My husband, John, emerged from his basement office and calmly informed my daughter and me that the dishwasher had sprung a leak. Water was pouring through the ceiling onto his desk below, and he needed help cleaning it up. Could we come down? We resignedly turned off the movie we were watching and followed him to the basement.
What struck me later was how calmly my husband dealt with the incident. There was no salty language, no anger, no raised voice apart from a little shouting when the downpour hit him—and I have to give credit to prayer. One hour prior, we had asked God for the grace to deal with our house’s plumbing problems. We prayed together, as a couple, and here was an answer to one of my prayers. A calm husband despite a flooded work space? I’ll take it!
A million grace-filled moments that connect us to God. That’s how Dr. Greg and Lisa Popcak describe marriage in the opening paragraph of their new book Praying for (and with) Your Spouse. It’s a book to help husbands and wives find creative ways to be united in prayer. After reading it, my husband and I are only just beginning to implement some of the Popcaks’ suggestions. But if the dishwasher incident is any kind of example, I think we are being changed for the better.
Too Busy to Pray Together? John and I have been married twenty-two years and are still in the trenches, parenting-wise. We have seven children ranging in age from five to twenty, and a Golden Retriever and a guinea pig. We’re doing our best to be good parents and to be good spouses to one another—but praying together isn’t (yet) a habit we’ve formed.
We’re not alone in this arena, as it turns out. I posted an informal survey on Facebook, asking, “Do you pray with your spouse?” and received answers such as “I wish!” and “No” and “We tried once. It was awkward.” It’s like eating right and exercising; we know what’s good for us, but we have a hard time doing it. Furthermore, when it comes to praying as a couple, we aren’t sure how to do it!
My first reaction to the book was mild panic. Praying together as a couple in addition to praying as a family? Who has time for that? But from the start, the Popcaks opened my eyes to something I don’t think about often enough: God wants to call out to us, love us, and strengthen us through the gift of marriage. Yet it’s hard for him to do that when spouses forget to look for him together. Fortunately, this book is less a to-do list than a heartfelt invitation to explore and to live out “the spiritual power of marriage.”
“Whatever your feelings about this might be,” the authors write, “we hope to convince you to stick your toe in the water. We’re confident that once you do, and if you stay with it, you’ll be amazed at the difference it makes in the closeness you feel and the strength of your communication.”
A “Cord” Stronger with God. The book is broken down into two sections. The first presents the “what”—the reasons for praying together. Voicing your prayers for, and with, each other is not merely helpful, they say. It’s crucial, especially in difficult times. The Popcaks make the analogy of a three-ply cord described in Ecclesiastes (4:12):
A rope of only one or two cords frays easily. Similarly, your marriage will fray if you try to deal with the pain of life on your own, with only the resources you and your spouse can bring to the table. But uniting yourselves to God in your suffering creates “a three-ply cord” that “is not easily broken.”
Like most couples, John and I have seen some hardships over the years: depression, job loss, adult children making extremely bad decisions. The dark spots are there but are fading in the light of God’s grace. So often this grace comes to us as we bring God into the conversation. This is where the second section of the book comes in. It contains the “how”—tips and examples of how to pray together through decisions, conflicts, and everyday life.
Creative Ways to Pray. In a chapter on how to pray through challenging times, the Popcaks provide reflections on the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary to help spouses draw closer together while meditating on Christ’s life. Think about how you can encourage your spouse to remain “defiantly hopeful” in painful circumstances, they say. (I loved that line because it’s much easier to throw in the towel!)
They also provide sample prayer dialogues in which each spouse prays aloud:
Wife: Lord, make me the wife my husband needs me to be. Help me to be willing to grow and stretch in our marriage. And when I don’t feel as if I’m enough, please love him through me.
Husband: Help me to be my wife’s friend and partner even through the hardest, most frustrating parts of this. Thank you for this woman who loves me in good times and bad.
Perhaps most important, the Popcaks acknowledge that spouses may not be in the same place spiritually or enjoy the same spiritual practices. But that doesn’t mean we can’t enrich each other. While I like to pray the Rosary as I walk our dog, my husband prefers a spontaneous visit to pray in church or drop in for Confession. Our differences are okay, but it’s also okay to adapt to each other’s style of prayer sometimes.
He’s By Our Side. I can think of no one I’d rather “grow old with” than John—and at fifty-one, I’m getting closer! Yet I want so much more for our union than the status quo. I want to bring my A-game to this marriage, and when the floods of life (and broken dishwashers) arise, I want to be right by his side. And I know we’ll be so much stronger and closer as we welcome God to be right by our side too.
Margaret Berns is a wife, mom, writer, and photographer from St. Paul, MN. She blogs at minnesota-mom.com.
Tips for Praying With Your Spouse
Begin by taking baby steps. Ask your spouse to pray with you for just five minutes.
Pray a single prayer, hand in hand. It could be the “Glory Be” to thank God for a favor or a “Hail Mary” for an important intention.
If your spouse is sports minded, ask if you can accompany him/her on a walk or a canoe ride. Propose praying for your children or other family members on the way.
Start a journal with some of your goals as a couple. Use the reflection questions as a guide.
Ask your spouse if he/she would be open to reading a section of the book with you.
Trust in God’s goodness; he wants the best for your marriage.
Praying for (and with) Your Spouse by Dr. Greg and Lisa Popcak is available from The Word Among Us at wau.org and amazon.com