We’d been married only a few weeks when we discovered that growing our spirituality as a couple was going to be much more complicated than the instructions on the packet suggested.
The basic instructions went something like, “Read your Bibles and pray together. Apply twice daily for best results.” But the reality was a mismatch of our work schedules, unrealistic expectations and different learning styles. It didn’t work for us and we didn’t know what to do next.
Over the years, Bernie and I muddled our way into what worked for us. It hasn’t been easy, but it’s been worth it, because the spiritual dimension of our marriage has enhanced our friendship, our lives and even our physical intimacy. If one layer is missing or wears thin, we lose something precious. Many of the highest peaks in our relationship have been during those rare moments when we managed to connect at the deepest level of our spirituality.
Work it out
Eventually, we found a way to share what we enjoyed most about our spiritual activities and what we appreciated about each other’s differing perspectives. We began to understand each other’s learning styles. Bernie is more analytical and theological; I am more creative and experiential. We asked ourselves, “How can we create a space for our spiritual intimacy that we both enjoy and where we both feel safe?”
We also discovered that our spiritual relationship doesn’t have to be at some fixed time during the day, but it does need to infuse our entire lives (Deuteronomy 6:4-9). We eventually decided that most of the time it was best for us to have our individual periods with God and then share what inspired us rather than feeling we ought to be reading and studying the same thing at the same time.
Explore the Bible together
Many couples find it challenging to study the Bible together because they prefer to study and read the Bible in different ways. My husband is a pastor, so he reads the Bible from a theological perspective that excites him but leaves me feeling confused.
I’m a writer and also a family counsellor, so I’m interested in the stories of people’s lives. He’s fascinated by ideas while I want the Bible to make a practical difference in my everyday life. And the list goes on.
Several years ago, I studied Godly Play, which is a unique way of telling Bible stories to nurture children’s spirituality. Jerome Berryman, the founder of Godly Play, uses some very helpful questions that can be adapted to any Bible story, no matter how old you are or how much you know or don’t know about the Bible. We’ve found these questions very useful, because they help us to reflect on any Bible passage in a curious and wondering way without highlighting our different levels of theological education or making us feel frustrated. And we’ve added a couple of questions of our own. We find the following questions especially useful:
- What did you enjoy most about the Bible passage?
- What was the most important message in the passage for you?
- What did you read that was the most about you or that connected most closely with your life today?
- What did you learn about God’s love for you?
- What did you sense the Holy Spirit inspiring you to do next?
We don’t even have to read the same Bible passages to talk about these questions and they often lead to inspiring conversations and fresh possibilities.
Some couples are very comfortable praying aloud alongside each other and for each other. Other couples like to vary their prayer styles and some are still working out how to pray together. Here are a few ideas that we found useful:
- If praying aloud together feels a little strange, try sharing two or three prayer requests with each other. Then hold hands and pray silently for each other. Squeeze your partner’s hand when you’ve finished and say “Amen” together. This enables you to feel close and supportive without feeling self-conscious.
- Keep a diary by your bed. Each night before you go to sleep, talk about the good things that have happened and write down five things you’re thankful for. It’s a heartwarming and uplifting way to end each day together.
- Praise God together through the whole alphabet. Think about all the words beginning with the letter A that describe God, such as Almighty, Amazing and Accepting. Then do the same for B and C, and so on. Write all the words down, because you’ll be surprised at how many there are! It’s inspiring to think about the aspects of God’s character that we tend to overlook, such as the God who “will rejoice over you with singing” (Zephaniah 3:17).
- Write your prayer requests on individual cards and choose a few to pray about each day. Also write how your prayers are answered. Keep the answered-prayer cards to encourage you in the future.
- Email or text a prayer for each other at some time during the day, especially when your partner is facing a challenge.
- Go for a walk together and use the things you see along the way to inspire a conversational prayer.
- Each of you write a prayer to God for the other and then read your prayers aloud. Praise God for creating your partner. Thank Him for your partner’s special gifts and for bringing you together. Tell God how sorry you are for the ways you’ve hurt your partner and end by praying for three of your partner’s special prayer requests.
Stay spiritually refreshed
- Join a small Bible study group together. If you have young children, host a group in your home so you can both attend.
- Attend a Christian marriage or family retreat.
- Find a ministry that blends your unique spiritual gifts and talents in a project that you both feel passionate about. It may be feeding the homeless or caring for the yard of a disabled person in your community. Serving God and helping others together adds fresh dimensions of joy to your relationship.
- Work at growing together. Choose a characteristic that you’d like to see more of in your lives and then be intentional about things like being more generous, doing a secret act of kindness each week, sharing your home with others or taking care of God’s creation.
- Do something different. Learn a new praise song; memorise a chapter or a short book of the Bible; create an inspiring piece of art together.
The greatest of these is love
Whatever you do to nurture each other’s spirituality, there are three important dimensions that will help you to have a positive and balanced spiritual relationship:
- Focus on God’s incredible love for each of you. “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19). When we experience God’s welcoming acceptance, His total forgiveness and His 100 per cent extreme love for us, we learn how to share that amazing love with each other. Our personal and couple spirituality flourishes when we keep searching out and discovering more about God’s loving character.
- Remember that you are the most important person on earth to help your partner understand God’s love for him or her. Ask yourself, “How can I help my spouse experience God’s love through me today?” and, “Is what I am doing and saying bringing us closer to God and to each other, or is it pushing us farther apart?”
- Don’t keep the treasures of God’s love to yourselves. Find ways to make a difference in your community together. Have fun planning secret acts of kindness. Open up your home and discover the delight of serving God together.
These are a few of the ways my husband and I have learned to share our spiritual lives together. Try them out, and then experiment with some ideas of your own.
Too busy to connect
Not enough time to share spiritually?
Try some of these simple ideas:
- Share moments of creation wonder together. Gaze at the stars for a few minutes. Choose a flower, shell or fruit, and explore it together. Notice the colours and intricate shapes. Smell the fragrance, feel the textures and taste the flavours.
- Explore a creation of your own hands that you probably take for granted and praise God for the amazing designs He has given you the ability to produce.
- Tell each other how you experience God’s love, glory or peace during the day.
- Listen to the same Christian audio books as you drive to work or exercise. Talk about them when you’re together.
- Write a short prayer for your partner and email it to them, or tuck it into their pocket.
- Attach a list of prayer requests to your refrigerator or mirror, where you can see them every day.
- Take turns choosing Bible verses. Write them out or email them to each other so you can both reflect on them during the day, then talk about them when you’re together again.
Karen Holford is a family therapist with a background in occupational therapy and developmental psychology. A version of this article first appeared on the Signs of the Times Australia website and is republished here with permission.