Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Destroying Spiritual Intimacy in Marriage

            Last post, we talked about 7 ways to enhance spiritual intimacy in marriage.  As I noted in that post, true intimacy is multi-faceted, and spiritual intimacy is a key component of a healthy intimate connection with your mate.  Just as there are behaviors that can enhance spiritual intimacy, there are also behaviors that can destroy spiritual intimacy between a husband and wife.  Here are 5 specific behaviors that destroy spiritual intimacy with your mate.

5 Things that Destroy Spiritual Intimacy:
  1. Segregating your life into spiritual and secular.  God created us as holistic beings.  When we forget that and try to compartmentalize our lives, when we leave the Spirit of God out of any aspect, we damage our spiritual relationship with God and our spiritual intimacy with our spouses.  If you forget that the physical always affects the spiritual, you open the door to pornography, materialism, and a host of other outward behaviors that drive a spiritual wedge between you and your mate.
  2. Worshiping the church rather than the living God of the church.  Church is important.  It is the community of God’s people worshiping together, caring for each other, and empowering each other to carry the gospel message to the world.  However, too many churches have fallen into the trap of believing that busyness equals worth.  Because of this, they perpetuate over-crowded calendars full of ministries fueled by a guilt-inducing, institution-centric mentality.  Rather than bringing husbands and wives together spiritually, a frenetic slate of church programs that is gender and age segregated can instead tear apart marriages and families, and all “in the name of God.”  Remember, one of the ways to enhance spiritual intimacy is to find a shared mission and ministry.
  3. Being a “spiritual bully.”  We all like to think that we are right, and that what we believe is unbiasedly scriptural.  But when you dig in your heels and berate or ridicule your mate when his/her spiritual beliefs differ from your own, you have just made the move to being a spiritual bully.  Spiritual bullies would rather win the debate than recognize they just might not know everything.  They typically forget that they didn’t always hold the position they currently are beating up their mates with, and that their position will likely change again.  Please understand that I’m not advocating not knowing why you believe what you believe or not standing up for truth.  But we are all at different places on  our spiritual journeys, and a spiritual bully will absolutely destroy spiritual intimacy with his or her mate.
  4. Not caring for your mate when he or she or spiritually wounded.  We are fallen people living in a fallen world.  Because of this, things happen that hurt us.  Too often, those wounds come from “good Christian folks” who may or may not have good intentions.  Spiritual wounds cut deep and last long.  They shake our faith in others, and sometimes in God.  When your mate is spiritually wounded, failing to acknowledge it and walk with him/her through the pain will leave your mate feeling isolated and create a spiritual distance between you from which you may never recover.
  5. Failing to admit fault or accept responsibility.  There is no doubt that we live in a victim society.  In our culture, everyone wants to blame someone else.  But actions have consequences, and we are called to accountability, both to God and to our spouses.  It is virtually impossible to be spiritually intimate with someone who thinks he/she is never at fault and who wants to blame everyone else (including their mate!) for everything that goes wrong.  Healthy marriage requires a lot of forgiveness, but failure to admit your own part in conflict and problems will destroy spiritual connectedness.
            Certainly other things could be added to this list (please share in the comments section so that others can benefit from your insights).  If we are not intentional about fostering spiritual intimacy with our mates, behaviors will slip in that will destroy spiritual intimacy.  May God bring us closer to him as we grow closer to our mates.

 Marriage Enrichment Weekend
Fall Creek Falls State Park Inn
August 31-September 2, 2012
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Friday, June 22, 2012

Fostering Spiritual Intimacy in Marriage

            When most people hear “intimacy,” they only think about the physical side of it.  But true intimacy is multifaceted, and spiritual intimacy is a key component of a healthy intimate connection with your mate.  Just as with most other aspects of marriage, there are behaviors that can enhance spiritual intimacy and behaviors that can destroy spiritual intimacy between a husband and wife.
            In this post, we’ll look at seven specific things you can do to enhance spiritual intimacy with your mate, and in the next post we’ll note five things that can quickly destroy spiritual intimacy.

