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.