What do you do when you don’t feel like you have spiritual intimacy in your marriage?
You’ve tried doing Bible studies together, joined small groups, you volunteer together, and although you are glad you did all of those it didn’t help bring you to that place of true intimacy. Something’s missing–what do you do?
It’s Rebecca on the blog today, since Sheila’s away on vacation. I wanted to tackle this issue of spiritual intimacy to close off our month talking about intimacy in marriage for this reason: I believe it is one of the most important forms of intimacy you can have with your spouse, but so often it is also the most overlooked or misunderstood.
There are two major roadblocks many couples face when it comes to spiritual intimacy: a lack of clarity on your own individual spirituality and the desire to mold your spouse into what you consider “acceptable” spiritual practice.
Let’s take a look at that first one.
When your personal spiritual journey seems foggy
Spiritual intimacy sounds great–truly reveling in God’s love and majesty together. But that can seem far-fetched and a bit superfluous when you consider that one of the main questions on many Christians’ hearts is, “Why don’t I feel close to God?”
How are you supposed to have spiritual intimacy together when you can’t even find it for yourself?
To fix the problem, a lot of the time the church gives instructions on how to nourish your spiritual life–often in the forms of more devotionals, prayer challenges, and small groups. But the problem is that a lot of people leave these things and although they feel like they have more head knowledge, it’s difficult for them to feel connected with that truly deep spiritual intimacy.
The reality is, all of these things are important and all of them work–but that doesn’t mean they all have to work the same way for all people.
Reading scripture is important. Some people find reading scripture to be an intimate experience. Others feel it’s more like homework, or their daily workout that they believe is important and cherished, but doesn’t offer that same connection. And so they leave feeling empty, and confused as to why they can’t seem to get it right.
The problem with the way that disciplines are being taught is that they are being prescribed the exact same way to everyone as the only solution to a multi-faceted problem: the fact that people are different.
This is why I love recommending Gary Thomas’s book Sacred Pathways to people who are feeling disillusioned in their faith. (This isn’t a sponsored post by the way, we just seriously love this book.) What Gary proposes is that there are numerous ways that people can connect with God–and although all of them are important, we each have our own “dominant” pathways. Here’s the thing, though: all nine pathways that Gary describes are found in scripture. God talks about each individual one in the Bible as a way that people meet with Him.
I’m not going to go through all nine here obviously, but I want to take a look at four of them as examples in this post:
- Intellectuals: people who feel closest to God through studying scripture, devotionals, apologetics, theology, and using their mind to try to gain a deeper understanding of God.
- Caregivers: people who feel closest to God through helping others, whether it’s shovelling driveways for seniors or babysitting for a single mom so she can have a break.
- Sensates: people who feel closest to God when their senses are engaged. Galleries, stained glass windows, music, and burning incense all draw sensates closer to the beauty and magnificence of God. (This is me!)
- Ascetics: people who feel close to God through solitude and simplicity. Fasting, silent retreats, going for long walks to just be in austere silence before God–separating themselves from the noisy outside world and even depriving themselves of creature comforts through fasting or hiking long pilgrimages helps the ascetics draw near to God.
Now this is important: all people are commanded to study scripture (intellectuals), all are commanded to fast (ascetics), all are commanded to taste and see that the Lord is good (sensates), and all are commanded to carry one another’s burdens (caregivers), but not everyone is going to have that discipline be their primary way to achieve closeness with God.
I’ll put it this way: animals need protein, carbs, and fats to survive. Herbivores like deer need more carbs and less protein and fat; dogs, on the other hand, need a very high protein diet with more fat than carbs.
They both need all three, but their primary needs are different.
That’s how spiritual pathways work, too. We all need all of them, but in differing degrees. But the problem people often run into is that the church really tends to like the “intellectuals” pathway, which is all about reading and studying scripture and theology to connect with God and understand Him better. And it makes sense–who runs churches? People who went to Bible school to study theology to understand God better.
