|HOME - Couples Praying Together|
|ARTICLE:||COUPLES PRAYING TOGETHER|
|OUTLINE:||PART I - Introduction|
|PART II - Understanding the Problem|
|PART III - Wrong Assumptions|
|PART IV - Some Common Difficulties|
|PART V - Getting It Right|
|PART VI - A Simple Programme|
|PART I - Introduction||(back to top)|
Why this article?
It is a common problem for Christians in families or in other small groupings to experience real difficulties in trying to pray together. This article is written primarily for those who feel that they would like to make a go of their praying together - whether couples or not.
I shall be taking a fresh look at the subject, at its difficulties, and questioning some of the common assumptions held about it. Then I shall give some helpful and realistic guidelines for praying together.
This article was initially published as a printed pamphlet, and its popularity then shows that having difficulties when praying together is a common occurrence. The simple one-minute, four-point programme presented at the end of the article is a unique approach to tackling the problem and one which many have found helpful.
Don't skip to the conclusion! This article is short enough to reach the end easily!
|PART II - Understanding the Problem||(back to top)|
What is the problem?
This is not the silly question it first appears to be!
Praying together can be a problem, but not the problem.
Difficulties between people are often like the tip of an iceberg - they are the noticeable bit of something far bigger. For example: if two people have a problem about their different social backgrounds, then a dropped aitch, or how a knife is held can become the small symbols of the much bigger problem. In the same way, in a tense situation between workers and management, the colour of one's collar can indicate the opposing group.
Praying together can be for some just the visible tip or symbol of a much bigger difficulty. For example, the wife who resents her husband's late call to the ordained ministry is likely to find that his attempts to start or lead a time of prayer together trigger-off all the deep anger and frustration of her feelings about his ministry.
Attempts to pray together may highlight other common religious differences or points of tension. If one person's spiritual tradition leads them to believe that the other is only a 'nominal' Christian who lacks a real 'saving faith', then a different approach to praying together, or an inability to pray aloud, can highlight a deep spiritual division which is the real problem.
It is important, therefore, to ask - ideally together - what is the real problem, and, hopefully, to talk it over. Problems have to be recognized before they can be solved.
'Talk it over' he writes!
'If we could talk it over - we'd have no problems!' some readers will mentally respond.
Let's look briefly, then, at coping with the problems. The first is fear.
Fear lies at the root of most of our difficulties in life, even in praying together it may be one of them. It helps us if we can understand it.
There are two main ways we cope with fear - we try to protect ourselves either by attacking or escaping; 'fight' and 'flight' as they are often labelled. This leads to the bully and the coward: the bully is not better or stronger than the coward - each is dealing with fear in a different way.
These reactions may be physical or verbal; an attack or an escape; the cutting-remark or the stony silence. Do we 'explode' or retreat into silence? Or is our natural 'explosion' stifled for fear of hurting the one we love, opting instead to smoulder-away quietly?
It is helpful when tackling any problem between individuals to know which way we ourselves tend to cope with fear and which way the other(s) copes with it. Two 'attackers' will have a verbal or physical ding-dong. If a couple consists of one 'attacker' and the other who 'runs away' mentally, then a different tension is created. The tension one experiences will be because the other says too much ('Oh shut up!'), while the other experiences the tension of too little being said ('Why don't you say something!').
If both tend to 'retreat' rather than attack, the situation may be outwardly 'better'. But in avoiding all experience of conflict or pain, the couple will remain immature and not grow.
In praying together (or in any other problem) the first thing to do is to recognise the way oneself and the other(s) copes with fear, and to realise that neither 'fight' nor 'flight' is a 'better' solution than the other. Each reaction shows that a person feels unable to cope, vulnerable, afraid and out-of-their-depth. Such a person needs the greatest love, understanding, sympathy and patience that God can give to us and through us.
Do you want to be healed?
Our Lord's pertinent question in John 5:6 to the man who had hardly moved for thirty-eight years, applies here also.
It is possible to cling to a problem and enjoy it while at the same time complaining about it, or using it to degrade another or as a weapon against them. 'Of course, I just can't pray with my husband/wife' can be a sad and confidential comment, or it can be a weapon of arrogance. What is claimed to be a problem can be hung on to, to boost our own spiritual pride over another.
