Years ago when Abbey Way was just a whisper of thought, I had the opportunity to be in conversation with the Benedictine sisters at St. Benedict’s Monastery. One of the most lasting memories I have of those visits was the continuous refrain of instruction given to me that went like this: “You only have twenty-four hours. For each thing you add to your day, you will need to take something out. What will that be?” I was surprised by this practical instruction. Of all the things that could be said to me in this crucial juncture of my life, this unexpected wisdom came to me over and over again through each nun I met. Later in my study of the Rule of Benedict, it became obvious to me where this principled approach to one’s day (and one’s life) originated from: Benedict himself.
I have utilized this wisdom to think about my days and to help others from time to time (when they will listen that is). I remember a particular conversation I had with someone a number of years back. In taking on a rather daunting task that would require hours of their days for a number of years, I asked them, “What will you be giving up?” “Nothing,” they replied, “It won’t be that much more.” Surprised by their lack of mathematical prowess of addition and subtraction of the time needed in their newly chosen commitment, I said—repeating what I had been taught—“We all only have twenty-four hours.”
I have come to believe the Benedictine wisdom comes from an embrace of one’s humanity. We can be lulled into believing that the limits of our energy and time are for other people and not us. We can lose focus that we too have our days numbered for us and only twenty-four hours in each one.
A “Rule of Life” is a tool that helps us to step back into the sacred observer position to give us perspective on “what is” and “what we desire to be.”
First though you have to take inventory of your days. Here are two collages that I created years ago to show life “as is.” You can do this many different ways but in these mosaics each color represents some aspect of my life. I like seeing the color and pattern. It helps me step back and notice things I normally can’t when I just write words down on a page.
Now you can make lists or draw pictures or look at your daily calendar to begin. Do what works for you. But the point is to begin. Here is another way of thinking about the same principle of ordering one’s days. (It is creative and fun!)
Once you have taken an inventory, then you can begin the process of reflection. Here is a helpful resource written by my friend Heather Monkmeyer. I encourage you to be playful with the process but be honest with yourself. Let us “number our days” with courage and intentionality as we desire to keep on discovering the good way of our Lord.