A while back, I read an article written by a man named Steve Stuckey about feeling God. In it, he describes joining the high school band without much music background and not having much of a sense of tone and... musical ability. He didn't already have the ability to hear the nuanced differences in musical notes or discern timing and rhythm. Over time, with perseverance, he gradually began hearing these subtle changes and grew better musically. Even with born talent, we need to practice and learn music. We just aren't born with proficient skill in the classical guitar. We need to spend hours learning how to pick, developing the finger callouses, learning how to tune a guitar by ear. And even then the best guitarists out there need days upon weeks practicing a single song. Steve finished the other half of his article pointing out how this memory taught him a lot about how we can "sense" or "feel" God around us. Over time, with practice, we will grow better at sensing His presence. It takes time and effort to figure out how God speaks to us individually and how to discern His direction in our lives.
I believe prayer is the Holy Spirit speaking through us. When we pray and when we worship in song, dance, or whatever, we allow God to speak through our physical bodies. The tricky part is that we often have ideas, desires, prejudices, anger, and other things in our hearts that cloud our ability to let God clearly speak through us. When I first became a Christian, my prayers were very direct and influenced by what I wanted to say. If I didn't agree with someone, I would basically pray that God changes their mind and make them agree with me. Over time, my zealousness quieted somewhat. God has been teaching me to allow Him to speak. When I sing worship, I am learning that my inhibitions cloud the songs God is singing through me.
When we begin to learn a hobby, it is not always very easy at first. Prayer is like that. It's weird and its vulnerable. You say things that you wouldn't tell anyone on a normal basis... and in front of people you wouldn't normally open yourself up to. Over time, though, you get used to it. Maybe you get a group of people you pray with on a routine basis so that it's not random strangers every time. Maybe you close your eyes so that you can't see anyone and get self-conscious. Maybe you shut everything out and imagine it's just you and God. Maybe you read the bible before praying so that your heart is in the right place. Whatever it is, it takes time and commitment. It gets easier though.
And that's the thing. It's supposed to get easier. I think what makes praying hard is that I expect things to come out of prayer. It's the token Christian thing to say "I'll pray for that" when your friend or even stranger describes a problem And what if things don't go my way? It totally feels pointless then. I struggle praying for my day because I don't always feel like I need God. "It's just a drive to work. It's just another day at work. It's not a big deal." Because I don't pray for my daily life, however, I lose the habit and stop praying for the big things altogether. But when I start praying more often, it becomes less weird, less pointless, and more often. When prayer isn't weird, it gets easier. When the habit sets in, I pray without thinking (kinda the definition of habit).
OK so here's the point. I've been thinking over the past couple days about how marriage is like prayer in that sense. When I first got married to Kaytie, I spent a lot of time and effort making up for mistakes I made. Her family is one of those that spends A LOT of time together and this was another thing I had to get used to. I grew up pretty independent of my parents and brother and so this was a very invasive and weird thing for me at first. Over time, though, it got easier. I'm happy to say that it's pretty effortless now. I just learned to keep my own personal schedule pretty open. I also needed to learn to open my own life up to let someone else besides myself make changes.
I think marriage was never meant to be those ridiculous fairy tale weddings you see in the movies. And yet it I also believe marriage was never meant to be the 24/7 fighting I grew up around. Marriage isn't easy but it doesn't have to be difficult either. And that requires practice. We're all complicated people and it takes a lot of time to figure each other out. In fact, couples I've talked to who have been married 30+ years unanimously agree that the learning never really ends. There's a lot of past hurts, fears, prejudices, and brokenness that follows us into a marriage and we need each other to work these things out of the bond.
And the only way to do this is by putting God at the center of the marriage.
Christians hear this all the time. It's one of those generic tips that you hear at marriage conferences. God at the center. God at the center. You also hear a lot about how much work there is at marriage. Sacrifice here. Surrender there.
The way I like to look at it is that marriage is about allowing God to shine through the holy bond between a man and a woman. The ultimate goal is to reach a point where love comes naturally. When just being together is easy. And it takes a lifetime to get there because we are broken but spending the rest of our lives being repaired by the God who makes all things new.
Everyday I spend working to learn more and more about Kaytie and all the wonderful things that God does through her. And yet, over time it's gotten easier. Actually I gotta admit it's actually pretty easy. It's not without struggle, don't get me wrong. I'd say the death of her mom posed the greatest challenge for us so far. Not so much in danger to our marriage but really just shook us all to the core. But when trials happen, we've gotten a lot better at handling them. It's a lifelong thing but then we believe our marriage is a lifelong thing.
I think this is what prayer, marriage and life with God is meant to be like.
It takes work at first. But let God fill you with light and soon you'll be overflowing with life. And when that happens, the overflow will fill the empty glasses of your work life, your family life, your marriage, your desires, your dreams... everything.
Overflow and life can get just a little bit more effortless.
Happy new year!