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16December2017

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Cultivating spiritual intimacy

Do you sometimes feel as if something is missing between the two of you? You can’t put your finger on it, but the ‘speaking without words’ is simply absent… Intimacy can make or break a relationship, and sex is only one of the subdivisions of this important ingredient. Without spiritual intimacy, a Christian couple can never truly be one…

In days gone by, every meal was started with a formal prayer, and family quiet times were as much a tradition as eating a big roast together after the Sunday morning church service. Families were faithful church-goers, and a visit from the pastor was an occasion to celebrate. Back then, families’ spiritual status looked very different from today’s hurried pace which often means Sundays are the only days families have time for outings, sleeping late and spending a precious few hours in each other’s company. On weeknights, ready-made dinners are gulped down in front of the TV before everyone heads off in their own direction, and husband and wife try to get as much done during the brief moments between arriving home after facing rush-hour traffic and bedtime.

 

Every Christian woman should understand how important it is to have a relationship with God, and that your spiritual wellbeing has a huge impact on countless other areas of your life – but few couples realise how much worth there is in spiritual intimacy…


 

What is spiritual intimacy?
Barrington H. Brennen, a marriage and family therapist, believes that intimacy can be described as the pieces of your life that you share with your mate only, and no one else, whether these be intellectual, spiritual, emotional or sexual. Intimacy between Christian couples is of cardinal importance, especially if they would like to experience all of the blessings God has for them, yet this is usually the one thing that Christian marriages lack, says Gary Chapman, author of the book Covenant Marriage, as well as The Five Love Languages.

Gary has encountered many couples who experience individual personal growth, but not the joy that joint spiritual growth brings. He describes spiritual intimacy as the closeness that develops when marriage partners share something of their own spiritual pilgrimage with each other. One of the reasons why couples are hesitant to share this aspect of their lives with each other is that they feel uncomfortable doing this, but Gary encourages couples to realise that ground at the Cross of Christ is level. He believes that spiritual growth isn’t about knowing more about the Bible, but it’s about becoming more like Christ. We don’t need to apologise for the current state of our growth but, rather, we should be open to allowing Christ to work in our lives. Spiritual intimacy can only exist when we turn to God and ask Him to build spiritual intimacy into our marriage.

How does a couple grow spiritually?
The answer lies in giving your relationship, and the rest of your life, over to God. Between crazy schedules and overwhelming obligations, it can be very difficult to experience a deep spiritual connection, but you owe it to yourself and your relationship to create an environment that you can both thrive in spiritually. For one couple, it may be enough to go to church together and hold hands, whilst others may prefer to sit beside each other praying in silence. In an anonymous email on www.soulhealinglove.com, two marriage therapists describe how they learnt to cultivate spiritual intimacy. “After 22 years of married life, Tom and I discovered a powerful truth about spiritual intimacy. We discovered that you make time for it.”

Early on in their marriage, the couple realised that busy schedules, the demands of parenthood and the emotional pain of others’ hurts which they dealt with on a daily basis had caused them to dry up spiritually. “It was hard enough for us to maintain our spiritual centre individually, much less as a couple. The drought created distance and a sense of disconnection between me and Tom, which eventually led to a power struggle.” They had disputes over seemingly insignificant things, and didn’t realise that this breach of trust was rooted in spiritual dryness.

So how did they find their way out of a spiritual desert? One anniversary, Tom was looking for a gift that was unique and personal. He decided to make his wife a spiritual journal. He took a simple notebook, filled it with paper and made tabs for various sections. “He included a section for prayer requests, one for answers to prayer, one for spiritual insights and one for inspirational readings, sayings and scriptures that I read during the day.” She was delighted with her new gift. “I wanted to share my spiritual insights with him and tell him how I saw God in everyday things… I wanted to tell him about my prayer requests and answers to prayer. This led to us praying more together and sharing much more of our spiritual selves with each other. Some days we couldn’t wait to see each other to discuss what we wrote in our journals.”

Jody (25), a journalist from Pretoria, South Africa, also describes the wonder of sharing your spiritual self with your mate: “Our pastor has always told us: ‘Couples that pray together, stay together’… but it wasn’t until two years into our marriage that we realised we hadn’t prayed together more than a few times each month when we were either really desperate or very discouraged. Whenever we did pray together, there was an indescribable feeling of peace and unity. We see prayer as admitting that we can’t go through life alone – we need God’s help!” The couple decided that things needed to change in 2009, however difficult this would be. “I have a husband who wakes up nailed to the bed, while I wake up like toast popping out of a toaster. When he gets home late, I’m plastered to the couch, while he’s ready to start a marathon Playstation session. Neither of us was in the mood to take leadership and enforce a specific time… we needed help! Eventually, we found a book called Moments With You, a 365-day devotional book for couples by Dennis and Barbara Rainey. Each devotional takes about ten minutes to complete, with a scripture, explanation, discussion topic and prayer pointers. It makes praying together much easier than having to search for suitable topics, and is perfect for novices as it gives direction to the time spent together.”

