Early in our marriage, prayer with my husband, Jim, made me uncomfortable. I'd find every excuse to avoid it. But our small group leader had encouraged us to pray together in order to grow closer to God and each other. So when Jim wanted to try this "prayer thing," I'd reluctantly given in.
Part of my problem was the way Jim prayed. His prayers seemed grandiose and overly mature. It sounded as though he were trying to impress God, not have a simple conversation with him.
Jim's prayers sounded something like this: "Oh, holy and gracious Father, I throw myself down upon thee. Thou knowest every vessel of my heart and every thought of my mind. Beseech my heart, O Lord! Carriest me throughout my day and bring me closer to thee."
I felt as if I were in the middle of a Shakespearean tragedy. It made me feel awkward and disconnected from Jim, rather than joined to him through the intimacy of prayer. While Jim's prayers were lofty and packed with "thees" and "thous" and "beseecheths," mine tended to be simple, filled with relational and conversational thoughts and words. Jim would tell me prayer couldn't be that simple. I not only felt insecure that I didn't pray like him, but also guilty that I didn't like to pray with him.
And therein lay my dilemma. I appreciated that he was committed to growing our spiritual intimacy as a couple. I loved the fact that he wanted us to pray together. But how was I going to tell the man I love I didn't like how he prayed?
Things came to a head one day after Jim "guilted" me into praying with him. Every time he opened his mouth to pray, those "thees" and "thous" grated on my nerves like nails on a chalkboard. Finally, I couldn't take any more.
"Why do your prayers have to sound as if you're quoting Shakespeare?" I blurted. "Can't you pray like a normal person?"
Understandably hurt, Jim reacted with anger. "I'm sorry it bothers you," he said stiffly. "Maybe we should just forget trying to pray together."
Regretting my tactlessness, I convinced him that we should take a break for a week, individually asking God to guide us in building a prayer life together.
I'd talked to other Christians who found journaling beneficial to their prayer lives, so that week I decided to try writing out my prayers on index cards. One evening as we were lying in bed, I surprised Jim by reading my prayers to him.
For the first time I was comfortable in my prayers. Convinced I'd found a great solution to our dilemma, Jim began to write his prayers to share with me. And, we both noticed, his writing didn't include "thees" and "thous," just honest feelings. We'd jot down prayers individually throughout the day, then read them aloud at dinner or bedtime. After two or three months we figured out the half hour before bed was our best time to connect, and we made it our regular routine.
At last I began to feel spiritual connection with Jim, an intimacy that flourished as our prayer life grew stronger. We'd been going through a rough patch in our marriage as we were both new Christians and were struggling to recover from a failed financial venture. Opening up to each other during those nightly shared prayers built trust and a deeper sense of security while reducing feelings of resentment.
We continued to write our prayers for several months, eventually progressing to the point where we could pray straight from the heart without index cards. Over time, we were able to communicate honestly and constructively with each other about the differences in the way we pray—and even laugh about them. If Jim slipped into a "thee" during prayer, I'd start giggling—and so would he.
I've learned to let go of my stubbornness and desire to control my husband's prayers. And as Jim's prayers have become more conversational, I can more clearly understand what's going on in his heart. And he no longer makes guilt-inducing comments about the "simplicity" of my words.
We're dedicated to deepening our spiritual intimacy—something God intended for marriage from the beginning. And time after time, we've seen God answer our prayers. When Jim's mom developed a serious illness, our prayers were answered with complete healing, and our request for a new job for Jim brought a perfect match and higher salary than we'd hoped. An unexpected side benefit is that our prayer life has even made our sex life sizzle!
If I'd known praying with my husband could be this wonderful, I would have agreed to pursue it much sooner.
Sherri and Jim Mueller are co-founders of Growthtrac.com, an organization dedicated to building strong Christian marriages.
Copyright © 2006 by the author or Christianity Today/Marriage Partnership magazine. Click here for reprint information on Marriage Partnership.