9 paths to spiritual intimacyWritten by Cara Plett
What's inside this article
You’re equally yoked! Spiritual intimacy in your marriage should be a breeze, right?
Shared beliefs form a foundational bond between you and your spouse, but they don’t automatically synchronize your spiritual steps. Not when you like praying in a quiet closet while your husband prefers sharing in a small group. Nor when you turn your wife’s devotional hike into a lecture on environmental justice.
It’s not so easy to walk together when your pace is different, is it?
Here’s the thing: If you tend to bicker more over worship preferences than theological principles, you’re likely dealing with what Sacred Pathways author Gary Thomas calls different "spiritual temperaments."
As Luke* and Natalie* put it, "When we’re talking about spiritual things, even trying to make the same point, it’s like we speak a different language."
If you can relate, don’t worry. Your marriage isn't destined to a future full of faith fights.
You can trade your worship wars for spiritual harmony by identifying which of the nine sacred pathways you and your spouse walk. Then when you know, you can grow closer to God and to each other!
Nine spiritual temperaments
Even though Jesus is the only way to God, there is not only one way to worship Him. That’s the premise of Thomas’ book. He explains that these personal temperaments are Monday-to-Saturday spiritual meals. If practiced, they keep you from starving so you don’t expect one Sunday service to satisfy a week’s worth of hunger pains.
That’s not to say that worship is about satisfying our bodily needs. In Romans 12:1, Paul urges us to present our body a living sacrifice to God, calling that our worship. And since you and your spouse are "one flesh" (Genesis 2:24), this daily offering requires both of your to cooperate! You must learn to live sacrificially to God both individually and together.
That said, do you know what your spouse needs to offer their six-day-a-week worship? Does your husband or wife know what you need?
To grow in understanding of your faith and marriage, consider which of these pathways you and your spouse tread:
Naturalists: Loving God out-of-doors. When God’s presence rather than the mountain’s peak is the highpoint of your hike, you may be a naturalist. You worship God by admiring His creation. The oceans, trees and spiders flood your mind with analogies. And the green pastures and still waters of Psalm 23 speak to your soul.
Sensates: Loving God with the senses. The five senses of touch, smell, sight, sound and taste are God-given – and they’re a valid means of giving worship back to God, too! Song services, art and intricate architecture aid rather than distract you from drawing closer to God.
Traditionalists: Loving God through ritual and symbol. Rituals, symbols and sacraments help you love God. For you, attending church regularly, tithing and keeping the Sabbath are your means of honouring your Father. Similarly, Christmas, Lent and Easter are more than Hallmark holidays for you, the keeper of sacred celebrations.
Ascetics: Loving God in solitude and simplicity. Solitude, austerity, strictness. If these words describe a worship you’d cling to rather than cringe at, you may be an ascetic. The simple life, plain dress, and uncluttered home and church help you hone your focus on Him. And whether you’re a monk or a mom, you don’t mind being strict with yourself to glorify God.
Activists: Loving God through confrontation. Justice, conflict and outcomes feed your faith. Add to that a love for great debates and you have yourself an activist! Activism takes three forms, according to Thomas: Addressing social reform, moral failure and evil.
Caregivers: Loving God by loving others. It seems contradictory, but serving others energizes a caregiver! In the Mary-Martha dichotomy, you are Martha – you’re in the kitchen preparing a meal for the hungry. In fact, you start meeting needs even before the needy know what they need! And for better or for worse, you are the go-to yes-person when someone needs a favour.
Enthusiasts: Loving God with mystery and celebration. In one word, enthusiasts are charismatic. You thrive on mystery and celebration of who God is and what He’s doing in this world to build His kingdom. You’re relationship-oriented and grow in group settings. An ideal worship service for you is anything but a ritual. It’s an experience, with clapping, moving and "amen"-ing!