Penitence is the first step towards any real growth, healing, reconciliation or understanding.
'But what have I got to be sorry about! God knows I've tried...!'
Perhaps so, but there must be real sorrow for all that we have done by our insensitivity/blindness/arrogance/apathy to increase the fear in the other. If you are not willing to move in this direction, then there is probably little point in reading further, because your real problem is not an inability to pray together, but a lack of love, respect and humility from which true sorrow and reconciliation can spring.
|PART III - Wrong Assumptions||(back to top)|
If you wrongly assumed that half-a-mile is usually walked easily in five minutes and acted on it, then you'd miss your bus.
Similarly most of the disappointment and difficulty about praying together arise because of quite wrong assumptions and
expectations. Let's look at just three of them.
|PART IV - Some Common Difficulties||(back to top)|
If we can highlight some of the usual difficulties, it will be easier to tackle this problem.
Some leadership problems
Viewed spiritually, praying-together is gathering together as children before a common 'Father'. It is essentially an activity of equals. Viewed domestically, however, it consists of two or three people arriving at the same place at the same time to do the same thing. Every home demonstrates that such a thing can never happen by chance! Such events usually only occur when one individual has convened others. Even getting everyone to their meal generally requires one to hit a gong for, or shout at, another! This is a temporary 'leadership' role.
Another aspect of 'leadership' is what we would feel if we were expected to play Steve Davis snooker, or cook a meal for Delia Smith! Most of us would mentally have 'failed' before we ever attempted it, being crushed by our knowledge of their professional experience. Similarly, Christian ministers need to be aware that their 'professional' position can crush the spirits of those around them.
Sometimes this happens because of insensitivity. It takes considerable courage to offer aloud a simple request to God to help Johnie with his homework, if it follows a five-minute leader's prayer full of the theological depth of St. Paul and the balanced phrases of Cranmer!
Praying together is, for these reasons, often more of a problem for 'ministers' and their families than for others. Amateurs are expected to be amateurs; but the mix of what is felt to be the 'trained professional' with 'ordinary folk' can be a real cause of difficulty.
The fact that an individual minister in a situation is not actually sitting in judgement is not always enough to free others from the feeling and conviction that they are on trial.
Failure on the home-front at this level can easily become a thorn in a minister's life. We joke about 'Do as I say, not as I do...', but an apparent failure at this level is often a terrible guilt-burden and pain to any conscientious pastor.
There is a trap here! His/her desire to make things better, may result in a heavy-handed use of 'leadership' to rectify matters, and this may increase the tension caused by his/her 'professional' presence!
There are ways in which this problem can largely be overcome as you will see from the approach and suggestions that follow.
|PART V - Getting It Right||(back to top)|
A better approach - better results
You and your situation are different from every other. What follows will only be of any use if it is changed and adapted to suit you in your situation. Pray that the Holy Spirit would make known to you God's particular word on these matters.
For a start
|PART VI - A Simple Programme||(back to top)|
We want something that avoids the 'leadership' problems mentioned above. It should also be:
That's a tall order! But below is a one-minute four-point programme, which if you examine it carefully meets all these requirements.
(The 'Peace' could be given either informally or formally / or alternating on each occasion.)
Some readers will at this stage be tempted to dismiss this as too simple. If so, reflect on Naaman whom God wanted to heal, but who at first resisted what the Lord wanted him to do because it was not impressive enough!
Developing the programme
The programme can be deepened and enlarged almost infinitely.
Take your pick
Provided the above eight points are borne in mind, the possible developments can incorporate any item which helps your joint encounter with God, for example -
|When this article was a printed pamphlet it was a best-seller. The problem is a very common one, but most Christians are scared to mention it! You are not alone. Many others will have the same difficulty. Take steps to bring it out into the open. Tell folk about the availability of this article, which - unlike so much advice on prayer - is pitched where so many of us really are! Tell them about the easy 'one-minute four-point program'. I know God will bless you together.|
|Copyright John Richards 2004, but waived for users of www.helpforchristians.co.uk|