By Barb Arland-Fye
When our sons were growing up, my husband Steve and I prayed with them before meals and at bedtime. Now that Steve and I are empty-nesters with conflicting schedules, our prayer life together has waned. While working on The Catholic Messenger’s series on marriage and family and anticipating Pope Francis’ visit to the U.S., I’ve become more conscious of the need for prayer with my husband.
Deacon Dan Huber of Sacred Heart Cathedral in Davenport was the first to raise my awareness during a workshop for Sponsor Couples in June.
“One of the things we really want our Sponsor Couples to help these engaged couples with is a life of prayer,” Deacon Huber said. “If we can get couples praying together at a very early stage and be very comfortable with it — that becomes the go-to when they face the storms of life that we talked about in today’s Gospel.”
Later, the workshop’s presenter, Father Robert Ruhnke, C.SS.R., told me, “I think the most important thing for married couples is to invest in rituals, such as dialogue, prayer, dating as a married couple.” Turn off the computers, cellphones and Internet at meals and bedtime, he said. (Oops. I check Facebook before bed.) Fr. Ruhnke said most people have not developed habits that are going to be proactive for marriage and family life. He believes it’s time to start. Couples also need to enhance their dialogue skills and pray as a couple and as a family. He noted that he’s handled a number of annulments in his ministry. “Prayer as a couple has never been a part of the story of a petition for an annulment.”
Fr. Ruhnke devotes a whole chapter to prayer in his book “For Better & For Ever, a Resource for Couples Preparing for Christian Marriage,” which parishes in the Davenport Diocese use. He acknowledges that praying together as a couple can take us out of our comfort zone. That’s why he recommends starting small, such as holding hands while saying the Lord’s Prayer in church and at home. Praying together, he says, “may seem easier in the ‘good times,’ but will probably become most important in the ‘bad times.’ Learning to ask forgiveness of each other and learning to bring your deepest fears and needs into your efforts to pray together can be challenging. Yet, this is likely to be the most important ‘marriage insurance’ policy you will ever develop. Inviting God your loving Father to help you through your struggles with each other is a kind of prayer that God will surely hear!”
Inspired by these clergymen’s insights, I attempted to re-introduce prayer as a ritual in my marriage. It’s a work in progress! The other night as I got into bed, Steve was on the verge of falling asleep. “Let’s say ‘Night Prayer’ (from Liturgy of the Hours),” I suggested. Steve’s response: “I don’t have my glasses. You can read it.” I responded: “We need to do it together!” That night we compromised and said an “Our Father” together. On another night when I got to bed late, I insisted that Steve lead the prayer. He was so out of it that he started praying Grace Before Meals! One night when he was awake I couldn’t find a short book I had obtained titled “Prayers for Married Couples.” I found the book later and am glad I did. Author Renee Bartkowski observes that “Couples who pray together often find that their prayers become more than just conversations with God. … These prayers act as windows through which husband and wife can see each other’s needs and desires.”
Steve gently suggested that if we’d think about prayer before dozing off, it will become a ritual we embrace together. He’s opened the window to prayer and I’ll do my best to keep it open!
(Barb Arland-Fye, Editor, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)