Friday, April 29, 2016

Spiritual intimacy or Spiritual busyness?

     When Don and Deb were dreaming about their lives together, they both knew they wanted to be involved with a church.  After all, in a sense, it was church that brought them together.  They met at and were both active in a church’s college ministry in their undergrad years.  In addition to regular Bible class and worship times together, they were active in serving alongside each other in tutoring children, doing yard work for the elderly, going on short-term mission trips, serving food in a homeless shelter, and chaperoning youth trips (not to mention countless devotionals and late night singings with the college group).  Because they were both ministry-minded, it was no surprise that they fell for each other, married, and continued their involvement in church activities.
     Fast forward 17 years, and Don and Deb have three children, and are just as committed to their church’s programs as ever.  They teach Bible classes, host a small group in their home, and continue to chaperone youth activities (but now their own kids are involved).  Don serves as a visitation committee leader, Deb co-ordinates the food program, and the list of what they do for their church goes on-and-on.  In fact, it is rare for them to not be doing something ministry related.  So why do they feel so alone and spiritually disconnected from each other, especially when they are so committed to serving the Lord?
     In the midst of all the good works, they lost the greater good.  While they have been spiritually busy, they failed to grow in their spiritual intimacy as a couple.  You see, the cultural viewpoint that busyness-equals-worth and you-are-what-you-do has seeped into the church.  So, in an effort to feel like they have to prove their worth to God, or be seen as a faithful Christian by others, some couples have sacrificed their own spiritual intimacy for a constant busyness.
     Spiritual intimacy is a critical part of a healthy marriage relationship.  Spiritual intimacy is sharing without fear where you are on your faith journey.  It is metaphorically standing “naked and not ashamed” before your spouse as you both stand before God.  Spiritual intimacy allows husband and wife to commune with each other and with God in a way that brings deeper understanding, more transparency, and challenges the world’s notion that activity equals worth.
     Spiritual busyness, on the other hand, is a mask that some hide behind to avoid that kind of authenticity with his/her mate.  After all, who would challenge someone’s priorities if he/she is consistently “doing the Lord’s work.”
     Now don’t misunderstand what I’m saying.  We are called to use our talents and spiritual gifts and serve the Lord.  Churches do need good people to help do good works for the good of the body of Christ and the community.  Serving is a tremendous way to teach our children to live outside of themselves and to live for the One who gives life.  But even good things can be co-opted for wrong or selfish purposes if your marriage suffers because of it.
     So, how do you build spiritual intimacy without getting lost in spiritual busyness?  Here are three key ways:

  • Sharing in Word and Prayer.  You can only grow together spiritually if you have a foundation on which to do so.  When you share in the story of scripture together and connect that to your own story as a couple, you allow God to touch every part of your lives.  Please note, this is not the same as preparing for classes or lessons, or trying to remember what some past preacher said about a certain passage of scripture.  It is coming to Word and letting it speak freshly into the moment.  And, as you listen to God speak to you through his Word, prayer becomes a place of response as a couple.  I advocate that couples go knee-to-knee—sitting face-to-face with each other, holding hands—to allow the physical presence and physical touch to intersect with the spiritual intimacy the comes in shared prayer.  In shared prayer, you will hear your mate’s heart—his/her joys, fears, dreams, and hope—more than any other time.
  • Sharing in Sabbath together.  God created the Sabbath as a time of rest and spiritual renewal and refocus.  Couples need to share in a time of Sabbath together. Husband and wife need to be intentional about times they are together, but disconnected from everything except their shared faith and covenant union.  It might be a short time daily, the better part of a day occasionally, or (if time and money allow) a weekend or even full week or more periodically.  During times of Sabbath connection, turn off the electronics, minimize the distractions as much as possible, and rest in the presence of the one you have committed yourself to “until death do you part.”
  • Find a shared ministry.  Serving in some outward, physical way is not contradictory to spiritual intimacy.  God calls us to look outside ourselves, and when you and your spouse together serve someone else’s needs, it helps you to better understand the need to give of yourself for the blessing of your mate within the marriage.  Just don’t let it become an excuse to minimize your spiritual connection within the marriage.  Remember, the key is finding a shared ministry you can do together.