But does it really make a difference?
Jody believes that it made a definite difference in their marriage. “It’s amazing how these times force us to be honest about our fears, as telling your mate what to pray for means you open up about what you’re struggling with. Implicitly, receiving prayer from your partner increases the care you feel from him, and the level of tenderness and understanding between the two of you. Inviting God into your marriage is an incredible journey of intimacy, and heightens an awareness of each other’s emotions, hopes, aspirations and dreams,” she says. “Praying into these areas and trusting God for these things has strengthened our marriage in incredible ways. It is these prayers that often carry us through on days that the reality of what you’re trusting God for seems very far away.”

The couple on www.soulhealinglove.com also agree: “To our surprise, our spiritual lives began to flourish. Trust bloomed where there was once fear and negativity, and our power struggle faded. It was then that we realised what was happening. We were developing spiritual intimacy. We have learnt that spiritual oneness is less mysterious and more practical than many people think. It involves getting excited about the simple things of God and making time to share these with each other.” She goes on to say that the spiritual intimacy they have developed is almost intoxicating, and that they now believe they understand what Genesis implies when it says that the two will become ‘one flesh’.

Is spiritual intimacy achievable?
It is, but it isn’t easy as this is the one area of a relationship which is seldom developed when other demands take precedence.

This kind of intimacy requires time, open communication, humility and a deep desire to grow together spiritually.

There are many enemies that can make spiritual intimacy a difficult road to travel, and busy schedules are one of the biggest culprits. Why does a couple feel so much closer on holiday? Because the pace is slower and the focus shifts to each other. Relationships are full of ups and downs. Without good communication and healthy conflict management, small irritations and frustration can build up, until you have a well of pent-up rage. When issues of anger are bubbling inside of you, this may lead to another problem: a lack of forgiveness, making it difficult to communicate spiritually. If your mate has done something that you are not prepared to forgive, you may be preventing spiritual intimacy. Before you truly forgive him/her, spiritual growth will be impossible. A lack of respect for each other also makes spiritual intimacy difficult. If you and your mate don’t have respect for each other, you can forget spiritual growth. Remember, the devil sees marriage as the perfect battleground, and will use any tool he can to cause disunity between the two of you. Barrington identifies other possible hindrances to spiritual intimacy as having separate bank accounts or no budget as a family, person goals that clash and attending different churches.

What is necessary for spiritual growth?
For you and your mate to reach spiritual intimacy, four things need to be firmly in place:

Communication: You need to talk to each other about your spiritual experiences, and also talk to the Lord. Prayer is part of the process of developing this close relationship. Many couples find praying out loud in front of each other embarrassing at first (but so was sex the first few times!), yet it really is a case of practice makes perfect! (just like sex!)

Caring: You need to care about your mate’s spiritual life. Care involves openness, honesty and vulnerability. Couples who institute this kind of care create a freedom for both partners to be completely themselves. Closeness with the Lord and each other isn’t possible if we feel pressure to be someone other than ourselves.

Commitment: Being fully committed to each will cause the spiritual dimension of your relationship to grow as you experience a growing commitment to God, and a growing joint trust in Him.

Shared values: Couples don’t necessarily have to believe all the same things, but if there are no common beliefs and values, there can be little spiritual union.

Cultivating spiritual intimacy
If you and your mate want to grow spiritually closer, take the following steps, as recommended by Gary:

1. Talk about it
Spiritual intimacy grows stronger when a couple talks and listens during discussions about spiritual matters. Gary reminds us that it is important to ‘talk’, not ‘preach’. “Talking is sharing what God is doing in your life. You can do that by sharing when God speaks to you through the scriptures or discussing what you found encouraging or insightful in a shutterstock_27008341sermon or book”. Added to this, it is also necessary to listen to your mate and accept what she/he is saying, not judge it or pull it to shreds. If you do feel you want to share a different interpretation, share it as being your interpretation and not the final word from God. Preaching to your spouse does very little to enhance spiritual intimacy. Also remember to leave room for the Holy Spirit to work – don’t try and do God’s work yourself! It’s important not to feel that you should only talk about the areas of your spiritual life in which you are becoming more like Christ.

Spiritual intimacy doesn’t require perfection.

Ask your mate to pray for you about some of the areas in which God is challenging you to become more like Him.

