How does one combat hurry in an age of busy?
In Justin Whitmel Earley’s book The Common Rule readers get a glimpse of redeeming “hurry” that invades life—specifically in the way we approach work.
Rather than falling into the bootstrap, self-help category, Earley’s work helps open our eyes to the habits, liturgies, and rhythms that are directly and indirectly shaping our lives.
As Annie Dillard once poignantly wrote (and Earley cites), “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”
The sub-title, Habits of Purpose for an Age of Distraction, rings with a bit gnawing truth throughout each page of the book. In fact, the further along one heads on the journey with Earley, the easier it becomes to realize how dysfunctional our daily rhythms can, and often already have, become.
“By ignoring the ways habits shape us, we’ve assimilated to a hidden rule of life: the American rule of life,” Earley writes. “The rigorous program of habits forms us in all the anxiety, depression, consumerism, injustice, and vanity that are so typical in the contemporary American life.”
Earley’s argument is that we are always worshiping and being formed, citing James K.A. Smith’s You Are What You Love. “Worship is formation,” Earley writes, “and formation is worship.”
Earley, a lawyer in Charlottesville, Virginia, speaks more like a friend than authority. He often references the liturgies and patterns he has laid out began chiefly for himself and slowly, through word of mouth, did he realize others shared his struggles and desire for a more ordered and intentional Christian life.
It’s through this posture we’re able to engage Earley’s work. His writing style and take-home points echo accessibility rather than exclusivity.
This is part of the joy of The Common Rule: it’s written by a work-in-progress for those who themselves are works-in-progress.
On a daily basis Earley encourages:
Kneeling prayer three times per day;
One meal with others;
One hour with phone off;
Scripture before phone.
On a weekly basis he encourages:
One hour of conversation with a friend;
Curate media to four hours;
Fast from something for twenty-four hours;
A mix between a primer on the spiritual disciplines and a rule of life, The Common Rule helps others mirror God in Genesis 1 by bringing a bit of order to the chaos of life and calling it good.
I found myself drawn to immediately cut down the notifications I am bombarded with on my phone and to put my phone in another room when I go to bed—both suggestions from Earley throughout the book.
There’s something exhilarating about the feasibility of these rules and the flourishing they seek to bring to our neighbor, our work, our spouses, our friends, and our children.
That’s not to say these are simple to implement. Like all habits, they require diligence, patience, and grace. But for those who persist, The Common Rule offers a bit more wholeness to the embodiment of the Christians faith in the way we live, work, and play.
One of the aspects I found most helpful from Earley were his overlaps and encouragements for The Common Rule’s impact on our daily work. Things like silencing your cell phone and making room for intentional time with co-workers are simple and profound ways that can cultivate a bit more intentionality in the workplaces we’ve been called to serve.
“God is different parts blue-collar worker, artist, inventor, tinkerer, gardener, and entrepreneur,” Earley writes, “in all cases working with his hands, getting dirty, and calling this creative act good.”
The Rule helps reinforce what we at CFWLA are always seeking to do: reframe our work in love by reminding us of the inherent beauty of work itself. It’s where, as Earley notes, we make something of the world.
Earley also writes honestly about the honest and prideful ways we so often seek our identity out of the perceived successes or failures in our work. Earley notes the common sentiment, “If I can’t hack it, what am I worth anyway?”
It’s in this honesty where The Common Rule shines as we seek to approach our work not as a means of self-fulfillment but neighborly love.
Without this recast of our work’s purpose, “Work becomes about proving that we can accomplish something, that we are worth our salt, and that our voices are worth listening to,” Earley writes, “even if we have to bang the table or send a snarky told-you-so email.”
By steeping The Common Rule in the biblical narrative, readers have an opportunity for the burden of shame to be lifted as they enter into reframing their daily habits. While the self-help movement says, “You can do it,” Christianity says, “Christ has done it.” This frames the rules and rhythms Earley is helping others embrace. “We love because he first loved us.” (1 John 4:19)
For those looking towards a practical rule of life that can capture a bit of order to the chaos of life in the digital age, The Common Rule is a wonderful place to land for inspiration and invigoration in your relationships and your work.
Gage Arnold is the Communications Director for the Center for Faith & Work Los Angeles. He is currently an M.Div student at Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis, MO., and holds a B.S. in Journalism & Electronic Media from the University of Tennessee.