It is so important to have a firm spiritual foundation from which you can craft a life together in order to weather the inevitable storms of life. Here are a few areas that will help you get started on that foundation.
Why join a church? I can find God in a tree!
Yeah, but a tree can't talk to you, tell you how to work through conflict, or pray for you when you need prayer. When it comes to attending church, some people believe that they don't need to go to a building to commune with God-and we don't. But all of us are social beings with a spiritual makeup, which is the key to who we are as individuals. We need the fellowship, encouragement, and wisdom that are found within the walls of a church.
A young boy who was afraid of the dark told his mom that it wasn't enough that God was with him in the scary room; he said, "I want God with skin on!" That's what's at the heart of basic fellowship.
There are two sides to this coin: the first is the "feel good" kind of encouragement that comes from the inspiration of courage and hope that we observe in the lives of other people. That kind of support is the first side of the coin-the one that most of us think of when we hear the word. However, the other side of encouragement has to do with a loving resolve from others who will tell us the truth in love. If we're slamming our husbands in public, and thus damaging their self-esteem right along with the marriage-then we need someone who will encourage us to get a grip. We all need friends who will give us the hard word of Proverbs: "Faithful are the wounds of a friend." We are likely to find this-with a diligent search-in a church environment from people who have the same values and goals.
There's another Proverb that says, "There is wisdom in many counselors." This doesn't mean we go running from one person to another-gathering their ideas as if we're taking a poll on how we should solve our problems. We are talking about developing a relationship with another couple or same-sex person whom you respect and admire. We are likely to find these people, who can serve as role models as well as wise counselors, in a church. We get to choose whom to ask to pray for us and from whom to ask advice. We get to choose which advice we'll take. And because we don't have all the answers, it's important that we ask. In a healthy, thriving church, wisdom is readily available all the way from the pulpit to the pews.
A church that feels right
While life is best lived when not based only on feelings, the feel of a church has everything to do with your choice. Is it quiet and reverential, or loud and filled with activity? Do you feel that visitors are welcome, or do you think you could be there fifteen years and never quite be "one of them"? (Don't laugh; we attended a church where the people were nice until we officially became members; then we were treated like transients. We transitioned right on out of there.)
News Alert: THERE IS NO PERFECT CHURCH. Once you realize this, you'll stop majoring on the minors and look at the big world-picture of a particular church. The main question is: Can I live with the things that I don't like about this church? Maybe they sing the first, second, and fourth stanzas instead of all of the verses in a song. Maybe the pastor wears a robe, and your childhood pastor never wore a robe. Are these issues you can overcome, or not?
Basically church attendance is the primary form of interdependent spirituality, but what about independent spirituality? It's important that we take responsibility for our own relationship with God. We aren't responsible for our mate's spiritual status-and they aren't responsible for ours; neither is your mama or daddy responsible. We may have had negative experiences in religious contexts in the past; however, we cannot let those past grievances define our spiritual lives today. We don't give up on God, because He hasn't given up on us. And while you cannot control your mate's spirituality, you can do something about your own by developing some personal spiritual disciplines that will help you in this life. They [include] meditation, prayer, fasting, and study.
To pray (together) or not?
Shared prayer seems like it would be a priority in the spiritual foundation of a marriage. It is. But it's hard. I'll never forget when I learned how "together prayer" impacted Bob. We'd been married ten years and were sitting in a couples' Sunday school class. The discussion was about guys praying with their wives, and Bob said, "I've always been intimidated by praying out loud with Ellie, but I've finally forced myself to do it. She knows more about the Bible than I do, and I've always been kind of reserved about praying together." Wow!
I've since learned that Bob isn't alone; a lot of guys don't feel comfortable praying out loud with their wives. But, hopefully, just like the World's Greatest Fighter Pilot, they will venture into this strange new world and at least give it a try. Eventually it can become easier for them because it is important to have the common place of release and renewal that prayer offers.
Dr. David Stoop, a clinical psychologist and seminary professor, said in Experiencing God Together (Tyndale) something that also surprised me about husbands and wives that study the Bible together. In his radio program one day, he got a call from a woman who was frustrated by the way she and her husband studied together. She said it wasn't improving their spiritual intimacy at all. When questioned, she revealed that her husband was always the teacher and she was always the student, and then exploded with: "Not only is he always the teacher, he isn't a very good teacher. He's always got to be right. My opinions mean nothing to him. It usually ends up with his telling me what I'm supposed to be learning, and I sit there silently angry."
But that isn't the part of the story I found to be remarkable. It was Dr. Stoop's reply: "I know very few couples who can handle doing a formal Bible study together. The teacher/student arrangement certainly isn't conducive to a growing sense of partnership! And partnership is what the spiritual disciplines within marriage are meant to build." He went on to say that both partners should be the students, and the Holy Spirit should be the teacher in any effective study.
There's a natural temptation within each of us to compare our situation with others. You may see a man who seems to be a spiritual giant and wish your hubby was the same. Comparisons rarely lead to renewal. So why not let yourself and your guy off the hook when it comes to joint prayer and study? Don't concentrate on what your husband isn't doing in the spiritual arena-concentrate on your own spiritual life and highlight and praise the areas (even if they're limited) where your husband is doing well.
Finally, don't let time pressures or modern-day distractions erode your spiritual lives. Your spiritual bonds are the most intimate aspects of your relationship. Building a firm spiritual foundation requires a lot of effort and energy, but your marriage is worth it.