You may have heard of a Rule of Life, but have you ever considered creating an Emotional Rule of Life? Your typical Rule of Life represents spiritual growth commitments that you make after a season of prayer and consultation with your trusted accountability partners. An emotional rule of life is an adaptation that focuses on an intentional commitment to develop healthier, more Christ-like emotional habits so that you can be more present to God, others, and of course, yourself.
If you take up this challenge for emotional growth, be sure to set rules that take into account where you are presently so you are not discouraged by the usual “one step forward and two steps back” process of meaningful change.
Consider inviting others to be your Emotional Rule of Life covenant partners. Below you’ll find five areas for your consideration in creating an Emotional Rule of Life:
- Cultivate a habit of daily gratitude. It is so easy to forget to be grateful. Make it an early entry into your Emotional Rule of Life. Scripture is full of verses that exhort (and command) us to “give thanks to God.” But don’t stop there! Try keeping a daily gratitude journal and at the end of each day make a list of specific things that you saw, felt, or experienced for which you can be grateful. What can you be thankful for right now?
- Cultivate a habit of forgiveness. Forgiveness is a characteristic of God, which should be reflected in the relationships of God’s people – but too often it isn’t. Forgiving another doesn’t mean that you become a doormat for another’s bad behavior. Forgiveness of specific offenses takes spiritual fortitude, especially when you have been wounded deeply by someone you trusted. Nevertheless, forgiveness is an emotional state and a spiritual trait that you can develop with daily practice. Colossians 3:5-17 contrasts characteristics of an unforgiving heart with those of a forgiving heart. Do you have a forgiving heart? Is there someone God is asking you to forgive?
- Cultivate the gift of presence. Being fully present to another is an emotional state that few of us achieve except in moments of intense connection. A commitment to presence will take courage because it means limiting the distractions of technology. Turn off your cell phone(s). Turn off the television. Set aside your own agenda as you listen to another. Don’t be surprised when your focus wanders. Social science has documented that our attention to presence ebbs and flows – and this is normal. When you notice you have wandered, just return. Only God can sustain the presence of “always” (Matthew 28:20). Are you fully present to those you talk with? What would others say about your ability to be present when talking with them?
- Cultivate the skill of emotional self-regulation. Emotional self-regulation is associated with our capacity to calm our fears and tame our anxiety. It is also related to our ability to manage our anger so that we respond to others proportionately and appropriately. We neither fly into rages nor fail to confront when confrontation is required. Self-regulation is another way to say “self-control”(2 Peter 1:6). How aware are you of your emotional state when talking with others? With those who “push your buttons”?
- Cultivate positive physical health practices to support your emotional rule of life. You will find it easier to respond to others with gratitude, forgiveness, presence, and self-regulation when you have had adequate sleep, moderate exercise, and healthy food on a regular basis. God created us as whole beings. The systems within us impact and influence one another. If you are sleep deprived, you tend to exercise less, eat more, and are less emotionally resilient. If you have had a good night’s rest, you have energy to exercise, will tend to eat reasonable portions, and have the internal fortitude to practice your emotional rule of life. How would you rate your physical health practices? In what ways might God be calling you to steward the gift of your body?