Other Husband & Wife Articles

One Flesh but Two Spirits

by Tim Drake

Tim Drake

Husbands and wives may be united, but that doesn’t mean that they are always on the same page spiritually. Given that each has a unique relationship with the Lord, conflicts may arise due to the fact that wives and husbands are at two different points in their spiritual lives.

Of course, that conflict is perhaps most pronounced in what the Church calls a mixed marriage – between a Catholic and non-Catholic Christian.

My wife, Mary, and I married in 1989. She grew up in a devout Catholic home, I in a nominal Lutheran home. Little did I know when I met her that God was drawing me to the fullness of the faith in the Catholic Church.

When Mary’s mother voiced concerns about my religious background, Mary explained that I was easily the most spiritual man she had dated. I had a relationship with Jesus, attended church and prayed.

Mary and I shared the basic Christian tenets – belief in the Trinity, in Christ, in heaven and hell and salvation. Where we disagreed was on the finer points of doctrine, the usual sticking points for a Protestant – the role of Mary, the sacraments, and the place of the pope.

From a spiritual perspective, as well, we approached our faith in different ways. Mary has always been more methodical in her prayer life, setting aside a specific time to pray. I’ve tended toward spontaneity, at times being disciplined in my prayer life, and at other times not so much.

Yet praying together has always been a priority for us, setting aside time for meal prayers and evening prayer.

Such differences are quite common and normal for spouses. Marriage does not take away our individuality, but we must learn to walk with the Lord both on our own, and in union with our spouse. Sometimes, we walk together; at other times we’re more aware of our individual journey with the Lord.

Still, the tension can be a healthy one if you are open to God’s call and the needs of your spouse. The Christian virtues of charity and self-sacrifice will go a long way toward resolving any difficulties.

My case is a good example.

In 1994, while Mary and I were doing the “mixed-marriage shuffle” – attending both a Lutheran service and Catholic Mass on most Sundays – the Catholic church we were going to began perpetual Eucharistic adoration. Desiring more discipline in my prayer life, I signed up for an hour a week before the Blessed Sacrament.

When I first entered the adoration chapel, I didn’t kneel or fully recognize who it was I was praying before, but as the months went by, I knew that I was in the presence of Christ – body, blood, soul and divinity. That realization would eventually compel me to enter the Church the following spring.

Over time, I’ve become far more structured in my prayer-life while Mary has become more spontaneous. The two have indeed become more closely one.

Besides differences in prayer preferences, spouses must also decide on the appropriate time and manner to pray within a family structure. We need to be mindful of the duty of our state in life as husbands and wives.

EWTN journalist Raymond Arroyo once described to Father Benedict Groeschel his efforts to pray an hour a day before the Blessed Sacrament.

“Spend more time before the tabernacle that is your family,” Father Groeschel told Arroyo.

It’s an important lesson that our primary duty is to our spouse and family. Obviously, if we are neglecting that duty, that is not the will of God.

One’s desire for regular prayer time each morning may run against the need for getting the children up and ready for the day. Another’s desire for some time each week before the Blessed Sacrament may require a change in schedule for the spouse.

As long as we aren’t neglecting the primary duties of our state in life, we as spouses need to be supportive of our loved one’s efforts to grow in Christ, whether that’s in daily prayer, Mass and the sacraments, or regular religious retreats.

The important thing, as in all things in marriage, is to communicate about our needs and desires. Don’t be tempted to make one’s journey with Christ into a marital conflict. Realize that while you both may be on different parts of the spiritual journey, you are on the journey together. Find places and ways in which you, as husband and wife, can walk that road together hand-in-hand.

Tim Drake, senior writer for the National Catholic Register and Faith and Family magazine, will be writing the “Husband & Wife” column for December.