2. Pray together
Praying together unites hearts – we feel closer to each other and closer to God through doing this. Few exercises hold as much potential for spiritual intimacy as this one. Seek God together, and try not to pay too much attention to the way in which you are praying. If you feel uncomfortable praying out loud around another person, hold hands, close your eyes and pray silently. “God hears silent as well as audible prayers,” explains Gary. It is also important to pray for each other daily during your personal prayer time. Be specific and pray for the concerns your spouse has shared with you. Try praying biblical prayers for your spouse – especially those that ask for spiritual wisdom and power, such as Eph 1:15-23, or Phil 1:9-11.

3. Study the scriptures together
Spiritual intimacy can be greatly enhanced when a married couple is involved in Bible study together or share the revelations they receive from individual Bible study with each other. As we study God’s Word, we will discover how He sees the world and our role in it. Start by sharing one thing that impressed you or one question you had after your individual Bible study that week. You could also try reading a devotional book together. Eventually, you could even enroll in a discipleship course or Bible study which is offered through your church, and then discuss the lessons with each other. Reading a Christian book together can also be an exciting journey of discovery.

4. Serve God together
The biggest challenge for Christians is to dedicate our lives to serving others, under God’s direction. Because service to God is so central to living a Christian life, it also plays a pivotal role in developing spiritual intimacy within marriage. Spiritual intimacy is increased when a husband and wife serve God together. You can do this very informally by looking for a suitable opportunity and agreeing to make the time and effort to make a difference together. You may decide to take a single parent’s 10-year-old child on an outing, or to help a widow paint her home. This will not only contribute to your spiritual growth as an individual, but you will develop a spiritual bond that will spill over and enrich the rest of your life together, believes Gary.

5. Dream together
Don’t look at what’s happened in the past, but focus on the future and on what God has planned for you. Dreams keep us from becoming weighed down with the failures of the past or the routine of the present.

Spiritual intimacy intensifies when you dream with your mate.

Dreaming creates expectancy. It plants seeds of hope and stretches our vision. Decide to make your dream lists and share them with each other. Some of these dreams may never come true, but the fact that you dreamed together and talked about those dreams will increase your spiritual intimacy.

Is praying a headache?
If you don’t know where to start or where to end when it comes to prayer, try the following:

Conversational prayer: This may involve the husband praying out loud for a short time, after which the wife picks up where he left off. After a moment, she pauses and he prays again. Continue praying back and forth like this until you are finished.

Pray scriptures together: Find sections of the Bible to use as prayers. Many of the Psalms include prayers.

Pray about your concerns: If you and your spouse are discussing a topic that is worrying you, take a moment to stop and pray about the matter.

Praying together brings a couple closer to God and strengthens their relationship. (www.the-intimate-couple.com)

Remember the following:

  •     See God’s Hand in everyday things, and remember to share these with each other.
  •     Discuss blessings that happen during the day.
  •     Share prayer requests and answers to prayer on a regular basis.
  •     Tell your mate, at least once a week, about something inspiring that you read.
  •     Surprise your mate by placing an encouraging scripture or message under his/her pillow.
  •     Start keeping a spiritual journal.

Your relationship with God is a central aspect in building a lasting, fulfilling marriage, believes Gary, and he adds, “The Christian life is a journey of becoming like Christ. Each of us is responsible for our own spiritual growth, but God’s Plan is for a husband and wife to connect spiritually.” Randy Carney, author of the book The LOVING Way to a Successful Marriage, believes that a couple should practise faith, and that when a couple is prepared to see God work in unusual and difficult situations, they will grow together in faith – causing them to grow together spiritually.

Jody also testifies to the miracle spiritual growth can be in your marriage: “Seeing your husband take spiritual leadership over his home motivates you to support him even more in the day-to-day realities of marriage,” she says. She has also discovered that prayer is a powerful vehicle that can carry you from despair to hope, and from feeling defeated to feeling encouraged…

Decide today to make this year of joint spiritual growth, and start enjoying what God can do when you cultivate this kind of unity.

Hints for couples who want to grow spiritually closer:

  • Visit your local Christian bookstore and buy a book that will be exciting for both of you to read. Take turns reading the daily message to each other.
  • Pray together, even when you’re cross with each other. Prayer is an intimate experience, and it is sometimes necessary to persevere when there is conflict. The end results are well worth the effort.
  • If one of you feels self-conscious about praying, allow the other to take the lead.
  • If you feel shy about praying out loud, read prayers until you feel comfortable saying your own.
  • Hold your joint quiet time when you both feel awake, relaxed and alert (“For us, this is right after supper,” said Jody.)
  • Write the date above each daily piece so that you can keep track of when last you prayed together.
  • Go for spiritual hikes. This is different from simply taking a walk together. Make the walk a spiritual one by deciding that you will only talk about how to encourage one another. Added to this, enjoying God’s Creation together can result in many special moments.
  • Hold a fasting and praying weekend. Make it a weekend that you use to talk about your spiritual goals and pray together.

Additional sources: www.store.familylife.com; www.lovefortoday.com