Contemplative: Loving God through adoration. Contemplatives are quiet souls. You love – no, you adore God and want to grow deeper and purer in your attachment to Him. When Martha was cooking, Mary was contemplating like you, sitting at the feet of Jesus basking in His presence. These worshippers do secret acts of devotion and God-lead prayers that praise Him more than plead for things.
- Intellectuals: Loving God with the mind. Systematic theology puts a spring in your spiritual step. You grow in faith when you "understand new concepts and gain new insights and increased comprehension" about God, writes Thomas. Greek dictionaries, commentaries and chronological Bibles fill your bookshelves. And when your nose isn't in these books, it’s in other people’s faces debating the proper head-covering protocol.
Spiritual warfare between spouses
Just as with personality types, Thomas says spiritual temperament mixes can sometimes be "recipes for disaster" in a marriage. Why? Because it’s "difficult for us to understand – and even more difficult to appreciate – people who approach something (in this case, Someone) differently than we do."
Take Luke and Natalie for example. He’s an activist, caregiver and enthusiast. She’s a sensate, ascetic and naturalist. It takes effort and out-of-the-box thinking to see each other’s differences as God-ordained and equally valid.
But if you don’t learn to appreciate and speak each other’s spiritual language, there are consequences. Notably, you could threaten your marital intimacy in four ways:
Worship wars: For something as personal as faith, a moment of misunderstanding can swiftly escalate into a doozy of a fight! "It’s our biggest misunderstanding. We don’t argue this much about any other topic," Luke admits.
Leaving and cleaving issues: "I feel like I relate more to my family [of origin] than to my husband in spiritual things," Natalie notes. "It’s less stressful – it’s easier when my family just already knows the ins and outs of my style."
Spousal put-down leads to spousal shut-down: If you’re legalistic about your style and critical of your spouse’s, you threaten the security, safety and spirituality of your softer-spoken spouse.
That’s what happened to Natalie. "Luke and I have a very different view of prayer, what it’s okay to pray for and how to pray. When he gives his opinion about prayer, it squashes what I think and now I don't feel comfortable praying around him." As you can guess, stunting your spouse’s spiritual growth stunts the strength of your marriage as a whole. "If one member suffers, all suffer together" (1 Corinthians 12:26).
A threat to marital fidelity: Luke and Natalie agree that the less spiritual intimacy you have in marriage, the more you have to go outside of each other to find it. They caution that if you get this validation from a member of the opposite sex who isn’t your spouse, you risk slipping into an emotional affair with a spiritual flare.
Sharing the path
To begin connecting spiritually with your spouse, focus on your common spiritual ground. Then, based on that equal yoke, explain your temperaments to each other. You can make the most of your differences by approaching them with curiosity and a desire to expand your ability to worship God.
The good news is, as long as you can appreciate and encourage, rather than judge, your spouse’s relationship with God, you’re helping to grow their faith! And when you learn to worship God together with your husband or wife, you’re en route to experiencing three other benefits:
Happier marriage: The National Marriage Project conducted a study on happy husbands. They found that these men "practice a religious faith with their wife." According to the report, "Practicing a faith together helps to actualize all the traits that make for a happier marriage, starting with generosity." Practicing faith together requires you to observe, validate and partake in your spouse’s style.
Fuller worship: You can write all the poetry you want to God, but if you never learn anything new about God, you’ll grow stagnant in your relationship with God. And the same goes for exclusively worshipping through any one pathway.
Fortunately, God gave you your own walking, talking, daily example of worship styles that may not come naturally to you – He gave you your spouse! Thank Him by taking a stroll down their praise path.
- Deeper intimacy: Don’t forget to continue living out your personal worship style! You may reap some unexpected benefits as Luke did. "There was one time I decided to stop arguing about it and try just living out my style. I would sit with my Bible and read. I did this for a few days and then Natalie started sitting down to read and pray with me. That was so spiritually bonding."
*Names changed to protect privacy
Cara Plett is an in-house writer for Focus on the Family Canada.
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