Spiritual intimacy is a part of a holistic intimacy (that also includes physical intimacy, emotional intimacy, intellectual intimacy, and social intimacy).  When we ignore any aspect of intimacy, it affects other areas.  A powerful spiritual intimacy leads to better emotional connection, feeling more valued intellectually, more meaningful social interactions, and even a healthier physical intimacy.  God called you and your spouse to be one flesh.  Understanding that means understanding the importance of spiritual intimacy.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Words of Life...

     Language shapes our perception, and our perception
shapes our reality.  Words carry weight.  They mean something.  They impact us.  They inform how we feel about our mates.  Words factor heavily into the environment that we construct around our marriage relationship, and words build the reality of the relationship that we live within, day-by-day.  Words can create life, and encouragement, and hope, or they can bring death, and destruction, and misery.  It is no surprise that God’s Word has so much to say about the power of our words to bless others or to create dissension.
     So, how carefully do you measure your words in your conversation with your mate?  Good, healthy communication is difficult enough in normal circumstances, but careless, unhealthy communication can quickly amplify a bad moment and drive a wedge deeply into the marriage relationship.  And, whatever is perceived in that moment will contribute to shaping and solidifying your marriage reality.
     In every communication, three things happen.  First, there is what is said.  What words does your brain tell your mouth to speak?  Are they words of hope, encouragement, healing, and goodness, or are they words filled with hate, and anger, and venomous cheap shots?  Is the tone loving and soothing, or is it harsh and uncaring?  Second, there is what is heard.  What message did your ears receive?  Have you ever been talking through a wall when your spouse is in another room, and she said, “Can you bring me a drink?” but what you hear is “There are ninja monkeys in the front yard.”  Sometimes, we honestly misunderstand what our mate said, so it is important to always clarify before responding.  And third, there is what is interpreted.  What do you do with the message you received?  Do you see it as something good for the marriage relationship, or as a personal attack?  If there are two ways to take something your spouse said, do you give him/her the benefit of the doubt and take it as positively as possible, or do you expect it will always be negative?  Language shapes our perceptions, and our perceptions always shape the reality of how we view our marriages.
     As you take stock of how you and your mate communicate, here are a few things that will help re-shape your marriage environment.

  • Say “I love you” regularly.  Yes, love is an action and you demonstrate your love in how you live toward your mate, but hearing it regularly helps to build upon and reinforce what your actions should be already saying.
  • Get rid of blame and criticism.  How much of what you say to your mate is tainted by criticism and blame?  Couples caught in cycles of criticism and blame begin to shut down, to withdraw from each other, to isolate, and in some cases to seek affirmation in other places that they shouldn’t.  There are ways to address conflict that don’t always start with finger pointing and listing everything the other person does that you aren’t pleased with.
  • Express gratitude regularly.  Nothing builds a healthy perception of your relationship faster than being appreciated.  For big things and small, whether you are happy with your mate at the moment or not, always take the time to say “thank you” and specify what you are thankful for.
  • Pray out loud, with and for each other, together regularly. Let God’s Spirit shape your perceptions of your relationship with your partner through the words of your mutual prayers.  If God’s presence flows freely through your covenant union, then your perception and your marriage reality will reflect his love and care, forgiveness and grace.

It’s not much.  And honestly, it’s not hard.  But it takes intentionality, dedication, and possibly retraining your mind to respond in a new way.  If you’re willing to make the effort and do these four things, you will be amazed at how quickly your marriage will begin to change for the better.
     Language shapes your perception, and your perception shapes your reality.  There is no escaping it.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Secrets kill...

