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    A Mother’s Rule of Life {Post 2}

    November 16, 2011 by Brandy Vencel

    Those within the Catholic and Orthodox branches of Christendom may know what a “Rule of Life” is because of their background. But it seems to me that a perfectly obvious question for a Protestant to ask is, “What is a Rule anyhow?” Thankfully, the second chapter of A Mother’s Rule of Life answers this question for us.

    A Rule of Life is a traditional Christian tool for ordering one’s vocation. Found most often in religious community life, a Rule can also be used by laypeople–whose state in life is no less a calling from God. It consists primarily in the examination of one’s vocation and the duties it entails, and the development of a schedule for fulfilling these responsibilities in a consistent and orderly way.

    Later, we are also informed that

    A Rule of Life is not just a schedule, not just a collection of activities organized into a set pattern for efficient repetition. A Rule is an organization of everything that has to do with your vocation, based on a hierarchy of the priorities that define the vocation and done with the ettent to please God. It deals with the essential responsibilities of your state of life, organized to ensure their fulfillment.

    So is a Rule of Life a schedule or not? Well, yes, actually. It is a schedule. But it is a specific kind because it is designed not for doing what we want to get done, or the tasks on our to-do lists, but for living out the life God has called us to. It attempts to capture our vocation in such a way that we stop losing little bits {or big chunks, if you are where I’ve been at certain points in my life} of it through the cracks of time.

    There is another side of the Rule in that as we use it to fulfill our calling: it is supposed to make us holy.

    This was interesting to me because before I started reading this book, a group of us discussed the post Idealized Domesticity over on Google +. I couldn’t help but wonder if perhaps this post was missing something small and beautiful in the grind of everyday life. More than that–perhaps it was excusing missing something small and beautiful.

    It was just a thought, and I’d actually like to get into this more in another post. For now, we’ll stick to an explanation {to the best of my ability…ahem} of a Rule.

    Making a Rule of Life begins not with a sheet of paper broken into hours, but a plain sheet, upon which we map out the details of our vocation. For instance, because I am the keeper of this home, there are certain things I need to do, such as laundry, cleaning, etc. As the educator of my children, there are lessons to plan and lessons to correct and don’t forget lessons to give! As a wife to my husband, I might have emails to check, mail to send, or phone calls to make—not to mention setting aside time to nurture our relationship. As a Christian, I need to spend time in prayer and reading God’s Word. And so on and so forth.

    The challenge for me, however, is going to be separating the essentials from the nonessentials. Sometimes I have a hard time making distinctions between the two. I have nonessential pet projects that I often favor over essentials. I bet all of you know nothing about that sort of thing.

    All of us will look similar to the extent that our vocations–the things we are called to–are similar. But even if you are like me and you are called to be a Christian, a woman, a wife, a mother, a teacher, a daughter, and so on and so forth, it’ll still be different because the human element is never consistent.

    As an example of a working rule which embodies a vocation, Pierlot chooses Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity. Here is the schedule she gives:

    4:30-5:00Rise and get cleaned up
    5:00-6:30Prayers and Mass
    6:30-8:00Breakfast and clean-up
    8:00-12:30Work for the poor
    12:30-2:30Lunch and rest period
    2:30-3:00Spiritual reading and meditation
    3:00-3:15Tea break
    4:30-7:30Work for the poor
    7:30-9:00Dinner and clean-up
    9:00-9:45Night prayers

    What I found fascinating was Pierlot’s explanation of this simple schedule:

    The two primary goals of the Missionaries of Charity are love of God and love of neighbor, as found in the poorest of the poor. Their time is allotted to fulfill these two aims. Note how the schedule covers a full seven hours for work with the poor and four hours of prayer every day. In addition, all their meals, chores, study, recreation, and even rest are accounted for.

    Other than being horrified that they slept less than seven hours per night {from experience I know that I would be ill in no time if I shortchanged my sleep like that on a regular basis–perhaps these are supernuns?}, I found it fascinating that the schedule was designed to fulfill their calling. They have two goals, and then practical needs, and all of that is factored into the Rule. This was amazing to me because I never looked at a schedule from this point of view. There is an extent to which my schedule naturally fulfills my vocation. But too often I have left things out, only to scramble to do them whenever I find the time, which sometimes means they are not done when they ought to be done.

