Each month, you’ll hear from one of us on what we’re reading and a little bit about the book. This month we’re sharing book notes on Justin Whitmel Earley’s The Common Rule. Enjoy!
“Discovering the freedom of limitations.”
This interesting concept is the running theme throughout Justin Whitmel Earley’s book, The Common Rule: Habits of Purpose for an Age of Distraction.
Earley opens the book describing his burnout as a young, successful man who suddenly began to have clinical anxiety and panic attacks caused by his doctor-diagnosed “busyness.” His doctor said anxiety and panic attacks are now very common.
Although Earley knew he was “overwhelmed with ambition” as a law student, he didn’t believe there was anything wrong with his level of stress—in fact, he worshiped the anxiety and busyness his habits reflected.1 He realized “Everything is fine, everything is falling apart” was an accurate way to describe his situation, a statement I believe we all can relate to in some way over the past two years.2
For most of us at the beginning of 2020, our social calendars slowed down for a while as we hunkered down in isolation at home, unsure of what the future held during the pandemic. However, as work from home became normal and we began to gradually venture back out into the world, we had to find new rhythms in our days as we tried to balance it all.
Although we, like Earley, may not fully comprehend the effects of how overwhelmed we are because “stressed” is now our default state, we can proactively recognize our lack of purposeful habits and seek to change that.
We all have habits, good and bad. But Earley notes that “It’s urgent … that we recover the wisdom of crafting a gospel-based rule of life as the new norm for living as a Christian in America today. We desperately need a set of counter-formative practices to become the lovers of God and neighbor we were created to be.”3
By practicing habits that shape the heart, we can “stop fearing that limits are a threat to our freedom.”4 In fact, habits that shape our hearts can form us into the lovers of God and neighbor He created us to be.
The Common Rule outlines eight habits to put into practice. Four are daily habits, and four are weekly habits. The habits are:
- Kneeling prayer at morning, midday, and bedtime.
- One meal with others.
- One hour with phone off.
- Scripture before phone.
- One hour of conversation with a friend.
- Curate media to four hours.
- Fast from something for twenty-four hours.
Earley devotes a chapter to each habit, describing the beauty in each and also sensible ways to apply the habits and how they can practically and positively impact your walk with Christ. Filled with helpful charts and resources, the book is about helping you find the most effective and natural way to best apply the habits in your own life.
Earley emphasizes the value of community throughout the book, as habits are easiest to build and keep when done with others. In the back of the book, he provides helpful suggestions in leading a group through the practices, but he also includes specific charts that will help different individuals, such as parents, creatives, addicts, those dealing with mental illness, and others, practice the daily and weekly habits in ways that will best fit the rhythm of their lives. He does note that he is not an expert, simply someone who is sharing what helped in his own journey, encouraging readers to still seek out help from a physician or mental health professional if needed as he also did when experiencing his own anxiety.
Ultimately, these habits are designed to draw you closer to God. As humans, we will repeatedly fail—Earley notes that if we don’t acknowledge our propensity toward this that we will appear as hypocrites—but “even when the imitation of Christ is a sorry echo of the real thing, it’s worth doing, because something worth doing is worth doing badly.”5 These habits are not bent on personal success; instead, they are focused on loving God and neighbor.
While developing the habits of The Common Rule will positively affect your life in multiple ways, the greatest benefit is the refocusing of your presence on God. And that is not limiting; it is liberating.
- Justin Whitmel Earley, The Common Rule (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2019), 4.
- Ibid., 2.