Friday, August 17, 2012

Who is More Spiritually Invested?

Why is it that in most couples it seems like one spouse is more spiritually invested than the other?  As I look at couples—and some I know really well—it seems that one always seems to be pulling the other one along to various degrees. Rare is the couple who will both pray, and will both volunteer, and both have a growing, real faith.
Correct or off base?

A friend of mine sent me an email earlier this week asking me this question, and (with his permission) I’m posting my reply because I think this is a dilemma that many couples struggle to navigate. 

My reply:
     The short answer to your question is, there is no short answer.  I understand what you're saying because I observe the same thing, but we are faulty observers (as I’ll explain below).  I think there are several reasons that it is an unfair, over-generalization to say that “one spouse is more spiritually invested than the other.”
     First, we are all spiritually gifted in different ways and we all are fueled by different spiritual passions.  Because I can only know my own experiences and feelings, the easiest thing for me to do is to believe my way of experiencing God—whether it be through worship, service, meditation, study and prayer habits, etc. —is the norm.  And if anyone does it different from the way I do it (especially my spouse, I mean after all, he/she lives with me and ought to know better after seeing me do it right all these years), then they must be wrong.  Paul was quick to remind us that we all serve a different function in the body, and it is wrong for one part to devalue another part because we are not all the same (1 Corinthians 12:12-31).
     Second, we are all gifted to different degrees.  Jesus said that a tree might produce a hundred-fold, but it might also produce sixty or thirty-fold (Mark 4:1-20).  Jesus didn't label the tree that produced less as unfruitful or unworthy.  If a "hundred-fold spouse" is married to a "thirty-fold spouse," it can seem like one is pulling the other along, but the reality is that both might be doing all they can for the Kingdom of God.  Again, our own experiences becomes the bar for establishing a norm, but we do well to remember that God is equally pleased with every tree that is producing all the fruit it can, no matter how much that is.  And don't forget, while you might be strong in one area you are weak in other areas where your spouse has to help you.
     Along these same lines, it is also important to realize that we don't always recognize or acknowledge what true fruit is.  The stay-at-home mom who's dedicated herself to raising faithful children might be producing more fruit than the wife who answers every call from the church pulpit for a ministry volunteer.  A man quietly exemplifying Christ for his co-workers can be as spiritually pleasing to God as the husband who invites his friends to every activity on the church calendar.  Too often, we are faulty observers of what fruit really is.
     Third, we are all at different places on our spiritual journeys.  Just as people physically, emotionally, and socially mature at different rates, we also mature spiritually at different rates.  Whether we want to admit it or not, most of our theology is driven by our past and present life circumstances.  So, regardless of how long a husband and wife have known each other or been together, regardless of how many shared experiences they have, they will always process those life circumstances at different rates and in different ways.  Thus, they will be at different places spiritually.
     Now all that having been said, I am also smart enough to know that sometimes one spouse or the other truly is spiritually lazy or unmotivated.  But is it just easier for one spouse to write-off the other as "less spiritual" than it is to invest the time and energy, to communicate clearly and lovingly, and to be a spiritual helpmate in order to find out what is really going on?
     I would suggest three things to address this question, regardless of whether it is a spouse truly being spiritually lazy and unmotivated or a spouse just not giving his/her mate room to be what God created them to be.  First, set realistic spiritual expectations.  This should be done jointly, not the supposedly “spiritually-superior” partner setting expectations for the other, but both spouses communicating freely and honestly about what they BOTH can do to enhance their spiritual relationship, and what they can do to better understand each other’s spiritual disposition and giftedness.
     Second, do the things that foster authentic spiritual intimacy.  To try and force someone to conform to your expectations of “what it is to be spiritual,” either through coercion, demeaning comments, or other manipulative means, is being a spiritual bully!  And nobody likes a bully! (See The Marriage Blog posts from June 22 and June 27, 2012 for more on fostering and destroying spiritual intimacy in marriage.)
     Third, find a joint service of ministry that you and your spouse can do together.  We often don’t understand our spouse’s spiritual disposition because we are too busy trying to pursue service to God apart from the one we are called to serve with.  This can be a challenge for a couple of reasons.  If you and your spouse’s giftedness and passions lie in different areas, finding a joint ministry might be tough.  Also, our contemporary culture’s obsession with individual rights and personal accolades has bled into our churches.  So, many times a spouse will pursue an isolated path to ministry that destroys rather than enhances the “one flesh” concept of marriage.  It is amazing how many people can neglect their spouses “in the name of God” and think that what they are doing is pleasing to God.  Finding a shared service of ministry can be a tough balancing act, but it is a key in enhancing spiritual growth and spiritual intimacy in both marriage partners.

Father, lead us each to be a blessing and help to our spouses as each couple seeks to grow together spiritually and serve your Kingdom.

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