For months in the early years of our marriage, mornings at our house were a blur of busyness. My husband, Charles, and I would jump out of bed, shower, dress, eat, scan the newspaper, then rush off to work.
After a while, I felt the need to add some exercise to my routine, so I'd power walk through the neighborhood or hit the nearby gym for an early aerobics class. Charles was never as interested in exercise as I was, however, so usually I went alone.
Then gradually, as his schedule permitted, he agreed to walk with me before work. I treasured these intimate early morning walks with my husband. They seemed the perfect time to talk out our problems with money, kids, and parents—and each other. Then one day I suggested that on our return route, we stop at a park bench near our home for a quick time of prayer. Charles agreed and this became my favorite part of our time together. The only problem was that we both felt rushed. It seemed there wasn't time for everything—a nourishing breakfast, much-needed exercise, and quality time to talk and pray. I wanted to find a way to make it all work.
Then one Saturday as we walked, enjoying the freedom of a day off work, it occurred to me that we could combine our walking with our praying. Instead of commenting on the passing scene, or discussing a situation that needed our attention, I realized we could pray about these things as we walked! I was excited about this new possibility and mentioned it to Charles, who liked the idea.
Today, prayerwalking has become a popular trend, but when Charles and I started (more than 20 years ago!), I'd never heard of it. There was no mystery to it. We just did what we'd been doing—walking—only we put our prayer into the walk instead of leaving it for the park bench at the end. I wondered if we'd feel self-conscious praying aloud in a public area. But soon we realized the joggers and other walkers were as involved in their own routines as we were in ours.
We didn't follow any prescribed method or carry prayer books with us. We just talked and then prayed about whatever we talked about. For example, I might mention a concern I had with one of our children or with my mother or a colleague. As soon as I voiced it, Charles would pray on the spot. If he shared a dilemma, I'd pray aloud for that. Then we'd take turns praying for our families, our church friends, neighbors, etc.
We didn't go through a list of every name and need; that would take too long. But we did hold up people as they came to mind. For example, one morning we prayed: "Dear God, please watch over our neighbors today and be especially present to Laura as she leaves town to attend her mother's funeral."
It might be that specific or as general as when we prayed for the leaders of our city, state, and nation to make wise choices that day.
Two decades later, we continue to prayerwalk, though we no longer hold to the early morning schedule. Now that my husband works part-time and at odd hours, we walk in the afternoon or early evening.
We've never made prayerwalking a "rule." We want it to remain a treasure, something we enjoy doing. If one or the other doesn't feel like it one day, we let it go and pray just before bed at night or upon waking in the morning. Regardless of when we do it, the benefits have been nothing short of miraculous. And it's brought some unexpected rewards:
More Intimacy. Our prayerwalks have led to a deeper, more intimate understanding of each another. My husband, for example, had fears I never knew about before. They began to surface during our prayer time. One day Charles disclosed that his short fuse and occasional fits of anger were rooted in his past. His father had screamed at his mother when he was angry or frustrated. This was weighing heavily on Charles, and he was afraid it was hurting our marriage. Because we were practicing prayer, Charles felt he could be vulnerable with me. That day, we were able to talk about it and what he could do to overcome it, then we prayed over the situation. This resulted in him enrolling in an anger management workshop that produced significant healing in this area of his life.
I also felt the freedom in our prayerwalks to reveal some of my secrets. For instance, I was finally able to share with him how I'd been holding back affection because of my fear of being hurt as I'd been in my first marriage. I'd vowed never again to feel sexually vulnerable. These disclosures and the prayers that followed carried us to new heights in our marriage. Suddenly what seemed so big to each of us was less of a burden, and we watched our marriage grow more intimate. It's been so freeing to let down our guard and to be completely real with God and with each other.
More Love. Over time, I realized that the fruit of our prayerwalks was not only evident to us but to our family and friends, as well. Other people commented when they came into our home that they could feel the love. Even our children remarked that we seemed mellow, more relaxed, and more in tune with each other. Little things that may have annoyed or bothered us before didn't affect us anymore. For example, I stopped fussing about Charles leaving open the closet door or his shoes under the coffee table. It just didn't seem all that important any longer. I simply put away the shoes and closed the door as an act of love. And he was more patient and loving toward me when I forgot or misplaced something he needed.
More Spontaneity. The more we prayed, the more we were able to embrace those around us—to see their needs and to include them in our prayers. We've both noticed our increasing willingness to live in the moment. For example, when we'd notice a child laughing and playing with her sibling, we'd offer up a spontaneous praise for God's gift of laughter.
More Purpose. On days when we can't go outside because of illness or the weather, for example, we still pray together. We pray in bed before we get up, or at the breakfast table before we go to work, or if one of us is out of town—we connect by phone. Our prayer life now has more purpose. Our goal is to experience oneness with God, physical and spiritual well-being, and personal time together. And what happens when the enemy tries to pull us down?
My friend and fellow prayerwalker, Janet, has a helpful reminder. She says, "When you're praying, the Enemy can sling all kinds of weapons—discouragement, deception, doubt, depression, and despair. During those times of spiritual battle, the three-stranded cord—God, my husband, and I—keeps me praying even more strongly."
More Simplicity. Perhaps best of all is the simplicity of our communication with God and with ourselves. We don't have fancy "word feasts," no self-conscious mumblings, no rattling on for the sake of hearing ourselves speak. We've discovered that prayer is simple conversation with God.
There are days when Charles and I will pray: "God, thank you for today, for each other, for life, for family and friends. Thank you for loving us, for forgiving us, for caring about us. We're sorry for our short tempers, for our careless comments. But we're also grateful that you've provided another chance to get it right! We love you, God."
Today as I look back over the years since we started our prayerwalks, I'm amazed at the transformations that have occurred in my husband, in me, in our life together, and in our relationship with God. We've experienced more vitality, more authenticity, more intimacy, and more honesty in our marriage— just by perking it up with a prayerwalk.
Karen O'Connor, freelance author and retreat speaker, lives with her husband in California. Visit her website: www.karenoconnor.com.
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