    I have always resisted what I call “over-planning.” Whenever I have tried to make for myself a very specific schedule, I can never follow it. But I think this is because it never made room for the human element {known also as preschoolers}, not because the idea of planning to fulfill my duties was a bad one.

    I’d like to hold up a different schedule, as a completely different example. I doubt that Charlotte Mason called her daily rhythm a “Rule,” and yet I see how she organized her day in order to fulfill her calling. We wonder how this woman had so much wisdom and filled so many volumes with her precious words, serving as such a gift to those of us following in her footsteps a century later, and all I can say is that she planned it that way. I think she knew she was called, and her entire life was lived deliberately–intentionally.

    According to Simply Charlotte Mason, this was Charlotte’s schedule:

    9:30Mail came; answer letters; organize household details; schools’ work
     (Note: Sometimes at 11:00 she too tired to go on, if she had had a bad night. Then she would take a 20 minute rest and continue after that.)
    12:15Stop work; ten minutes of a classic author
    1:00Dinner with the students; read aloud a book of travel or biography
    2:15—4:00Nature walk or ride
    After TeaTeacher training work; reading or proof-correcting
    6:00Old favorite novel (Charlotte Bronte, George Eliot, Thackeray, Meredith, Jane Austen) until supper
    7:00Supper; read aloud newspaper, book of travel, literary essays, memoirs
    8:45Retired to room; evening reading and a Scott novel

    Again, we have an unmarried, childless woman, and yet we can see how her own “Rule” produced her self, how it was an embodiment of her calling. She made room for rest, because an exhausted teacher is not a very good one. She lived what she expected of her students {including the time spent out of doors}.

    Obviously, our “Rules” are going to look very different. And yet I see how both of these Rules helped make these women acquire the level of excellence for which they are remembered.

    It was interesting when I was listening yesterday to the 2011 CiRCE talk by Andrew Pudewa called Reflections on Redeeming Repetition. In his talk, Pudewa tells a story in which he has posed a question about dancers to his godchildren. Who has the most freedom? The one with the perfectly choreographed routine? Or the one who goes out and does whatever she wants to do? Pudewa tells us that the two older children thought that the one who did whatever she wanted to do was the most free. But the little five-year-old boy says that it is the one who was choreographed. Why? “Because she could be great.”

    We sometimes forget that it is most often choreography which brings about greatness, that those of us who fly by the seats of our pants {something I’ve done more than I care to admit–sometimes by ignoring my own perfectly good plans} are usually the ones wondering how these other women are so amazing. We marvel at excellence, but we are usually not willing to admit how much of it was planned in advance.

    Oh, sure, there are gifted geniuses among us. But I’m talking about average people like you and like me. {Mainly me.} If I want to be great–excellent even–at this gig God gave me, maybe I should check out my plans and see if they even begin to cover all the bases.

    In my next post, I want to go on a tangent and discuss the ideas of finding holiness, beauty, sanctification, and reward in our calling, using the post I linked to above as a jumping-off point for discussion.

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  • Reply Kansas Mom November 19, 2011 at 7:05 pm

    Yes, we are always adjusting our schedule as children grow and activities are added. The first two years with a new child are the times of greatest change (says the mama who’s oldest is seven-almost-eight, so take that with a grain of salt). It seems like the nap schedule changes every few months and everything else has to shift a little bit to work around it.

  • Reply Brandy @ Afterthoughts November 19, 2011 at 6:21 pm

    Katie, Welcome to Afterthoughts! 🙂

    I, too, was struck by the making of reasonable allowances for rest, relaxation, and enjoyment. I think that the modern mindset is to *just do it* {as Nike would say} and so when we make schedules or Rules we think of it in terms of *doing* rather than *being* {meals might be an exception}. But I see such wisdom in planning for both doing and being–and that for both myself and my children.

