Rule of Life in the Midst of COVID-19
Estimated reading time: ~8 minutes
Here’s the TLDR - Respond with faith, hope, and love to this time of social distancing. Don’t let these new circumstances cause you to settle for idleness. Flourish as students by making a rule of life.
For a printable PDF version of this rule of life click here!
Well, Ags - school is starting again, even if it is only online. With all that is going on, I am drawn back to this famous line from The Lord of the Rings:
I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo. “So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.
We didn’t choose these circumstances, but the consoling, good news is - there are no circumstances that could keep Jesus from giving us life to the full:
I came that they might have life and have it to the full.
- John 10:10
What will separate us from the love of Christ? Will anguish, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or the sword? … No, in all these things we conquer overwhelmingly through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
- Romans 8:35, 37-39
Life to full is the love of Christ, and it is available to us no matter the circumstances because Christ’s love has conquered even the grave:
“I have told you this so that you might have peace in me. In the world you will have trouble, but take courage, I have conquered the world.”
- John 16:33
We don’t choose the times and circumstances we live in, but we can choose what to do with them. As you prepare to take up your classes again, I want to offer you one tool that will help you to respond with faith, hope, and love - a tool that ultimately will help you to thrive in this time of social distancing: a rule of life.
I gave two Catholicism 101 lectures on this topic, which you can listen to here. A rule of life is a way of organizing your day and week with the view of attaining life to the full. Much like an athlete orders his or her life (how they eat, sleep, train, play, etc.) in order to attain the goal of a championship, Christians can order their lives with the goal of attaining heaven:
Do you not know that the runners in the stadium all run in the race, but only one wins the prize? Run so as to win. Every athlete exercises discipline in every way. They do it to win a perishable crown, but we an imperishable one.
- 1 Corinthians 9:24-25
Generally, the athlete has the accountability of a team helping him or her to get up on time, to eat well, to train hard, to rest appropriately, and to enjoy friendship. In-person classes with fixed times tend to give the student the same kind of structure. But without the built-in structure that fixed class times provide, as well as the prolonged time students will spend in front of a computer screen, idleness will be a constant temptation.
Idleness is not merely the lack of activity, which actually can be a good thing. Idleness is settling for the easy distraction, the cheap thrill, or the quick escape rather than choosing the things that genuinely make us happy, rather than choosing the love of Christ. Prayer, relationships, good leisure, study, and work make us happy, and as students, they are the tasks that Christ has called you to do - the way He wants you to receive His love. But they are not always easy. With classes online, the cheap thrills of Netflix, YouTube, social media, news updates, as well as porn (for this one, see our Freedom website) are only a new tab away. It will be easier than ever to settle for idleness rather than flourishing as human beings, rather than life to the full. We didn’t choose this circumstance, but we can choose what to do with it.
So choose to flourish. These circumstances are no obstacle to the love of Christ, who wants us to have life to the full even in this time of social distancing. Choose to flourish by committing to a rule of life. Take it on as part of your daily cross:
“If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.”
- Luke 9:23-24
Jesus wants us to lose the false life of idleness and embrace the true life of His love - life to the full. A rule of life is nothing more than an organized way of doing so everyday. Much like an instrument, a sport, or a skill, a rule of life is something practiced. The more you do it, the easier and more pleasant it becomes: “My yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:30).
You will know how best to structure your day based on your needs, strengths, and typical temptations, but here are the elements to include:
Begin your day by drop kicking idleness in the face literally first thing in the morning. From the time you hear the alarm, get out of bed and on your knees to make a prayer to God within one minute. No snoozing. Starting the day on the right foot will help you to be victorious over the temptations of idleness that are to come. Set your alarm early enough to give you some time to pray before the day begins, and make it the same time each day.
With classes online, you could stay in your pajamas all day. Don’t. We get dressed when we have important things to do, and we stay in pajamas when we don’t. So get dressed. It will help you treat your classes as important, which they are! Even if you feel otherwise, trust that your classes are the task that Jesus has given you today, and begin to rise to that task by dressing accordingly.
Dedicate time to do more than “say your prayers.” There is no advice that I could give more warmly than to develop an interior life of prayer. It has more potential to help you receive life to the full than any other measure. Fr. Brian has started a podcast entitled, “Taking Back the Crown,” which would be a great way to develop or strengthen your prayer life. If it’s too much, check out Hallow, a Catholic meditation app, and spend 15 minutes praying before the day starts - yes, before the day starts! If you wait until the evening, the chances that that time will be lost (whether through unexpected happenings or idleness) are very high. Other ways of prayer to consider placing in your rule of life include watching our live streamed Mass and making a spiritual communion, praying the Liturgy of the Hours, and offering devotional prayers such as the rosary, the chaplet of Divine Mercy, and novenas. Know yourself, and commit to something that will stretch you but not exhaust you.
This is your vocation as a student and Christ’s particular invitation for you to receive His love. If you’re confined to your dorm/apartment, dedicate a place in your room for where you will go to class, and don’t do anything else in that place. It will help in the fight to conquer idleness.
If you’re having a hard time finding some motivation to study, especially with everything else going on, check out this great article by C.S. Lewis: “Learning in War-Time.” Just substitute “pandemic” for “war,” and you’ll find it very relevant.
If you can, get out of the house. Go for a walk. It will make you happy, which will make everything else in your rule of life go better. If you can’t get out, find some way to exercise at home. It will be worth it.
We’re made for love. Social distancing doesn’t change that. Make time to talk to friends and family - don’t settle for social media. If you have a romantic friend, check out my episode on the Aggie Catholic Talks podcast: “Let’s Talk About Dating.”
Right now, Fr. Brian and I are listening to the Lord of the Rings at the end of the day, and it is wonderful. Whether it’s a good novel (I recommend anything by Michael O’Brien), playing an instrument/sport, or another hobby, find some good ways to relax, play, and rest, and include time for them in your rule of life.
Your bedtime is actually the most important part of the rule of life. It will determine how the next day goes. Take it from me - coffee will only get you so far. Know what time you need to get up in order to spend some time in prayer before the day begins, and plan your bedtime accordingly. Commit to at least seven hours of sleep.
As much as COVID-19 is disrupting the normal rhythm of things, it does not have to disrupt your life to the full. Rules of life have been a part of the church for centuries, helping Christians to respond to their times with faith, hope, and love. Make one a part of your life as you respond to this time that you have been given by choosing how and when these elements will fit in your day. You won’t have to wait until your final judgment to be happy that you did.