Soccer is a popular sport in our home, and at one time or another—and often simultaneously—all four of our children have played the game.
They have been on winning teams and losing teams, and the difference was not always due to skill level or natural talent. Players on successful teams worked together with a collective sense of mission; they supported one another, covered for one another’s weak spots, and encouraged everyone to do his or her best. And no matter what the final win-loss record, these were the teams that had the most fun.
In my experience, this "team" approach is one of the most useful and rewarding ways to think of marriage. Perhaps it won’t strike you as very romantic. However, when husbands and wives think of themselves as a unit and work together with a sense of mission, they experience a oneness that benefits every area of their relationship, romance included.
A man and woman who enter into a Christian marriage know that they have another player on their team—the One whose presence makes all the difference. The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains: Christ "dwells with them, gives them the strength to take up their crosses . . . and to love one another with supernatural, tender, and fruitful love" (1642).
In the face of our own failings and weaknesses, what a relief to know that our team consists not only of ourselves, but most especially of Jesus! It is to him that we can turn daily for strength, mercy, forgiveness, and love.
In Sync? While my husband, John, and I were engaged, I remember carefully observing the marriages of our older friends. Some of these couples seemed to be especially "in sync" with each other—by their actions and overall approach to life, you could see that they were headed in the same direction. A certain energy and joy seemed to radiate in the homes where spouses had this unity of vision and action.
Achieving the common vision that makes it possible to work as a team doesn’t happen automatically. It takes a real effort to discuss and decide on a few key goals that can form a basic mission statement. Some important questions to explore with your spouse:
• What is the purpose of our lives and of our call to marriage?
• What do we want to accomplish?
• What do we value most?
When John and I discussed these questions, we already had similar visions for our married life. Family was important to us—we both come from large, close-knit families—and we knew that God was calling us to devote most of our time and energy to raising our own. For this reason, we purposely decided to limit our career aspirations. We wanted to provide for our family, but without having to spend so much time at work that we wouldn’t have time for our children or each other.
Over the years, my husband and I have continued to revisit our mission statement. It’s a practice that can serve as a reality check and a way to identify those subtle, differing approaches that can creep in and undermine a common vision. We review specific aspects of our life together and keep asking, What is our goal? How can we work toward it together? Here are some of the things we have learned—and continue to learn—about taking a team approach to relating to God, raising children, and serving outside the family.
Prayer Partners. How can husbands and wives help one another grow closer to the Lord? It’s important to pray together, of course. As a team, you can intercede for the needs of your families and friends. But consider, too, how to give one another opportunities for regular time alone with God.
One spouse might give the other a quiet prayer environment by taking the kids out of the house for a half hour each day. Or, with your partner’s help and encouragement, you might be able to include a weekday Mass in your schedule. If your parish is having a special event, such as a Lenten or Advent Bible series, perhaps you can take turns attending.
It can be difficult to pursue this goal, I know. When my children were babies, I was often frustrated in my attempts to find time for personal prayer. I looked forward to weekends, when my husband didn’t have to leave early for work; we took a "tag team" approach—he would pray first, then watch the kids while I prayed. It may be hard, but don’t give up! Ask the Holy Spirit to inspire you with creative ideas.
A Vision for Parenting. When it comes to raising children, it is crucial to work as a united team with the same over-all, long-term vision. Do you and your spouse talk about how to encourage your children in their own relationship with God? Are you agreed on the kind of adults you would like them to become? About the virtues and values you would like to help them develop? Seek the Lord’s plan for your children, and keep this vision in mind as you make decisions.
Choosing a school (or choosing to homeschool), establishing guidelines for media and Internet use, finding ways to encourage a child’s natural abilities—these are just a few of the areas that call for "team" prayer and decisions. As you discuss them, ask yourself whether you are open to your spouse’s perspective about what might be best for an individual child. John and I have actually come to value the fact that we sometimes have differing viewpoints. It can be hard work to arrive at a shared understanding, but the end result is usually a better decision.
Remember that team members stick together. If you disagree with your spouse about an issue involving your child, bring it up in private and not in front of the child. With children, a united front is always best! It took me some time to absorb this truth. As a protective mother, I was sometimes quick to interfere in my husband’s attempts to correct our children. When he pointed out that I was undermining his authority, I realized that he was right. He didn’t have a problem with discussing the situation later and in private; in fact, he welcomed it. But it was vital for me to learn that there was an appropriate—and an inappropriate—time to voice my opinion.
Outside the Family Circle. Is God calling you or your spouse, or perhaps the two of you, to some service outside the family? Working at a soup kitchen, being on the parish council, organizing a fund-raiser, teaching religious education—even if only one of you is actually going to be involved in a service, you have to approach it as a team because it will involve sacrifices for you both. If you have an evening meeting to attend, for example, your spouse may have to be avail-able to help the children with their homework and put them to bed.
When my children were babies, it was especially difficult for me to let go of my husband in the evening, when I was tired but still had to be "on duty." But because we had agreed that he should be involved in the Christian service he was doing, I wanted to support him in it. It was an opportunity for him to grow closer to the Lord, and God was also forming me to be more generous with my time and to "stretch" a bit for the sake of his kingdom.
Today, with our children leaving the nest, my husband and I still find ourselves working on our team approach. Certainly, we haven’t had a perfect season—there have been losses among the wins! We’ve made some poor decisions, and even now it can be a struggle to arrive at a common goal and vision. And yet, even in our weakness, we experience God’s faithfulness.
In your own marriage, may you too come to a deeper and deeper knowledge of the unifying power of God’s love. May you find Jesus present with you, leading you to a united vision.
Patricia Mitchell is an editor for The Word Among Us Press and monthly magazine as well as a multi-talented wife, mother, and grandmother.