    So much to think about, and we are still on the first couple chapters! 🙂

  • Reply Brandy @ Afterthoughts November 19, 2011 at 6:16 pm

    Heather, I took away something very similar!

    I was also thinking this morning that I may have to simplify some things that are in my areas of aptitude in order to make room for things that I’m not good at but are still things I am called to. I think that *some* of the things that fall through the cracks are things that I am not particularly good at or that I don’t exactly know how to do, etc.

    In reading all of my own words here, I wonder if this is just the next stage of *me* growing up! 🙂

  • Reply Brandy @ Afterthoughts November 19, 2011 at 6:13 pm

    GJ, You are always so wise! 🙂

    Pierlot actually mentions in the book that {unlike Mother Teresa, probably} she goes through and adjusts her Rule once or twice a year to better fit her growing children. I was thinking lately about my son saying he was {finally} ready to begin martial arts training, and I tried to be excited for his sake, but secretly I was fretting over how we’d fit it in. I see now that it is likely a matter of planning and that I need to adjust as people begin to grow up.

  • Reply Brandy @ Afterthoughts November 19, 2011 at 6:04 pm

    Mystie & KM,

    I don’t really have set times for school in the sense of Math 10:30-11 or that sort of thing. What I have are windows in which we do our lessons, and then a plan of what to do during that time. So at Circle Time we might have Bible–> Memory Work–> Artist Study–> Read aloud and it works more like a flow chart for me. Having that sort of plan keeps me from having to make decisions {which takes *time} but doesn’t get so rigid that there isn’t room for discussion.

    My one concern with MOTH {not that I’ve read the book} is that I would become the rule-following person who says there is no time to talk right now because this lesson is supposed to be over in five minutes and you still have a lot to do! 🙂

    I am not sure that a Rule works perfectly for school other than making sure that we have carved out time to *do it* or at least that is how it {well, a schedule because I am just learning about this Rule thing} works in practice for me.

    I feel more up to doing this now that I do not have babies or toddlers. I am not sure, but this book might have overwhelmed me before now, because I felt like I was doing all I could do. The main thing I am getting out of it so far is this idea that if I am going to get things done, I need to plan time to work on those things. I think I can easily fall into a VERY simple life involving laundry, meals, and lessons, which isn’t a full life and definitely doesn’t work out all of my calling…

  • Reply Katie November 19, 2011 at 6:13 am

    This was such an interesting post. I must say I loved how in both examples you gave, they both made time for afternoon tea; something we do frequently here at Brighton Park so maybe there is hope for me yet! stopping by from the blog voting page of the homeschool post. blessings to you!

  • Reply Heather November 17, 2011 at 11:03 pm

    My take-away from this idea(which may completely wrong from the intended idea) is that I can do better to make sure I cover the things that like Brandy alluded to which often slip through cracks, when they should not. For instance, making our Compassion child a priority so that letters, cards, and pictures get to him more consistently than they do right now b/c it is simply not in the right place on that list. Same thing with writing thank you cards and the like, it doesn’t get done as soon as it should b/c I don’t make my gratitude a priority. So if ministering to the poor and spreading the gospel is a mission for our family, and it is, then the ways that we have chosen to do that need to be addressed so they actually get done in a timely manner. Another area for me would be ministering to my neighbors’ with meals, baking and the like. I have good intentions, but I don’t follow through simply b/c I don’t make time for it in my day. Piper and Don Carson both advocate putting a prayer time into your schedule if you actually want to get it done. Somehow, I guess I think I’m godly enough to actually do these things without planning to, but clearly I’m not. Sorry for the ramble but I have a headache and I’m writing off the top of that headache. 🙂

  • Reply GretchenJoanna November 17, 2011 at 8:28 pm

    Wonderful post. When one is a wife and mother, the plan may often get interrupted or changed because of others’ needs, but having it as a constant vision and reminder, and something to go back to after a few hours or even days is SO helpful.

