Many people look back on a first childhood memory with fondness and longing for those more innocent days. My first memory, though, is a painful one—forever etched in my mind as a reminder of the miracle of God’s mercy that has taken place in my life.
We both grew up in faith-filled families, and when we got married thirty-three years ago, we were determined to keep passing on the faith to our children. We taught them all of the prayerful traditions we knew, said grace at mealtimes, and went to Mass together.
But ironically, we didn’t think all that much about how to make prayer a foundation for our marriage as well as for our family. We knew it was important for our kids, but it was mystifying to think about how and when we could grow spiritually as a couple. Yearly retreats together? Praying the Divine Office during the week? Although we didn’t know it, what we really needed was a jump start to the spiritual side of our marriage.
Prayerful Conversations. The jump start came when friends invited us to attend a five-week marriage seminar for Christian couples. The Marriage in Christ seminar met one night a week, but it also involved daily homework. The format was simple: read aloud an opening prayer, a Scripture passage, and a related meditation; then have a conversation about one aspect of our lives together.
Starting our “homework” with prayer made a real difference in the conversations. It helped us feel more free to talk about sensitive topics like our relationship and hopes for the future. We even talked about the challenges we would face as we approach becoming empty nesters. Our children’s school and sports activities have largely filled our calendar for many years, and we realized that we needed to get creative to prepare for this new season.
Our prayerful conversations started because of the seminar, but they quickly became part of our everyday routine. During them, our focus gradually shifted from the day’s concerns toward God and our life together.
Habits That Remain. Six years later, we’ve each drawn closer to God, and our marriage has become more peaceful. We can look back and see all the fruit that praying together has borne. It has motivated us to express our love through little acts of thoughtfulness that have made a big difference. We greet each other with a kiss, help each other with the chores, and send each other text messages during the day to check in.
Small changes that seem so simple have made a big difference in the way we relate together. We used to stew for days about hurts and unmet expectations, treating each other poorly until one of us finally decided to broach the original problem. Because of our prayer, we started to make an effort to be respectful to one another during our periods of disagreement until we found the right moment to reconcile privately. This deepened our trust and made us more willing to forgive. It wasn’t always easy, but this habit of patient respect has changed many of our conversations, especially the ones that involve big, ongoing decisions.
In the past, making major decisions involved tense discussion, not to mention angry outbursts. But a recent situation showed us how prayer has opened us up to God’s grace. Some close friends who had begun an inner-city outreach invited us to join them. This was unlike anything we had ever done before, and it would be a big commitment for us as a couple. We had a decision to make, and we had to make it together.
Because of our praying and talking routine, we had a better idea of our priorities as a couple. One of them was to keep serving people after our children had moved on. Neither of us wanted to spend all of our free time just whiling away the hours. Maybe this was something God was asking us to do. It was a big decision, but the habits we started building six years ago helped us to agree peacefully to join the outreach. This was a victory for our marriage!
Finding a Routine. As we grew in our prayer together, we discovered the importance of developing a routine for it. Every couple has to find a time in the day that works best for them. We still have one teenager living at home, and we are often up late. Since we are not early risers to begin with, we find it best to pray together each night before bedtime.
Our nightly routine has us begin by holding hands and thanking the Lord for the blessings of the day. Then each of us talks about the needs that are on our hearts, and we pray an Our Father. We may also talk about a spiritual book or devotional we’re reading and how it’s helping us. It’s a very simple routine, but it has become the foundation for tremendous growth.
Learning to pray together has not been easy. Like so many things that are good for us, it takes determination, but the rewards far outweigh the sacrifice. Day after day we are drawing closer to each other. And day after day, together we are drawing closer to Christ.
Bob and Christine Brickweg are regular presenters for marriage preparation weekends in the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis. To learn more about Marriage in Christ, visit www.marriageinchrist.com.