     Secrets kill a relationship.  There is no way around it.  Secrets kill a relationship.  To clarify for this post, “secrets” is not referring to a surprise birthday party, keeping a trip with your mate spontaneous, or other things that bring joy and surprise while mutually enhancing the covenant marriage relationship.  The secrets that I am referring to are things meant to distract your spouse from your intentional choices that would prove harmful to the marriage, hiding things to manipulate your mate or give yourself a sense of control or superiority over your mate, and/or rejecting the one-flesh concept of marriage by keeping yourself walled off from your spouse.
     In the short term, keeping secrets often seems easier.  Just omit a little bit of the truth.  Engage in some careful misdirection.  If necessary, be adamant about your “rights” and throw in a little guilt for good measure.  “But, I have a right to my privacy.  I don’t know why you are making such a big deal out of this.”
     Privacy and secrets are not the same thing.  There is a stark difference between privacy for the sake of time with your own thoughts for meaningful self-reflection, rest, and recover, and repentance (or even privacy for basic dignity), and secrecy that is meant to hide something from your spouse.  When secrets enter into a marriage relationship, several things happen.

  • We allow our mate’s imagination to go to dark places.  “You are not allowed to look in this drawer.”  “You don’t need the password to my phone, now quit asking!”  When you tell your mate that some aspect of your life is off limits, you destroy trust in all areas of the relationship.  And—whether your mate’s suspicions are true or not—one thought leads to another, and then to another, as his/her imagination flows freely through the cracks of mistrust.  “If you're hiding this from me, what else are you hiding?” becomes a common thought.
  • You deprioritize your spouse as keeping the secret becomes more important than the relationship.  “You don’t have a right to know.”  “Why do you have to keep harping on me about this?  It’s none of your business.”  What does it say to your spouse when you shut him/her out?  What does it say about your covenant promises to cherish him/her above all else?  Secrets clearly communicate that you hold something else as more important than your marriage relationship.
  • Secrets perpetuate lies.  In order to maintain secrets, one lie leads to another, and then to another, and then to another.  Once a person begins down the path of destructive secrecy, you constantly have to be thinking about how to cover up every deception with misdirection.  “If she searches the history on the computer, I’ll remind her that it sits on my desk at work and is accessible by anyone.”  “If he notices money is missing from the account, I’ll say I had some unexpected work expenses.”
  • Secrets create an environment that invites more secrets.  As strange as it seems, we sometimes feel justified in doing back to others the very thing that hurts us.  Once a husband or wife begins keeping secrets, it is easy for the other to respond by doing the same.  “Well if I can’t know about X, then I have the right to go out and do Y and never tell you about it.”  Walls are quickly built up, and secrets cause spouses to grow further and further apart.

     So how do we keep secrets from destroying our marriages?

  • No restricted technology.  All computers, websites, mobile devices, social media, passcodes and passwords, etc. should be easily accessible to both partners.  “I don’t want to know his/her passcode because he/she has a right to his/her privacy,” should be a foreign language to you.  It should be as if the other person is talking gibberish when saying such things.
  • Full truth, even if it hurts.  The truth might hurt, but it is better to endure short-term pain and ask for forgiveness and grace than it is to suffer through the long-term pain you and your spouse will both endure if he/she has to wade through a sea of lies. 
  • Share information before you are asked for it.  It is always easy to assume that if your mate wants to know something he/she will ask, but don’t wait for an invitation to share information.  Consistent, healthy, loving, forgiving Christ-centered communication eradicates destructive secrets.  Check in with your mate regularly, and freely share.  It is much harder for information to become destructive if it is never given a chance to get rooted in secrecy.
     Secrets thrive on fear—fear of your mate finding out about something you’ve done, fear of losing control, fear of guilt and shame, fear of having to be transparent with someone else. When you are afraid, it can be easy to hide things, to perpetuate secrets to protect yourself and give you a sense of control (albeit a false one).  But “perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” (1 John 4:18)  Don’t trade in a beautiful covenant marriage relationship for a false sense of security wrapped in secrets.