  • Reply Mystie November 17, 2011 at 5:40 pm

    I don’t follow times set on the schedule; I follow it like a routine. However, if I don’t put times on there, I find I get too optimistic about how much I can get done. Plus, for things like bedtime and dinner time to happen on time (and woe betide everyone when either get bumped late!), then dinner prep has to start by a certain time, which means school and housework (like the laundry pile on the bed) have to be done by a certain time….it’s helpful to know what those times are, even if it never works out exactly like it’s written out.

    What I need to see when I look at Mother’s Rule, housekeeping stuff, and school and schedule plans, is that I have more and more stuff I need to get done. I have added responsibilities and I really need to cut out the idle time I have grown accustomed to. I have been feeling worn out with my 3yo + 20month old, and I realized that when I had my first pair, I did just sit in the same room with them, doing my own thing, correcting and training on the fly. I can’t do that in the same way *and* teach and direct 2 students, who also need training in their new responsibilities. I am loth to give up that relaxed life feel, but I have to brace myself for the fact that I need to be present and intentional and *busy* most of the day if we’re going to cover all our bases.

  • Reply Kansas Mom November 17, 2011 at 4:24 am

    I’m still working on giving priority to certain areas that I know are important (cough – exercise), but one of the important things about this book what how it said to me, “Look, if your health is important (and you know it is, to God because he gave you this body and to your family so you are able to care for them), then you have to give it a priority in your daily life.” Every moment should be geared towards our goals. Not that we should exclude anything fun, but that by being purposeful in how we use our time we will be more relaxed and pleased with our daily lives. And, if the priorities are right, will have more time set aside to devote to our spiritual growth as well.

    As for school scheduling (and most of our scheduling), I find times too constricting. I have all of our subjects planned out for the term and we move from one to another fluidly, without saying “I must teach science from 10 to 10:15 am and then read history from 10:15 to 10:30 am.” Our school time starts around 9 am and runs until about 3 or 4 pm, including lunch, free play, outside play and physical education. Of course, I only have one student. And I don’t have a newborn.

    Newborns are sweet and wonderful and necessary if you ever want a toddler (who are also sweet and wonderful but also funny), but they wreak complete havoc on schedules. And best intentions.

  • Reply Mystie November 16, 2011 at 11:06 pm

    Hmmm….I think you’re on to something. 🙂

    I have a menu plan! I just don’t really follow recipes. 🙂

    But with dinner and school and many other things, different amounts of times are needed each day. Some days I need some time to make phone calls, but most days I don’t….there are just so many variables. I do like a plan, and I make plans, and I’m even getting better at following them, but I still get frustrated trying to work it all out.

  • Reply Brandy @ Afterthoughts November 16, 2011 at 10:33 pm

    I totally agree that, in our line of work, labeling a time as “school” or “chores” won’t work {if that is all I do}. Actually, even “cook dinner” won’t work for me, because I am not capable of much kitchen sink cooking {like some people I know}.

    What I like about the Rule is the idea of a big picture devoting different time periods to different parts of my vocation, so that all the “essentials” are covered. Within each area, then, I will have to have a smaller Rule–let’s say the big one is my Rule of Life, the more detailed one is my Circle Time plans, or my chores rotation, or whatever.

    My guess is that, for instance, where it says “clean up” there was an assignment for each nun, or a rotation they followed, or something like that. Or in regard to “work with the poor” there were likely assigned duties, even though there were also probably just times assigned to go and do whatever presented itself.

  • Reply Mystie November 16, 2011 at 10:21 pm

    Ignoring my perfectly good plans is definitely my tendency.

    What trips me up with the example schedules (Good job pulling CMs!), is how generic they are, what large swathes of time are given to something sweeping like “work for the poor.”

    If I, say, label 8-12 as “school,” I still have two problems (apart from the aforementioned lack of self-discipline): 1) I need to get more specific than that to be able to work it. 2) The human element means that even when I’m trying to stick to it, it is only finished in that time bracket about 50% of the time, and so some “flying by the seat of my pants” is always necessary, even when we’re “on the schedule.”

    That said, I still get loads more done when I have a schedule to follow, even if it pretty much never works as written.

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