7 Ways to Enhance Spiritual Intimacy:
  1. Pray together.  Nothing will open up spiritual intimacy faster than shared prayer where you are completely honest with God before each other.  (See the posts from April 2, May 17, and June 18 for some of the various aspects of a couple’s prayer life together.)
  2. Worship together.  I know spouses can have widely varying beliefs and practices.  I know spouses can sometimes be at radically different places in their own spiritual journeys.  But when we come before God in uninhibited worship and praise, we unite our own hearts with the Creator and at least touch on the Edenic ideal of husband, wife, and God in a holistic relationship.
  3. Find a shared ministry.  When you use your God-given gifts together to serve others, something incredible happens.  Whether it’s through a program at your church, a local charity/ service organization, or something you do on your own, such as helping the little old widow lady who lives next door, if you and your spouse do it together it will bring you together spiritually.
  4. Sacrificial living within the marriage context.  Sometimes we become so comfortable with our spouses that we begin to take them for granted.  We forget that marriage is about the pursuit of holiness as a couple in a covenant relationship with each other and with God, not about the pursuit of a self-centered happiness that treats your partner as if his/her only job is to serve your "needs."  In mutual sacrificial living toward each other, you’ll find joy flowing from your spirit toward your mate (and you're more likely to get your real needs fulfilled in a much more satisfying way).
  5. Being Christ-like to your spouse first.  I’m amazed at how often a husband can demean and berate his wife without thinking twice, but treat a clerk at the grocery store with the greatest of grace and patience.  Or, how a wife can be screaming at her husband and when the phone rings, turn off the angry tone and speak as sweet as honey.  We should be Christ-like toward others, but we should always be practicing our faith at home with our own spouses first and foremost.
  6. Forgiveness, grace, mercy, and patience.  Of all the ways we do practice our faith at home first and foremost, these four are often the most critical.  When we begin to master these virtues, our spiritual intimacy with our mates will flourish.
  7. Shared trials.  Obviously, this is the path to spiritual intimacy that anyone would least like to take.  But, if you practice marriage as “one flesh,” if you seek mutual holiness over self-centered happiness, if you find a safe harbor in each other in which you can be transparent and authentic—warts and all—shared trials can ultimately enhance your spiritual intimacy.
            Spiritual intimacy allows a couple to grow closer to each other as they grow closer to God.  There are certainly other things that you might be able to add to this list (if so please share them in the comments section below so that others can benefit from it), but just make sure you are doing something to intentionally move toward a holistic relationship of husband, wife, and God.

  There are still a few spots left for our August 31-Sept. 2
Marriage Enrichment Weekend
at Fall Creek Falls State Park Inn
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Monday, June 18, 2012

Spiritual Intimacy in Shared Prayer

Do you pray with your spouse?  I’m not asking do you pray for your spouse.  Do you pray with your spouse?  I’m also not asking this as a rhetorical question.  I’d honestly like some feedback about whether or not you feel like you pray with your spouse like you should.  And if not, why not?

True, holistic, meaningful intimacy is multifaceted, and spiritual intimacy is a critical dimension of a couple’s overall intimate relationship.  Yet, many couples fail to facilitate their spiritual intimacy through shared prayer.  Why?  A time of shared prayer seems like such a simple thing.  So, why is it so often neglected?

In my experience counseling and talking with couples, wives typically want their husbands to show spiritual leadership in the marriage relationship and be the ones to initiate prayer time together.  However, men have a plethora of reasons for not doing so.  For those men who grew up going to church, many experienced a church culture that stressed the outward "performance" of spiritual disciplines.  Young men were told that they needed to look the right way, read scripture in a flawless manner, lead singing with just the right gusto, speak clearly and confidently from the pulpit, and always use the right language when praying in public worship.  The sense of perfectionism in these disciplines carried over into the home life as well.  Please understand, I am not faulting any previous generation for setting unrealistic or “performance-based standards for prayer.  For those generations, it was not a show.  It was how they perceived "giving your best to God."  Regrettably though, the stress on flowery, poetic language and carefully measured phrasing left many young men who had a different set of God-given talents with the constant sense that their best was not good enough.  So, rather than fail to live up to expectations, it was easier to simply not do anything.  And, that sense of "not good enough" prayers carried over into their marriages.

This is just one example of what can contribute to a stagnation of shared prayer in marriage.  There are many other, greatly diverse reasons a husband or wife might feel uncomfortable sharing prayer time with his/her spouse.  But, regardless of the specific reason, what do we do?  How do we overcome the barriers to a shared prayer life?

