I had an intense experience with my wife this evening. No need to stick fingers in ears and shout, “La, la, la, la, la,” etc. It wasn’t that kind of intense experience.
Tonight my wife and I sat down at the kitchen table and took one another by the hands, and we prayed for each other. I don’t mean that we said grace before a meal. I don’t mean we begged God for help through a desperate crisis. I mean we prayed for one another. I don’t want to say what we prayed about, because we prayed about things that only we know about each other; hurts and struggles that have sometimes been the source of arguments and/or tremendous pain between us, relieved of their destructive power as they were fashioned into prayers of compassion and grace and love.
In prayer tonight, Christy told God things about me that she hadn’t directly told me. Good things. Things I had hoped she thought about me, but wasn’t sure. Things she probably assumed I knew. I’m sure she heard me say things to God about her that she didn’t know I felt either. The things I said to God about Christy were good things too.
I know… this isn’t supposed to be a new thing for me. I’m a pastor. Christy is a pastor’s wife. I’m sure many people assume we sit down (or perhaps kneel) daily to lift one another in prayer to the throne of grace, where God sits eagerly waiting to smile upon our heartfelt and earnest pleas. Please! Prayer is a central aspect of our lives together in many ways. We pray around each other all the time. We even pray for each other occasionally in public times of prayer. Our family prays together (each of us in turn) every night at bedtime. But my wife and I praying for one another, just the two of us? Uh-uh.
We used to do this once in a while back when we were dating. Back before the arguments started piling up, and we were saddled with every couple’s burden — that history of painful things that are said and done that can never be unsaid and undone. We prayed together in a more innocent time, when there was less to be sorry for, so prayer required less humility. We prayed together before we went through tragedies that shook my faith to the core and I lost interest in things like that. By the time I recovered my faith again, something had happened. Those hurts I was talking about. Not to mention, I really did have so much to be sorry for.
Your spouse sees you the way no one else sees you. They see you when you are at your worst. Some of the most shameful things I have ever said and done, in fact most of them, I have said and done with Christy looking on. No one has ever seen me uglier. How do I act in these ways, and then ask her if she wants to pray with me? Will she think I’m a hypocrite? Will I think I’m a hypocrite, or wonder if she is? All these ugly moments, these regrets, these things we have to be so sorry for — most of them are sin. And sin does what it always does — keeps us from wanting to pray. And when we do want to pray, sin helps us find reasons not to — locks us into silence toward God. It takes a lot to get past that. Joint prayer, like sex, is an implicit act of trust in our spouse. Trust that I can be as vulnerable as true prayer requires me to be. Trust that my spouse won’t get the wrong idea – that she knows that I know I’m not perfect, and that in prayer I’m not pretending to be.
So we sat down tonight and prayed. We had our awkward moments before we started, but we trudged through it and prayed. I told my congregation last week that sex can do for a relationship what nothing else can do. That is true. And so can prayer.