prompting inner reflection over the years.

All of this is just to say that wrestling by brute strength of willpower one’s own life, or destiny, has always been appealing, even as this attitude has infiltrated the Christian community. I’ve been particularly suspectible to this as there’s nothing quite as attractive as the idea of pursuing a life of purpose by one’s own will alone. So then the question becomes, what’s changed?

A Gentler Way

I am coming to the conclusion, like Evan B. Howard proposes in his video series, that real Christianity calls us to a simpler lifestyle. I am trying to simplify my life by having only a few goals: that is, to know the will of God, to do His will, and to strive to be humble doing both. 1 John 5:3-4 comes immediately to mind:

“For the love of God is this, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome, for whoever is begotten by God conquers the world. And the victory that conquers the world is our faith.” (NAB)

If this then is a preamble to a rule of life, every question that follows in my mind must then be analyzed through the lens of — “Does this draw me closer to God’s will or further away?” For those who know me well, this is in fact quite the departure from my existence in recent years, which was one of hedonism, acedia and despair.

If I am, to “rein in the wild horses” of my life, then starting by rebuilding my pastures from the ground up (so to speak) seems like the way to go. The process may differ for others — I can only speak for myself — but I have to be willing and open to changing almost anything but the constants: my love for God, my desire to serve Him, and my love for my spouse.

A Rule by Example

There are some lovely examples for crafting a rule of life and making it as unique as your personality, already available on the web. Please see Evan B. Howard’s videos (end of article under “Resources”) for detailed instructions on this process. I would like to point out some of the unique approaches I encountered while researching this topic:

  • A traditional essay format.
  • Several people made tables based on goals by time period (daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly/seasonally, and annually) and by the area of their life that they wished to focus on.
  • Using collages or Pinterest-style vision boards.
  • A mission statement.
  • Leslie Linebarger (2013) did an absolutely charming magazine article format with her “recipe for daily bread” (link).
  • Christine O’Reilly (2016) did a theme based on music, “The Soundtrack of My Soul” (link).

Whatever your format, you should keep in mind both your reason for establishing a rule of order (hopefully, to draw closer to God and make Him your priority in life), as well as what forms of structure or self-discipline will you try to engender in your life to make this possible. The unpredictable happens — everybody knows this, but, as the saying goes, if you shoot for the moon and miss, at least you’ll be amongst the stars. (I forget who said that but I’ve always found that a lovely expression, don’t you?)

Continue reading for some resources I’ve discovered on establishing your own rule of life. I am still in the early stages of attempting this new rule for myself, but I may do a second post to share what my day looks like, if that could possibly help inspire anyone else to do the same. Have a blessed day and remember, keep reaching higher to take hold of all that God has called you to in your lives.

Resources on Establishing a Rule of Life

Print/Web Resources:

  • Crafting a Rule of Life: An Invitation to the Well-Ordered Way by Stephen A. Maccia
  • The C. S. Lewis Institute — has a handy PDF with instructions for crafting a rule of life (PDF link).
  • Sacred Ordinary Days — has a lovely reference list of resources and is where I discovered the myRule examples mentioned above.

Video Lectures by Evan B. Howard: