The Unseen Rule of Life
“So we do not focus on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”
2 Corinthians 4:18
In the middle of my front yard stands a large oak tree. Its branches twist and stretch across the entire yard. It’s weathered. It’s been trimmed and pruned. It’s disfigured and scarred. Traumatized even. It has clearly endured countless storms and afflictions. Its trunk is hollowed out in one spot creating a dark, slightly spooky chamber that my children try to convince the neighborhood kids is the home to all sorts of creepy creatures and monsters. It’s really just a hole in a tree.
The tree is stationed in clear view outside my home office window. I’ve brought it up a few times in counseling sessions, referencing its stature and growth. It also serves as a break from the slog of other office work as I take moments to gaze at its twisting branches, it’s quiet confidence, and its stately presence among the neighboring trees.
If you’ve ever spent time with me in the counseling room, there is a very high possibility you’ve heard me talk about trees. There’s also the chance that I’ve given you the “homework” to take some time throughout your week to stop, sit, and just stare at a tree. This “homework” assignment is meant to help slow us down. It’s meant to encourage consideration and contemplation on what you can’t see.
The tree is easy to see. The twisting branches and the creepy hole in the trunk are easy to see. But there are a so many other parts of the tree that we can’t see. There are so many other things going on even amidst the quiet stillness and stateliness. Take photosynthesis for example. The process of all those leaves absorbing the sunlight, making food, and producing oxygen. And who knows, maybe there really are creepy monsters down in that hollowed out chamber. We just can’t see them.
But here’s the biggest observation I typically take into consideration during my “tree gazing.” Even on the stillest of days. No wind. No leaf fluttering. No movement. The tree is growing. There is movement taking place just under the surface of that bark. There is life happening. Some days more than others. Some years faster than others. Even at a speed that invokes all kinds of anxiety and impatience in us, there is growth.
But where does that growth come from? What sustains it? What has anchored that tree through all the storms and afflictions it’s faced?
The roots of the tree remain unseen yet are invaluable and absolutely essential to the life of the tree. Not only do they help supply the needed hydration and nutrients for growth, but they also serve as the chief support through the storms.
Paul tells the Corinthians in 2 Corinthians 4 to not focus on the things that are seen, specifically the outer deteriorating shell and the “afflictions,” or troubles and hard times. To focus on these things, or center our life and concern on them, or we might say give them utmost attention, really doesn’t have much to offer us other than “despair.”
But we do not despair, give up, or lose heart (2 Cor. 4:16) because there are unseen realities at hand. There are other things we can give our attention to and focus on.
In his book, The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry, John Mark Comer expresses a rule of life as “a way to live into what really matters: what Jesus called abiding.”
Likewise, Ruth Haley Barton describes a rule of life as “…arranging our lives around the practices and experiences that keep us alive spiritually and create space for the intimacy with God that we so desperately need and want…A rule of life provides structure and space for our growing.” (emphasis mine)
For those unfamiliar with the idea of a “rule of life,” the phrase came from the word rule, by which we get the word ruler from. A standard. But it also gives the imagery of the word trellis. The structure and standard that holds up the vine so that it would grow and bear fruit.
I don’t think it would be too far of a stretch to define a rule of life as the unseen standard that supports, nourishes, and sustains our growth and health.
Just as the roots support, nourish, and sustain the life growth of the tree, so the rule of life does for us. In John 15, Jesus defines this as “abiding” or “remaining” in Him. Apart from Him we have no life. Apart from Him we have on nourishment. Apart from Him we produce no fruit. Apart from Him we will be overwhelmed and wrecked but the storms and afflictions of life.
With this imagery in place, I would define a rule of life as a way of living that keeps us abiding in Jesus. Rhythms, patterns, practices, and routines that anchor us (root us) in the life of Jesus.
Our lives are full of so many “seen” things that impact our mental, emotional, and spiritual health. Some of these things aren’t bad, but rather wonderful things like our spouses, our children, good food and drink, or comfortable beds. But they do have the potential to distract us from abiding in Jesus. Especially if they begin to unravel or get challenging, our mental, emotional, and spiritual faculties are influenced.
But there are the other things. The “creepy hole” type of things can have profound affects upon our growth and health. Things that cause grief, pain, sorrow, fear, and the like. Things that expose the sin and brokenness of our lives in ways we never thought. Things that drive us to the edge of our mental capacities, emotional fortitude, and spiritual steadiness. Traumas and tragedies.
What sustains us in these moments?
What nourishes our souls?
What supports us when we begin to totter?
If we have no rule of life, no roots, no way of living that “keeps us alive spiritually and creates space for intimacy with God” then despair is inevitable?
But if our lives are structured in such a way that we are “rooted and grounded in love” with Christ dwelling in our hearts through faith, then we will experience the fullness of life, the fullness of God. (Eph. 3:16-19) We will have a life source in Jesus that will sustain us through the most tragic of storms.
Do you have a rule of life? Do you have a way of living that encourages you towards abiding in Jesus? Are there regular practices that anchor you like roots of a tree to your life source?
Do these practices and rhythms encourage a receptivity of the Father’s unconditional love for you poured out in His Son Jesus? If not, I’d encourage you take some time this next week to gaze upon a tree. Carve out some space to slow down, to consider and focus upon the things that are unseen. Ponder the roots of your life. Write down your practices. What are things that encourage your faith and help anchor you in Jesus? Prayer? Silence and solitude? Scripture reading and mediation? Corporate worship? Service? Spiritual friendships? How would you pattern or structure your life differently?
“Therefore, we do not give up.
Even though our outer person is being destroyed,
our inner person is being renewed day by day.”
A big part of the care we provide at BetterDays is to help anchor people in Jesus. It is to help them process the storms and struggles of life and to help them establish a rule of life that supports and sustains them through those storms and struggles. We work with people to help them find a posture that is receptive and open to God’s unconditional love for them in Jesus.
If you are interested in learning more about a rule of life and how to better structure a way of living around practices that encourages abiding in Jesus, or looking for someone to help you in the storms of life, feel free to reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ruthless Elimination of Hurry, John Mark Comer
Sacred Rhythms, Ruth Haley Barton
Celebration of Discipline, Richard Foster