This post is part three of our "Overcoming Stress" series. In this five part series, we address common circumstances that can cause stress and how to pray through these situations. For the first two posts in this series, we discussed how to deal with work stress and holiday stress. For part three, we will write about a common cause of stress- relationships. Amongst our Abide members, many ask for prayer in this area. This week Shannon Owen shares her perspective on praying about marriage conflict.
We met the year I started student teaching in an English classroom; he was finishing his mechanical engineering degree. We got married the weekend our rival colleges played each other in football. He is never without a project; I am never without a book. He likes the mountains; I like the beach. He processes inwardly; I figure things out as I talk. He likes tea; I like coffee. He’s realistic; I’m idealistic. He likes jalapenos and Sriracha on everything; I like my meals plain jane.
I think they probably warned us in all those engaged couples workshops we took: when you’re different, you disagree. But, when you’re 23, in love, and know everything, you tend to brush off advice because you think you already understand.
9 years, 1 house, 2 kids (one with special needs), and 1 miscarriage later, I know something I didn’t know then. The story doesn’t end with “I Do”; it only begins.
I used to think the old axiom that says “love is a choice, not a feeling” was horribly unromantic. Now, I know better. In Ephesians 5, Paul calls the covenant of marriage a “mystery,” a symbol of Christ and his church. When we commit to making marriage reflect the grace and peace and love of Christ, our marriages shine with the beauty of the gospel. But, we are imperfect, so that takes work and help.
The best way I know how to fight for beauty in my marriage? Prayer. And I don’t mean that as a cliché. I am talking about honest, miracle-expecting, consistent prayer.
Here’s my routine:
First, I Pray For Myself.
I hate to admit it because I hate to be wrong, but if I’m feeling stress in my marriage, some of it is probably my fault. There is some insecurity, some uncommunicated expectation, some bitterness that has planted its seed in my heart. Those things must go because the only fruit they bear is anger.
If I want peace in my marriage, I have to start by looking at my own heart. So, I pray as David prayed in Psalm 139:
Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my concerns.
See if there is any offensive way in me;
lead me in the everlasting way.
God knows me fully, even before I ask Him to look at me. He understands everything I think—every motive, every intention. Oddly, it is comforting that He knows even the darkest corners of my heart because even while I am fully exposed, I am loved.
So, I ask Him to show me the places where I am wrong because I know He will use that knowledge for good. He will not condemn, because He has already given grace. It is the nature of Satan, not God, to weigh us down with guilt. The Lord’s work is to shine light into darkness and then to transform. Whenever I ask Him, He is faithful to renew my heart.
Next, I Pray For My Husband.
It’s easy to give God a list of all the specific ways I’d like Him to work. However, that defeats the purpose of this part of the prayer. The exercise here is not to pray about him, but to pray FOR him. When we are for someone, we are on the same team. Their victories are our victory.
So, I pray 2 Corinthians 9:8, which says
“And God is able to make every grace overflow to you, so that in every way, always having everything you need, you may excel in every good work.”
Do you see the way that starts? God is able. I am not the change agent here; God is. So, first I acknowledge His ability to do way more than I could ever ask or imagine.
Next I ask for grace. Grace for him, grace for us, grace for the legacy we leave. And then I ask for him to excel. Whatever that means for that particular season, I ask God to give him wisdom and success. We’re on the same team, remember? So, even when he does things differently than I would have, I still pray for his victory.
Finally, I Pray For Our Marriage To Glorify God.
Marriage really isn’t about romantic love. The day we walked down the aisle, we linked our lives together. We have the opportunity to build a home and a family that showcases the peace, love, and glory of God. So, I pray we don’t squander that chance.
“Based on the gift they have received, everyone should use it to serve others, as good managers of the varied grace of God.” 1 Peter 4:10
We are different by design. So, I pray not only for God to use our diverse gifts, but also that I would appreciate our differences.
When I am feeling stress from conflict, prayer helps me to re-focus and gain a right perspective. Sometimes, re-focus is all we need, but sometimes prayer leads us to seek extra counsel. Asking counselors or pastors for advice and wisdom is a healthy way to work through conflict and heal relationships.
Not sure where to start in praying for your marriage? Start by listening to this 2 minute Abide encouragement titled "Solving Conflict".
How do you pray through relational stress in your life?