Monday, October 31, 2011

"Marriage Spirituality" by R Paul Stevens

TITLE: Marriage Spirituality - Ten Disciplines for Couples Who Love God
AUTHOR: R. Paul Stevens
PUBLISHER: Vancouver, BC: Regent College Publishing, 1989, (165 pages).

With his huge experience as pastor, seminarian, counselor, and of course, a married man, Stevens is certainly one we can learn from, with regards to marriage. Written with the Christian believer in mind, Stevens selects ten disciplines for couples to practice together. He believes that faith strengthens Christian marriages. For Stevens,

"To be married means to have our privacy invaded, to live dangerously close to another sinner, to be interfered with by someone who claims to love us but does not always know how. Yet to be married also means to celebrate a sacrament every day, all day, through everything we share, even when we are not together." (14)

The underlying conviction the author has is the need for husbands and wives to cultivate spiritual friendship with each other. Before this can happen, six barriers have to be addressed:
  1. 'Too many agendas': that sucks away time and energy to prayer;
  2. 'Overfamiliarity': that couples are not sensitive to fresh insights from each other;
  3. 'History of mutual sin and forgiveness': seeking each other's forgiveness is hard;
  4. 'Unresolved problems': unhealthy tendency to wait (forver) for problem to be resolved BEFORE any talk of spiritual togetherness;
  5. 'Afraid of intimacy': Fear of letting spouse into the insecurities of oneself;
  6. 'Complicated structure': the need for couples to see their marriage unique relationship in itself.
Simply put, the way forward is to let the marriage relationship become a 'response' to God's grace in the couple's life. The author suggests several ways to do the ten disciplines. One way is by taking an intentional 10-week experiment on developing spiritual friendship. Another way is through small couple mentoring program where two or three couples meet together regularly to encourage one another. Others include weekend retreats, teaching sessions or through sermons over the pulpit. The key is not to 'solve' but to share the journey.

The ten disciplines are:
  1. Prayer that shares a special intimacy with God and each other.
  2. Conversation that involves listening to the heart.
  3. Sabbath that learns to rest, leisure, and play together.
  4. Retreat that encourages solitude together as a couple.
  5. Study to train the couple's ability to listen to God.
  6. Service to serve together.
  7. Sexual Fasting to learn to attempt to focus on resolving a particular spiritual matter.
  8. Obedience in doing God's will together.
  9. Confession to enable healing.
  10. Mutual Submission to affirm the equal relationship of both spouses.
My Comments

This is a lovely book to read as a couple. The strength lies in the application aspects where the author details the steps to practice the discipline. For example, the 'putting into practice' is not only realistic but covers practical details of a typical busy life. The author shows an astute understanding of marital challenges, and writes in a very encouraging manner. Personally, I feel that ten disciplines are a little too much. The disciplines are important. However, the book will benefit more if it focuses on say 5-7 of them. For instance, prayer and conversation can be combined. Confession and Mutual Submission goes hand in hand. The same goes for Sabbath and Retreat. In its current form, the book is best used for a teaching course rather than a marriage manual for couples spiritual friendship. If there is another title, I will certainly suggest: "Cultivating Spiritual Friendship in Marriages."

I recommend this book for Christian couples, especially those where both spouses are active in Church or work in a Christian organization.

Ratings: 4 stars of 5.


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