The Common Rule by Justin Whitmel Earley

The Common Rule -

I’ve been looking forward to The Common Rule: Habits of Purpose For An Age of Distraction since I first heard about it a few months ago. It didn’t disappoint. After suffering a health crisis from living and working a overpacked, chaotic schedule with little sleep, Earley realized he needed to make a serious change for the sake of his health and his relationships. Earley, working with his wife and friends, established a set of practical habits around the ideas of loving God and loving neighbor.

Earley writes:

It’s utterly important to learn the right theological truths about God and neighbor, but it’s equally necessary to put that theology into practice via a rule of life… Only when your habits are constructed to match your worldview do you become someone who doesn’t just know about God and neighbor but someone who actually loves God and neighbor.

Common Rule

The Common Rule is a set of four daily habits and four weekly habits. I would call many of these habits spiritual disciplines, which has always been a topic that interests me, but I realize that phrase may feel stuffy for many. Earley defines habits as “a behavior that occurs automatically, over and over, and often unconsciously.” He goes on to quote a study by Duke University that found that as much as 40 percent of our daily actions are not conscious choices, but habits.

The problem is that means many of the important things in our daily lives are happening unconsciously. And if you aren’t choosing your habits, someone or something else is. Earley writes:

We have a common problem. By ignoring the ways habits shape us, we’ve assimilated to an invisible rule of life: the American rule of life. This rigorous program of habits forms us in all the anxiety, depression, consumerism, injustice, and vanity that are so typical in the contemporary American life.

A Big Problem

Of course, the other problem is many of us don’t want to choose our habits. Choosing means we have to slow down and face our thoughts. It means we have to sometimes stop striving and sit in silence. That terrifies us. Let’s be honest. Most of us want to stay so busy that we don’t have time to think or sleep, because that would mean we have to admit to ourselves that we are finite. We justify it by telling ourselves we’re “called” or saying there’s just too much to do.

Earley writes, “Our habits often obscure what we’re really worshiping, but that doesn’t mean we’re not worshiping something. The question is, what are we worshiping?” Earley quotes James K. A. Smith who writes that worship forms us and formation is worship. “As the psalmist put it, those who make and trust in idols will become like them (Psalm 31:6). So we become our habits.” Our habits are daily liturgies of worship. Are we worshiping ourselves or our creator?

Practical Resources

The Common Rule is not just theoretical. It is an incredibly practical book, perhaps more so than many of the Christian living books I’ve read. Earley clearly walks through each habit and gives a wealth of practical suggestions to get started. He even gives adjustments to the Common Rule for people in various phases of life and occupations. His website is also extremely helpful. If you’re looking to start the new year by making some important changes to your daily life, I recommend checking out The Common Rule. You can get a copy here.