Thursday, March 9, 2017

Spiritual disciplines for couples (pt. 1)

     One of the places that many couples struggle is in growing together spiritually.  While they may attend worship or church related activities together, and both might be quick to acknowledge the place of God in their lives, their practice indicates a disconnect on spirituality being a shared endeavor.  In many ways, this is a byproduct of the American culture which often promotes and embodies an independent spirit.  For decades, that independent spirit was co-opted by churches which emphasized a “personal faith journey.”  Yes, we are all on a personal faith journey, and yes, there are some positive aspects to that independent spirit.  But if we’re not careful, adopting that attitude wholesale can be crippling to couples seeking a shared spiritual intimacy.
     In 25+ years of pastoral and clinical counseling, it has been my experience that most couples do a good job of praying for each other, but most do a poor job of praying with each other, and there is a profound difference in the two.  Why do couples struggle to pray together?  Because the independent spirit tells us that intimate prayer can only be a deeply personal thing, not to be shared with anyone else.  That same logic permeates scripture reading when we think, “I must find the meaning for me in the text”, worship when we tell ourselves, “I will go to church and sit with my spouse, but worship is meant to be a private experience”, and communion when we say, “Please don’t interrupt my time with God.” Independence-seeking thought processes are applied to so many other spiritual disciplines as well.
     In the next few posts, I want to offer some suggestions on how couples can engage in some more common spiritual disciplines but view them in a new light that will stimulate a healthier, more Christ-centered spiritual intimacy for you as a couple.  Before launching into that though, I think it is important to lay some ground work on what does and does not promote spiritual intimacy.  First, it is important to remember that we are all on an individual spiritual journey.  While that sounds contradictory to the purpose of these posts, it is not.  You and your spouse have different life experiences which have shaped your spiritual perspectives.  What was your church experience growing up?  What do you continue to hold on to from that time and what have you let go of?  How strongly is your spiritual identity linked to a family identity?  Hopefully, you have continually grown and matured in your spirituality throughout your life, but you are still a product of what has come before.  So, it is important that in sharing spiritual disciplines as a couple that you don’t try to force your mate to be where you are.  He/she may not yet have arrived (or they may have long since left that place).  To force your views with shame, guilt, or references to damnation is spiritual abuse and bullying.
     Second, practicing a couple-centered spirituality isn’t a replacement for individual spiritual practices (again, not a contradiction to the purpose of these posts).  Instead, it should be an enhancement.  Your individual faith is best lived out in the context of your relationship with your spouse.  Because of the close intimate nature of marriage, it can be difficult to open up to your mate in such a vulnerable way, but that level of transparency brings a connection that moves you and your mate closer and closer to the ideal of “naked and not ashamed.”  If there are still some things you need to keep just between you and God right now, that’s okay—  just don't settle for shutting your mate out forever.  Like all spiritual disciplines and practices, couple-centered spiritual disciplines is a process that will take time to be more fully realized.
     Third, allow your mate to ask the hard questions.  Spiritual growth is not about painting a naïve or unrealistic picture of who God is or how this world operates, or shutting down things that challenge your current paradigm.  It is about living in the tension between trusting God and struggling with what appears to be unfair or even unanswerable questions.  Why do I feel this way?  Why did that have to happen?  Where do I go from here?  Why me?  God, are you really even there?  We all wrestle with these questions from time to time, and as you and your mate practice spiritual disciplines together, allowing the rawness of what you are experiencing in life to come out with your mate will ultimately bring you closer to each other and closer to God.
     As you think about engaging in spiritual disciplines with your spouse, you might want to click here to read a previous post from several years ago that looked at ways we can destroy spiritual intimacy in marriage.
     To engage in spiritual disciplines with your spouse can be one of the most difficult things you commit to, but can also be one of the most rewarding, both for you as an individual and for you and your covenant love as a couple.  In the next post, we’ll begin looking at specific disciplines.

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