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Devotions in Disguise

A commitment to connect will bring you closer to each other … and to God.

We'd only been married a few years and our life was incredibly busy. We had two active boys, our first teensy home with a mammoth mortgage, a budget stretched to the point of snapping, and so many things to do that we wondered if we might snap.

Faith Tango
by Carolyn and Chris Williford
Waterbrook Press, 2002
176 pp.; $8.49

Craig was pastoring a church and studying full-time for his master's degree. Carolyn was busy mothering and ministering at church. And our boys spent their time being … boys. As in racing cars everywhere, bouncing balls off the ceiling, and drenching our elderly volunteer baby-sitter with the backyard hose.

As for our communication during a typical week, we'd have perfunctory conversations on the phone to catch up on the events of the day, attempts to communicate as best we could in the car or during dinner while cleaning up spills—all the while arbitrating disagreements such as, "You gave me more green beans to eat than you gave him!"

The weekends brought no rest, either. Saturdays were a whirlwind of activities that shoved us right into Sunday, which included several church services, teaching (for both of us), and scheduled and impromptu meetings. By the end of the day, we were tired and cranky. By the time Monday kicked in, we needed relief from the weekend!

On top of all that, we tried to make our devotional life a priority. We each had personal devotions, and we attempted nightly family worship. Before the boys went to bed, we read Bible stories, sang, prayed together, and sometimes—depending on how much energy was left—we acted out those Bible stories. By the time our guys were in bed, we were both exhausted. So now we were supposed to sit down together for a meaningful time of spiritual growth as a couple? Not on your life.

Finally, we discussed the crisis. We needed time to catch our breath, to look each other in the eyes when we were talking, to actually concentrate on a conversation. We recognized that through the craziness of life, we were losing each other. And that was entirely too much to lose.

Seeking a solution

We had a brainstorming session. How could we fix this? After listing several ideas, we decided to do something deceptively simple. We committed to talk. On Saturday mornings, for most of the morning.

We tentatively began this tradition with no pious motivations on our part. In no way did we commit those Saturday mornings together with the intention that "this would become our marriage devotional time"—but in the end, that's just what happened.

Our initial goal was simply to focus on in-depth communication at a time when we both had the energy and desire to make it worthwhile. Saturday mornings provided that for us. And hopefully, we could limit the interruptions, allowing us the opportunity for amazing, quality, intimacy-building communication.

Our sons were five and two when we announced, "Saturday mornings are now 'Mommy-Daddy Time!'" We staked out our territory—the living room—and told the boys to stay in the family room in the basement, watching cartoons, without interrupting us (okay, so we were naive). And there would be no arguing or fighting between them. (That was a waste of breath.)

After sending our sons off to enjoy a morning of silly rabbits and doomed coyotes, we poured our coffee, found comfortable chairs, and settled down for a good talk.

We don't remember what we talked about that first morning. But evidently it encouraged us to plan for the next Saturday and then the next.

We were onto something.

Slow but steady progress

Best intentions aside, we soon discovered that establishing consistency for our new approach wouldn't be easy. We stumbled often, we missed scheduled times together, we messed up sometimes by starting off with an out-of-sorts tone that colored the entire morning—causing frustration, anger, or hurt. But overall, we did one thing right. We never gave up.

Although there were weeks when it felt as though we'd gone one step forward and two steps back, the overall progress in our lives and our relationship remained constant, steady, and encouraging.

Life, however, seemed determined to work against us. We battled everything from the kids' activities to church prayer breakfasts to out-of-town trips. Chores and yard work beckoned. The phone rang often.

Distractions aside, sometimes there were mornings when communicating was difficult at best. Psychiatrists and psychologists advise that painful experiences must be shared verbally before a person can find complete healing, but achieving that goal means you must feel worse before getting better. We know that advice to be absolutely true. It is incredibly painful to share hurt feelings—and to hear them from each other. But ultimately, like cleaning infection from a wound, this is indeed a necessary step in our ongoing pursuit of marital intimacy.

The reward of such deep sharing is that core issues are exposed, processed, and eventually resolved. One time, for instance, Craig had been angry with Carolyn for making us late to something one evening. Craig lashed out with cutting words that deeply hurt Carolyn. That evening, there was a barrier between us that felt tangible, physically and emotionally. When we finally talked it out on a Saturday morning, Craig realized he had an obsession with not only being on time to things, but early. Further conversation brought up a childhood memory: At 10, Craig had made the baseball team, and his coach had warned, "Be there for practice, or you don't play." On game day, neither of Craig's parents could take him to the field, so he took the bus—and arrived late. The coach chewed him out in front of the whole team, and sure enough, he sat the bench. The pain of that moment made Craig resolve never to be late again.

That's just one example of how our Saturday mornings have enabled us to learn more about each other—one of the main reasons we look forward to our connection time every week. Another big reason is that we've gotten into the habit of "tucking away" highlights from the week before—humorous happenings, insights from prayer times, stress at work, whatever. Then we use our Saturday mornings to put it all on the table, wading through all our feelings when we're both better able to deal with them. We often find that something during the week—at home, at the office, wherever—may have offended us, but we were so busy at the time that we repressed those emotions. Saturday mornings give us an opportunity to release those pent-up feelings, to let them surface, be processed, and shared with each other.

Growing closer to God

Possibly the greatest benefit of our Saturday mornings (and one we didn't recognize for years) was that as we learned how to expose our feelings to each other, we were learning how to be more intimate with God, exposing our feelings to him as well. Growing closer to God was also reflected in our times together, creating this endless circle of one fueling and feeding the other. We were growing in our individual lives with God because of our Saturday mornings, and our growth as a couple from our weekly intentional communication was also providing incredible spiritual growth for us as individuals. After all those years of feeling guilty about not "doing devotions," we'd stumbled onto a process that actually enhanced spiritual growth.

It's been more than 20 years, and we're still at it. As we look back, we both agree that those weekly times of intentional connection have been the single most important investment in our marriage. Never did we envision the depth that would result from merely talking week after week, year after year. Never would we have guessed how tenaciously we'd cling to this tradition. And never would we have imagined that both of us would honestly say that the two greatest influences upon our spiritual growth and intimacy with God have been our individual devotional lives and our Saturday mornings together.

Set aside some undistracted free time this weekend, or next Tuesday morning, or whatever works best. You may just discover that once you start, you won't want to stop!

From Faith Tango. Copyright © 2002 by Carolyn and Craig Williford. Used by permission of WaterBrook Press, Colorado Springs, CO. All rights reserved.

Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

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