Andy Hawes is Warden of
Edenham Regional Retreat House
This is especially for readers who are married or may be about to marry.
The sacrament of marriage creates a new way of being. The joining of a man and a woman into one flesh is a sign of the ‘unity betwixt Christ and his Church’, the Church which is his bride and his body. Apart from this mystical union there is no deeper all-encompassing bond in human relationships. Despite this self-evident reality, it never ceases to amaze me how many couples do not consider the implications of marriage for their prayer life and even their rule of life.
There are, of course, many complications – it is quite usual for a believer to be married to a nonbeliever. Sometimes one half of a marriage clings on to the faith and a spiritual life in a context of indifference or even antagonism. If this is your own situation you may find it helpful to read 1 Corinthians 7.12–14. Here St Paul is teaching that the marriage bond can be a means of sanctification – in a loving married relationship it is quite possible for the non-believer to be caught up within the grace of God by the prayer and discipleship of one half of the whole.
There are also Christian marriages of mixed traditions, and in these situations faith and spirituality have a crucial role to play in every aspect of building marriage and family. All that being said, it is far easier when both husband and wife share the same faith in the same tradition and denomination. If this is your own situation, be thankful.
In marriages that are blessed in this way, couples sometimes fail to capitalize on the enormous gifts open to them by their life together in Christ. Many couples would never consider praying together. This may be, as one person explained to me, because ‘my experience of God in prayer is so personal I cannot share it’. There is a valid perspective here and it is in accordance with Jesus’ teaching about the prerequisite of prayer ‘in your own room, behind closed doors’.
There are, however, other aspects of prayer, particularly intercession, that are best shared by two, rather than being an individual exercise. Some couples pray the offices together and although this sounds vaguely monastic it is entirely in tune with the aspiration of all Christians that their home should be ‘a workshop of the soul’ and that marriage is in itself a ‘religious life’ bound by solemn vows. Marriage also provides a relationship of mutual love and service, and also of restraint and self-discipline, that are the raw material for the making of saints.
A Christian marriage opens up the wonderful possibilities of ministry and witness to the wider family and community and God knows that is needed in our society. All of us who are married should reflect on the fact that we are living a sacramental life and as such are channels for God’s healing grace in his wounded and yet beloved creation. Marriage is not a possession but a gift of God, and each day we must ask for guidance and the help of the Holy Spirit that it should be used to further the Kingdom and give him glory.