The reality is that most husbands and wives are not taught how to communicate spiritually with their mates (at least not in a way that conveys and grows spiritual intimacy). Here are a couple of suggestions that I think are critical to breaking through this barrier.  First, spouses have to become comfortable speaking honestly in their prayers with each other.  Because of the “perfection in prayer” mentality we sometimes nurture, in our prayers that we vocalize in front of our mates we have problems admitting fear, failure, uncertainty, or other feelings and situations that plague us.  Yet, when I am honest about my spiritual life before my mate, imperfections, doubts and all, I become spiritually transparent and authentic, fostering a greater spiritual intimacy.

Second, every husband and wife needs to be part of a like-gender accountability group.  Men have struggles that only other men can fully understand, and women have struggles that only other women can fully understand.  While we must seek spiritual intimacy primarily with our spouses, we also need others of like-gender to pray with and for us.  But more significantly, we need others in our lives that have permission to crack down on us and hold us accountable if they see we are doing things that will harm our marriage or our spiritual walk.

Pray for your spouse.  But more significantly, honestly and openly pray with your spouse.  It will open up a whole new level of intimacy and connectedness between you.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Marriage and the Sabbath Principle

      Years ago, I was talking with a friend at church.  Lisa and I had just gotten back from vacation and my friend asked me how our trip went.  I told him Lisa and I had a great, relaxing time together.  A church leader overheard our conversation and commented that he "didn't even know what a vacation was."  He went on to say that he hadn't been on a vacation in 7 years.  Expecting to be complimented for an exceptional work ethic, I instead told him that I felt sorry for him and I especially felt sorry for his wife.
      God created us to need rest.  He set apart the seventh day, the Sabbath, and made it holy.  In the Law of Moses, to ignore and desecrate the Sabbath was a capital offense.  That’s how important this Sabbath principle of rest is.  Through regular rest, we renew our bodies, our minds, and our spiritual orientation as we affirm our reliance on God alone to sustain us.
It is obvious that in our 21st century American culture the Sabbath principle of regular rest and renewal has fallen by the wayside.  We are way too busy; way too addicted to noise and to a frenetic lifestyle.  There is always someone or something standing at the door ready to take a piece of your time or your resources.  The results of our non-stop lifestyles are abundantly obvious; health problems, relationship problems, emotional problems, spiritual decline, and more.  If a Sabbath time is not prioritized, it will not happen.
But here’s the thing we sometimes forget.  Just as an individual needs regular periods of rest and renewal, so do couples.  Husbands and wives need to prioritize time together in which they can engage each other in a relaxed setting, share in intimacy (physical, social, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual), and renew and reaffirm their covenant relationship with each other and with God.  It needs to be a time of rest, play, and spiritual growth as a couple.  After all, God gave the Sabbath to Adam and Eve together (Genesis 1:26-2:3).  If a Sabbath time together for a husband and wife is not prioritized, it will not happen.
Churches typically don’t help couples in this cycle of renewal toward healthy marriages.  Instead, most congregations produce overloaded church calendars.  The real bane of the church calendar is the false impression that participation in church activities is the same as participation in the kingdom of God, and to skip a church event is equal to rebellion against what God desires for one’s marriage and family. Ironically, most church calendars are so age segregated for children and gender segregated for adults that we only add more layers of busyness. The church calendar can easily create a stigma of guilt for “not being committed to God” even as it unknowingly harms a marriage and/or family. Because our society (including churches) functionally rejects the Sabbath principle, we propagate “busyness equals worth” and marriages suffer for it.
So what do we do?  Ongoing obligations and resources always have to be taken into account when planning a time of Sabbath as a couple.  I’d love to get away to a beach house in Hawaii with my wife every few months, but that is just not realistic.  Regardless of your limitations, find something you can do to have a time of Sabbath rest as a couple.  Set aside a day for worship together, take a walk together, read scripture together, play a game, take a vacation.  Whether it’s for a week, a weekend, a day, or even a few hours, find some way to just rest in the presence of each other as you rest in the presence of God.
        Put as much intentionality into your rest with your spouse as you put into anything else you do to better your marriage.  Put a regular "couple’s time of Sabbath rest" on the calendar.  Make it a priority.  Realize that without rest together as a couple, you circumvent God’s design for your relationship.

What does God want from my marriage?
 A Weekend Marriage Enrichment Retreat
Friday, August 31-Sunday, September 2, 2012
Fall Creek Falls State Park Inn
Limited to 25 couples
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