It doesn’t need to be only long prayers and joint Bible study
When you hear the phrase "spiritual intimacy as a couple," what comes to mind? Maybe you picture an Instagram-worthy sunroom, complete with two rockers, two steaming cups of coffee, huge tomes of Bible commentaries and study Bibles and highlighters.
That sounds so intimidating.
I’ve been married for 25 years, and my husband and I have led mission trips, spoken at marriage conferences and raised two girls who love Jesus. But we don’t have a sunroom. We don’t do many Bible studies together and we don’t spend hours praying together. I don’t even particularly like coffee! And yet, no one knows me better spiritually than Keith.
I’ve been blogging, writing and speaking about marriage for over ten years, and I have discovered that almost universally couples yearn to experience true spiritual intimacy. And almost always they have no idea how to do that.
GRASP HOW WE RELATE TO GOD INDIVIDUALLY
Perhaps one of the primary reasons is that we have too many preconceived notions of what relating to God looks like. One of my biggest "Aha!" moments was reading Gary Thomas’ book Sacred Pathways. Thomas writes that, just like we all have our own love languages, so we have different "spiritual pathways" where we most naturally experience God.
Thomas identifies nine pathways in Scripture – among them the intellectual pathway, with the in-depth devotional quiet time with journals and highlighters; the service pathway, where we pour ourselves out for others; the nature pathway, where we value solitude and contemplation as we head outdoors; and six more.
Thomas’ concept highlights that our church culture tends mostly to recognize the intellectual pathway as the most legitimate one. What if instead we recognized each other’s spiritual pathways and took them as an opportunity to learn from each other?
Sharol and Neil Josephson are co-executive directors of FamilyLife Canada. Sharol, your typical contemplative introvert, thrives on times of quiet, prayer and meditation. Neil, on the other hand, can’t sit still. He experiences God in a more intellectual way, where you read the Bible to find an answer to a specific question. Yet Neil deeply respects Sharol’s walk with God, so a few years ago, in an attempt to better understand her heart, he decided to sign himself up for a weeklong silent retreat where he would only be allowed to speak at meals.
"I decided, ‘Go big or go home!’" Neil explains. Sharol joked he wouldn’t make it one day. He beat her expectations by four. Yet he found the experience deeply moving. By the last – almost desperate – day, he was able to understand, "Oh, I get why Sharol likes this."
Understanding how your spouse experiences God can open our own hearts to elements of God’s character we may not normally see. Once we grasp that our spiritual walks don’t have to mirror each other, it’s much easier to blend those walks together.
BE INTENTIONAL ABOUT RELATING TO GOD AS A COUPLE
When we’re experiencing God as an individual, we’re baring our souls and crying, "Search me, and know me, O God" (Psalm 139:23). When we do that as a couple, it packs a powerful punch – we can achieve much deeper intimacy because we’re being vulnerable together.
Indeed, you can’t have spiritual intimacy without emotional vulnerability, because knowing God is about getting rid of pretence and exposing your real self. How do you accomplish that as a couple?
Over the last four years my husband and I have spent far too much time in different cities with work. On those days when we’re apart, it’s easy to get caught up in our own projects or in solo Netflix marathons! We’ve had to be deliberate about fostering intimacy.
One helpful habit we’ve started is sharing our consolation and desolation of the day, or our spiritual high and low, when we most felt God move through us, and when we most felt attacked and most frustrated. It helps us understand each other better, but also helps identify our unique spiritual giftings and challenges so we can pray more effectively.
TAKE THAT SPIRITUAL CHECK-IN TO GOD IN PRAYER
Most couples find it easier to understand each other’s walks with God than to actually invite God into those walks. Prayer is hard. It’s vulnerable and can feel really unnatural. Of course, some people are perfectly comfortable praying out loud. Most couples though will have at least one person who isn’t. How can we make prayer easier?
1. Go for quality, not quantity
Prayers don’t have to be ten minutes long. Aim for concise, meaningful prayers together. If you need more, you can always pray longer on your own.
2. Grow comfortable with silence
Can’t pray out loud? Hold each other’s hands while you pray silently.
3. Pray while you walk
Sometimes the intimidating part is the sitting still. Get outside and walk, and prayer may be easier.
4. Use prayer prompts or prewritten prayers
Much traditional liturgy is comprised of beautiful prayers. Seek out Anglican prayers online or buy some books of prayers. The words may not be your own, but if they’re sincere, God’s power still rests with you.
5. Read a psalm together
Many of the psalms are prayers – and praying Scripture is powerful.
TAKE THAT SHARED SPIRITUALITY OUT INTO THE WORLD
You know each other’s hearts. You’ve brought them before God. Now it’s time to look outward. The times my husband and I have felt closest to God have often been in times of wider Christian community and service.
We are the Body of Christ, and that Body will only feel whole when we’re not just experiencing God ourselves, but bringing Him into the world. If you want to really feel spiritually intimate with your spouse, then be Christ’s hands and feet together.
Your spiritual walk may not always match the typical spiritual mold, but when it’s authentic and flows from a genuine faith, then intimacy will flourish.
WHAT IF SPIRITUAL INTIMACY IS STILL ELUSIVE?
One final warning. Couples who can’t grow spiritually are often those who are holding something back. Passion and vulnerability and spirituality are all linked because they all involve a deep knowledge of each other. If you’re unable to be spiritually vulnerable with your spouse, it can either be because your spouse isn’t a safe place for your heart (in which case you need to reach out to the Body of Christ for help with your marriage), or because you retreat from intimacy in general.
Many Christians are working themselves to the bone in service for Christ, while simultaneously hiding from true intimacy with Him because they’re not comfortable facing their true selves. And if you can’t look deeply inward, then you can’t invite your spouse in either.
Practise tearing down your defences through prayer and spiritual check-ins. Build a sense of purpose by using your gifts in service together. When we do that, we grow passion not just with our spouses, but with God too. And that’s how we end up feeling like we’re really one, in every way.
Sheila Wray Gregoire is an author, blogger and speaker (www.SheilaWrayGregoire.com) based in Belleville, Ont.