But for the rest of us who have been sitting in pews forever and don’t feel a connection, it can seem almost like a guilt trip–why is it that everyone here seems to get spiritual fulfillment on a regular basis out of reading scripture and I just don’t?
May I suggest that perhaps you’ve been trying to live out the wrong sacred pathway for you? Maybe you’re just a spiritual herbivore who’s being fed a spiritual carnivore’s diet.
If you want to achieve spiritual intimacy as a couple, take some time and find what spiritual pathways fuel your spiritual life.
What works for you might not mesh with what your church does, what your friends prefer, or even how your spouse prefers to connect with God. But when you find the missing puzzle piece, it becomes much easier to change your spiritual discipline “diet” so that it’s balanced out again the way that God put you together spiritually.
But what about if you and your spouse have different spiritual pathways, and that’s what’s causing the clash?
Here’s the thing: each of the sacred pathways God talks about in scripture and that Gary describes in his book can lead people to God. They each hone in on a specific spiritual discipline, and they each are able to make your heart ready to hear what God has to say.
But the church and a lot of Christian material out there only presents one form of healthy family spirituality: that the husband is the spiritual leader and that means he does devotions with the family every night after dinner.
So if you’re a woman who is an intellectual worshipper and you’re married to a man who is not, a lot of the church’s teaching can lead you to feel like he’s not as spiritual as you are. Or if you see your friend’s husband lead devotionals with his family after dinner, it can seem like there is something wrong with your husband or that he’s not being as good a spiritual leader as your friends.
But where in scripture does it say that a husband must do family devotions every night?
Now, I’m not discounting the value of studying scripture. But I am saying that we need to stop putting people into these boxes that God did not design them to fit. If your husband is a caregiver, serve alongside him. Join him in that expression of worship. If your wife is a sensate, go to an art gallery with her sometime and try to see those paintings through her eyes so you too can witness God’s beauty in action!
Yes, we need to study scripture. But not wanting to lead family devotions every night isn’t always a sign that someone isn’t “right” spiritually. Just like how someone connecting with God through beauty isn’t a shallow form of worship. It’s very tempting to want to say that one person’s relationship with God isn’t as valid as our own, and the church is guilty of that, too, I believe. But if you want to achieve spiritual intimacy you’ve got to meet your spouse where they’re at–not try to force them into what you think they should be.
So instead of focusing on what your partner should do better, ask your spouse: When do you feel God the most, and how can I do a better job of joining you in that?
And of course, I really recommend working through Gary Thomas’s book together. Sacred Pathways is a fantastic tool for couples who want to better understand not only their own personal connection to God, but also where they and their spouse can serve and meet God together.
I love this book because it doesn’t try to tell you exactly what to do–there aren’t any false promises here, it’s just an explanation of the different ways God created humans to connect with Him. And it’s fascinating.
Working through it with Connor showed both of us places we need to work on in our spiritual life together. It’s a life-changing book, and if you want to check it out, you can do that right here!
When it comes down to it, spiritual intimacy has the same battle that all other forms of intimacy do: control versus vulnerability.
You have to let down your defenses if you are going to achieve physical and emotional intimacy. If you were to approach sex with a critical attitude with a mental checklist of requirements for him, just waiting to see if he manages to get all the things you wanted changed right–that sex is not going to be very good. You have to let go and experience, not analyze. It’s the same with connecting spiritually with your husband, too–intimacy requires throwing off all preconceived notions and expectations you have for each other and simply accepting each other as you are.
So throw away the spiritual measuring stick and instead focus on simply meeting God together, even if it doesn’t look perfect all the time. It’s not always going to be a mountaintop experience–but spiritual intimacy is about the journey. So be on the journey together–don’t just stand on the sideline.
What is a way you and your husband meet with God together? What’s something you would like to try to do more often? Let’s talk about it in the comments below!