Interested in a tango to a new model?
We began our married life like most newlywed Chris tian couples: With great determination, we vowed to meet the challenge of growing closer to God in our individual lives and also as a couple. We had visions of spending every evening together poring over God’s Word in a way that would move us to ever-deeper
spiritual growth. That’s what really spiritual couples did. Do. Whatever. Thoroughly convinced that we’d share a regular devotional life that we’d cling to faithfully, we plowed ahead with sincere hearts—but also with a good dose of naiveté. All too soon we discovered that the aggressive everyday-ness of life prevented us from practicing the established model that was consciously and subconsciously set in cement long before we said our “I do’s.”
Now let’s stop for a second and ask a crucial question: Who created the assumption that the really connected couples have deep, daily devotions together? Maybe there’s an official Marriage Manual somewhere that proclaims: “Couples will study the Bible together every day, ignornoring insignificant factors such as whining, arguing, or creaming kids; the inconsequential need for sleep and nourishment; mothers-in-law, school principals, or other emergency personnel at the door; and natural disasters such as earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes, and toilets that overflow due to the submersion of a foreign object. They will do this with unrestrained commitment, tremendous energy, and focused attention, finding that their efforts result in an exemplary marriage that exhibits profound spir it ual growth. Even in light of the toilet and the mother-in-law.”
I (Carolyn) am going to write a new Marriage Manual someday, and mine will feature a unique spir it ual growth model that actually fits marriages like yours and mine. (It will also cover the really important stuff like Rules for the Remote.) The old model of a spir it ual marriage seems to have been passed down by the generations before us through osmosis. And no one seems to have questioned this assumption despite
the fact that few couples are actually able to pull it off.
As you’ve probably guessed, this assumed model didn’t work for us. Period. For years we struggled, feeling guilty and frustrated, failing repeatedly to do what we were convinced we were supposed to do…and what we assumed everyone else was doing. But you know what? We weren’t alone in our failure, even though we felt like it at times. Recently we asked a number of couples to share their thoughts and experiences
on the challenge of growing spir it ually as a couple. How we wished we could’ve heard years ago what they said about their struggles:
• We try to study the Bible together, but it’s rarely successful.
• We failed mainly because we were doing this at night and were just too tired.
• Our lives are too complex and filled with the unplanned to make this work successfully. The harder we try to plan it, the more often something important arises.
• Our failure has been in the consistency department. I talk to God about this… I ask for strength… I ask Him to take control… But then I continue to struggle with it.
And let’s not forget the guilt. Guilt is evidently with all of us in abundance:
• Our failure is very frustrating and brings forward a lot of guilt because I basically feel like a loser when I give in to laziness.
• If “the regimen” is interrupted or doesn’t come off, then you face guilt; even if it is not genuine, it is still a form of guilt, and that is defeating.
We felt every bit of that as well—the frustration, guilt, and defeat— just the opposite of what a couple’s devotional life should elicit. Our friends Karl and Sharon put it in a way that renews hope and desire: “We know we’ve grown spir it ually as a couple by coming through the difficult times—when we had no one else but each other and God. Those struggles taught us the important lessons and drew us together more closely and deeply.”Learning the important lessons. Coming together more closely and deeply.
Those two phrases essentially encompass what spir it ual growth in marriage is about: first, what we desire out of this journey together— discovering what’s really important in God’s eyes—and second, how we want to journey—closely, deeply. Charging right on the heels of those goals, however, is the stark reality of the challenge before us: How on earth do we actually get there? How do we grow spir it ually as couples? What really works?
We constantly asked those questions, all the while wading through the blatant evidences of our failure until eventually, something ironic happened. The challenge of finding intimacy with God through our marriage relationship caused us to focus more on the goal—and less on the model. Stumbling and bumbling along, we communicated and sought intimacy with each other. We walked through parks and neighborhoods and malls, and we chatted away. We talked in the car, whether we were on vacation, on our way to our new home across the country, or just popping out to the store. We hammered through the issues of life at the kitchen table or in the family room, covering everything from the everyday stuff to the major crises.
The critical point of all this? For some reason, couples have created a false dichotomy. We’ve segregated all that talking—intimate communication— from the process of growing together spir it ually. Something is wrong with that misguided separation—and the resulting conclusion that we’re failing miserably in our efforts. For now, hear this one conclusion that you can count on: Growing spir it ually as a couple is well within your reach. Don’t let go of the goal!The Challenge
Rick and Tracy said to us, “What keeps us from doing the activities which help us grow spir it ually as a couple? Life gets in the way.” Can you relate to that or what? There is indeed an aggressive everyday-ness to life that constantly gets in our way! Some days it feels like there’s this monster ready to devour you, and it’s comprised of appointments, schedules, and a crisis or two thrown in just to keep you on your toes. Forget being worn out by actually doing all that stuff; just a quick glance at your family calendar can hurtle you into a mental breakdown— or a glassy-eyed stupor!
No matter who we are, what we do, or where we live, it’s still an absolute fact: Life gets in the way.The Time Crunch: What on Earth Happened to the Month of June?
If you’re searching for a word that sums up what life is like in this twenty-first century of split-second computers, instant everything, and impatient, why-wasn’t-this-done-yesterday demands, how about this one? Rush. Add that need for speed to a multitask, multifaceted life and you have a couple who will find time for what’s necessary and urgent— and skip everything else. As Rick and Tracy added, “There are so many things that are pressing on us every day, and our activities like growing spirit ually as a couple just get put on hold.”Job Stress: So How Much Money Is Left in the Checkbook?
What are we feeling on our jobs? Pressure—to succeed, to pay the bills, to keep our heads above warp-speed technological advancements, to prove that we are indeed essential to the companies we work for. The amount of stress all that brings to our relationships is simply enormous. And after a tough day at work, we’re supposed to find the energy and desire to read the Bible together?Children: After Kids, Will We Ever Be Normal Again?
Depending on the ages of your kids (if you have them), you might find the operative word to be messed…or possibly, stressed! But no matter how young or old your kids are, your life is still affected by a blatant lack of necessities (well, what you thought were necessities before having children), such as sleep, time, money, peace and quiet, and rational thought processes—not necessarily in that order. A friend named Don
says it better than we ever could: “When both children were small and at least one member of the family was taking a turn being sick, that was the hardest time to ‘be spir it ual.’ Yet that was when we really needed it. Rebecca and I were running on fumes.”Church Commitments: Did We Really Leave Junior in the Parking Lot?
Sunday school get-togethers, midweek clubs for the kids, Bible studies, youth socials, committee meetings, holiday programs, Vacation Bible School, prayer breakfasts, women’s retreats, men’s retreats…need we go on? They are all incredibly worthwhile activities, but when do a myriad of activities become more hassle than help? Dare we suggest that too much of a good thing might indeed be too much? Don and Rebecca put it this way: “What hinders us from doing activities to grow spiritually as a couple?Outside demands, work, kids, the phone, even our commitment at church!”
Any of that sound familiar? By now it must be clear that you’re not alone. So many of us have been there, feeling the same frustrations and guilt and even defeat. So now—what do we do about it?
Excerpted from Faith Tango by Carolyn and Craig Williford. Copyright © 2002 by Carolyn and Craig Williford. Excerpted by permission of WaterBrook Press, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.