In my last blog about the empty nest, one line stuck with me and won’t let me rest: “It takes lots of prayer and lots of conversation with that spouse to navigate it [the empty nest] with grace.”
That little line deserves considerable exploration. I circle back to it now, for I have learned that when I am pestered by unfinished thoughts in my writing, the “Pester” is God. Peace will reign when I obey His pestering and explore the thought. So here’s to peace:
The empty nest surely can lead to a full marriage. But what is this marriage full of? Society will convince us that a full marriage is one full of a strong portfolio, carefree travel, lots of wine, and outdoors “twin tub time” (aka Cialis commercials). Christ encouraged “life to the full” (John 10:10), and therefore, marriage to the full… not only full of all those wonderful things like travel and wine and intimacy, but the greatest fulfillment of all, the pursuit of God … together. This is the source of grace that can come with the empty nest.
The busyness of raising children is over. It is time for husband and wife to grow in new ways. That takes prayer. But many couples report that, though they share prayer requests with each other, they don’t pray together. Since conversation is an essential part of a full marriage, praying together, which is sharing conversation with God, is essential in growing in new and more intimate ways. Getting there may prove intimidating, but by talking through HOW to share prayer, we can have that fuller marriage the empty nest provides.
So…how does a couple become a praying couple? Really, for two to develop a habit of prayer, they should follow the same guidelines for one: regularity, environment, and proven method. I would add one more ingredient: theological pursuit.
Experts report it takes anywhere from 21-30 days to establish a habit. One author puts the number in the 200-day range! However long it takes, decide what “regular” will be for the two of you. For my husband and me, with demanding and variable schedules, we started out praying regularly once a week, with a bonus of every day when vacationing. It quickly became the time of our greatest learning about each other, and our ability to be patient and understanding of one another, more loving, increased dramatically.
Focus on creating a comfortable environment where the two of you can feel the presence of God. Put the cell phones down. Eliminate visual distractions before beginning (a little mess or dust will get in my way). Tummy full, coffee mug full. Light a candle as you begin and ask for the light of Christ to reign. Perhaps, pray around the family table, since that is really your family’s “altar.” Pray with an icon if it helps establish that sense of a holy environment. Perhaps those over-stuffed chairs near the fireplace, where you can feel the warmth of a crackling fire, might be ideal. What matters is that the environment beckons the One we pursue and reminds us that “…where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:20).
How are you going to pray? Kent and I have found that turning to the Sunday readings works for us. We rely heavily on A Better Part: A Christ-centered Resource for Personal Prayer by Fr. John Bartunek. It helps the pray-er take the posture of Mary (rather than Martha) who sits at the feet of the Master and takes Him in. And, by reflecting the Sunday readings, we have the added bonus of getting more out of Mass. Or turn to the Our Father, as Christ specifically offers it as a directive for how to pray (cf Matthew 6:9). Try lectio divina, the Liturgy of the Hours, the rosary, journaling, or a combination of those, but remember to actually pray out loud. Don’t forget to include those prayer requests: “…in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God” (Philippians 4:6).
We have found that, by pursuing knowledge about God (the study of theology), we fall more deeply in love with Him. Studying the Scriptures deeply, reading the works of the saints and the great theologians, and then taking time to really THINK and talk over what we’ve read – these things inspire us to keep up the habit of praying both individually and together because we grow more and more in love with the One we love Who loves us perfectly. (2 Peter 3:18).
Praying together produces much fruit in a marriage. It has made us more conscious of using our time together as time that glorifies God. We turned off our pursuit of NCIS and turned on our pursuit of God. And the nest, empty as it is, has become more and more a graced place where God is known and made known. May grace fill your empty nest!