Some of my favorite childhood memories involve Saturday morning cartoons. I would stumble out of bed and head downstairs toward the family-room TV to binge on "Looney Tunes," "Scooby-Doo" and "Inspector Gadget."
As I would pass by the living room, I'd frequently find my dad on his knees in prayer or sitting in his favorite chair reading the Bible. He had an amazing personal relationship with the Lord. My mom had a strong faith, as well. However, I never witnessed how my parents cultivated a "shared" spiritual relationship. So, I really don't know how it worked or how they maintained it.
Now that I’m the adult and it’s my kids who pass through to watch, my wife, Erin, and I have our own personal relationships with the Lord that we nurture in different ways. I love learning about God by studying His Word and being surrounded by nature. I would describe Erin as a "traditionalist" (from Gary Thomas' book Sacred Pathways). She loves God through ritual and symbol (i.e., daily devotions, taking communion, etc.).
As a couple, we certainly understand the importance of building a shared spiritual relationship, but this pursuit often feels like a roller coaster ride — full of highs and lows, twists and turns. There are seasons when we seem to be in a great spiritual rhythm together. Other times, we aren't connecting spiritually, and Erin is disappointed in my spiritual leadership. There are moments when I'm frustrated with Erin or I'm hurt by something she did, and the last thing I desire is to connect spiritually.
Over the past 25 years, Erin and I have discovered three key experiences that help strengthen our spiritual connection:
Second Peter 3:18 says, "But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ." When we're at different levels of spiritual maturity, having a shared spiritual relationship is challenging. So finding things that help us grow more like Christ together is critical.
One study found that couples who shared the same faith, and who regularly attended church services together, reported a higher level of marital satisfaction. And when couples shared religious practices at home, their level of marital satisfaction was even higher.
We need regular experiences together, such as:
- Studying the Bible
- Memorizing Scripture
- Listening to praise and worship music
- Reading devotions
- Discussing spiritual matters
- Listening to sermon podcasts
"And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another" (Hebrews 10:24-25, NIV). An article on the Christian Post website cites research suggesting that married couples who attend church services frequently are happier and more likely to succeed in their marriages than those who don't attend church often — or don't attend at all.
Weekly fellowship makes Christian friendships available to your marriage — people committed to building you up through offering encouragement, worshipping in a community, growing spiritually, and helping to strengthen your marriage. Some examples of regular fellowship, in addition to church worship services, might include small group gatherings, Bible studies, Sunday school classes and prayer meetings. "Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him — a threefold cord is not quickly broken" (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12).
Annual service adventure
"Go therefore and make disciples of all nations" (Matthew 28:19). Spend time together in the service of the Lord. You can have a profound encounter with Christ and experience a shared adventure serving God together.
An annual service adventure can help you experience Christ in a new way and can breathe life into your relationship with each other as it intensifies your spiritual intimacy. Some ways that might happen include helping you be more grateful, putting your problems into perspective, getting you out of spiritual ruts, nudging you out of your comfort zone or helping you overcome fears. Some places you might consider volunteering:
- Boys & Girls Clubs of America
- A shelter for the homeless
- A senior center
- A Goodwill store
- A pregnancy resource center
You could also serve on a short-term mission trip or offer relief to couples through foster care respite.
In You and Me Forever, Francis Chan writes, "Picture marriage as a vehicle for mission, an opportunity for Christians to carry out our mission to make disciples of all the nations." Your marriage must be about something more meaningful than just pursuing pleasure, collecting stuff and being happy. You need to find a cause that you and your spouse are both passionate about — something that benefits others and not just you.
Actively pursuing an annual service adventure unifies you as teammates and stimulates forward movement in your marriage — and, in the process, blesses others through your marriage.Dr. Greg Smalley is vice president of Marriage and Family Formation at Focus on the Family and the author or co-author of several books, including Crazy Little Thing Called Marriage.
Based on research and experience from Dr. Greg and Erin Smalley, Focus on the Family has created valid and reliable questions that evaluate the strength of your marriage. Take our free assessment now.