A young family down the street from us got a puppy about one year ago. I don’t know the family well, but what I do know is that they clearly have more order and discipline in their home than I ever did when my children were growing up. Their two daughters are about 12 and 14 years old, and every morning, one of them is up early walking the dog down our street. They are out there again at mid-day or after school, and again in the evening. It’s been going on for over a year now: In the rain, in the snow, in the darkness, during exams, and on school holidays.
At first, I thought that it was the novelty of a puppy in the family that kept them going. They certainly wouldn’t have been the first children to bargain with their parents, promising to take care of a pet – to feed her, clean up after her, and walk her – themselves. But, these children have actually followed through with their promise! Or, perhaps more accurately, their parents have continued to enforce the rules, day in and day out, all this time. I don’t know what goes on inside that house, but I’m guessing that their bedrooms are neat too.
I actually like to keep an orderly house, and when the kids were young, we often gave them chores and responsibilities. Making the bed was one. Setting the table was another. Emptying the dishwasher, and so on. Sometimes we tied it in with allowances. Sometimes we would try to have family conferences to determine together just what these responsibilities should be. (I must have read in some parenting book that it was good for them to have a sense of “ownership” in such decisions.) But I don’t think my husband and I were very good enforcers. I would read – again, in all those parenting books – about how important it was to be consistent as parents. And, the only thing we seemed to be consistent with (besides our love for them) was our eventual slackening or loosening of the rules.
Nurya has been posting reflections and suggestions for family observances of the major feast days over the past few months. But a “lesser feast” took place this past Monday, when we remembered Saint Benedict of Nursia. Considered the father of western monasticism, Benedict is best known for his Rule.
The Rule of St. Benedict provided – and still provides – a basic guide for living the Christian life. Included in it are designated times for daily common prayer which are the basis of the Episcopal Daily Office. It also prescribes virtues such as humility, obedience, stability, silence, hospitality, and manual work. Although its original use was in monastic settings, Christians throughout the centuries have looked to this rule as a framework for living.
I cannot help but wonder how the Rule of St. Benedict might provide a framework for family life. I’m sure there are books written on this subject, but I clearly didn’t read them in my children’s growing up years! Still, there’s something to be said for intentional rhythms and routines, for setting priorities in the midst of the myriad possibilities of life in the world today. How do we order our days? Are they a reflection of our deepest values and our faith? If we are not intentional about how we live, our whole lives will revolve around soccer practices, piano lessons, and TV shows. These things can be good, but they are not the foundation of our lives.
I suppose I am being too hard on myself as I compare myself to that mom down the street. I might not have been a very good rule enforcer, but our family did eat dinner together (with the TV off), and we always said grace. We worked together at the food pantry. We attended worship on Sundays. Although it was sometimes like pulling teeth, the children did do their chores – most of the time, anyway. And, the fact that our big backyard is fenced in meant that our dog didn’t need to be walked!
I remember once reading an article by Episcopal priest, spiritual director, and author Margaret Guenther. In it, she likened a rule of life to a trellis. I love that image. A trellis can be many different shapes, but it is solid and stationary. On it can grow all sorts of plants, each of them unique, each of them supported by its frame. The frame itself enables growth, but allows for spontaneity, creativity, and originality. Our trellis was sometimes a little shaky, but I like to think that I’ve raised my children that way.
What does the trellis look like in your family life?