Habits that Stick: on a Rule of Life
In my work with Brazos Fellows, I find myself talking with young adults about their spiritual life. Often I hear from them--especially those who are college students--how tired they are of trying to figure it out on their own. They tell me how they struggle in prayer, how the busyness and chaos of college life make it difficult to consistently spend time with the Lord. They want to belong to a community that will help them go deeper. They want to be committed to something, they want to develop habits of prayer and study that will stick. Perhaps you can relate--I know I can! I think this desire isn't just anecdotal, but is widespread. This summer, we surveyed all of the Brazos Fellows alumni who finished the program at least one year ago. They described something similar: only 10% reported feeling the highest level of satisfaction with their spiritual practices before Brazos Fellows, and 60% felt inadequately or not at all satisfied with their life in Christian community. Like other students I talk with, before the fellowship our alumni felt a strong need to find more. For many, this was one of the main reasons they were drawn to Brazos Fellows. They were drawn to our "Rule of Life," in which fellows commit to a number of spiritual disciplines, including daily morning & evening prayer, sabbath practice, and spiritual direction. Every day, every week, fellows know they'll be doing these practices. Regardless of what else is going on, or how they feel on a given morning, they've committed to these things, so they do them. Like a trellis, the rule provides structure and stability--it helps orient us upward, pointing us in a good direction for growth. (To read more about what this is like, and why it's so good, let me commend this reflection by Brazos Fellows alum Jess Schurz.) Here's the thing about a rule of life--if you commit to it long enough, eventually it starts to stick. When we finished our alumni survey this summer, I was so happy to read the results, as Brazos Fellows alumni report, to an overwhelming degree, that they continue living out the basic practices in our Rule of Life. One to three years after graduating--no longer bound by their commitment--our alumni persist in the habits they formed in the fellowship. When asked which practices remain "an important part of their Christian life," here's how they answered:
100% said that liturgical prayer remains important
100% answered the same about Christian community (90% attend church at least weekly, with 70% serving or leading in their local church)
90% said that sabbath practice, confession, offering hospitality, and theological study each remain important
80% are in spiritual direction
In particular, I was impressed by our graduates' commitment to regular prayer. Most of them pray the daily office (from the Book of Common Prayer) most days, and 90% read scripture at least weekly. Years after finishing, 100% said the fellowship was formative or deeply formative in shaping their spiritual habits and disciplines today. I hope you're just as encouraged by these reports as Paige and I. Our hope for fellows is not that they enjoy a "gap year" or have an uplifting, short-lived spiritual high, but rather that their time in an intensive community of study and prayer will form them for years to come--that God uses it to deeply shape the way they live, to grow them in knowledge and love of Christ. Thanks be to God, this seems to be the case. We're grateful to all of you for providing a welcoming, nurturing church home in which the fellows can grow. What about the rest of us who aren't Brazos Fellows? As you prepare to begin a new school year, let me encourage you to consider taking on a personal rule--or, even better, to find a few friends who would be willing to commit together to a simple shared rule of life. (For some further reading on this topic, let me commend this post written by parishioner Dr. Andrea Turpin, "Creating a 'Rule of Life': Habits for a New Semester".) If you'd like some guidance on how to craft a rule of life, talk to your spiritual director, or ask Fr. Jonathan or Fr. Nicholas and they'll offer some helpful guidelines. Finally, please join me in praying for the women and men who are about to join our parish and begin as Brazos Fellows. In August, a cohort will commit to our Rule of Life and start living a weekly rhythm of prayer, theological study, work, and shared life. In a future email, I'll introduce the 2022-2023 Brazos Fellows. Even now, will you pray that God will prepare these women and men for the work he has for them to do?