A Review of The Common Rule: Habits of Purpose for an Age of Distraction by Justin Whitmeal Earley

books, catholicism

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thecommonrule

It is probably Earley’s misfortune that I read The Common Rule at the same time I have been reading Francis de Sales’ Introduction to the Devout Life. The latter makes the former seem incredibly shallow. I will try to be fair, because I do think if you are the type of person who does have a chaotic, out-of-control life, maybe Earley’s book can provide a beginning place for you — milk before meat for beginners and all that.

After an anxious breakdown Earley creates a rule of life to bring peace for himself and his family. While eating dinner with friends, he vows to practice this rule, determining that limits are the key to freedom. He writes, “I had lived my whole life thinking that all limits ruin freedom, when all along it’s been the opposite: the right limits create freedom.”

It is a Christian book and most of Earley’s advice revolves around ways Christianity and the Bible can help us with bringing order to life. He divides the rules into eight daily and weekly habits — a daily example being kneeling at prayer, weekly one hour of conversation with a friend. The appendix contains how to ascribe some of these rules to different walks of life — for parents, addicts, artists. I thought this was a good idea — one size does not fit everyone.

None of his rules are objectionable. Most — like scripture before phone in the mornings, curating tv to four hours a week — are very good ideas. Also — they are measurable for someone who just wants to try something, anything to make life feel better and more manageable. Sometimes I think advice can seem so vague, but the actionable nature of Earley’s rule I think could be really helpful.

Here is what I had a problem with and I say this tentatively: I am not too keen on the self-helpification of Christianity.

Take habit no. 3 – one hour with phone off (which is small potatoes to any Cal Newport reader). Earley writes about the importance of presence in life — we learn this with the creation and salvation stories. Turning off the phone gives us more time with children, but it also has another important benefit — you can get more done at work! And get into the state of flow! Of course — this is true. But I don’t exactly know what this has to do with living a Christian life. I didn’t realize the point of Christ was to help me be more productive, but ok.

I’m being snarky and perhaps even nit-picky. Still — Jesus is not your self-help guru. I love self-help books. I love books on productivity, I’m not sure the point of living in accordance with the Gospel is to become more productive.

I do not not recommend this book, but after reading it I suggest picking up something else, like a secular book on the same subject (7 Habits, being my favorite) or if living a better Christian life is what you want, pick up Introduction to the Devout Life. It is a good starting point, maybe, but even at that it is lackluster.

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