Stepping into crust of snow, I walk into the stinging white beside a man keeping pace, together faces pink with low temperatures. He is alone this day. His Marriage, like the crunch under our feet, is on especially rough surfaces. We walk and talk. A long time I listen. And then respond. I tell him about the early stages of betrayal. The small shifts in attitude before a heart of stone has taken shape. The betrayal of another – the pull away. The secret thoughts that say to self “I can do better”, “I shouldn’t have to put up with this crap”. “She says that to me all the time” he says to me. “And so do you,” I reply. The past 35 minutes have been descriptions of all the ways she is no good, and impossible. He hears me. The story is the same for all the couples I work with, and for my own life. Unique scenarios, with the same denigration of love. The toxic seed of heart that abandons the other while still sitting beside her. While still holding his hand. Which is why she says she can’t trust him, says he feels unsafe around her, the loneliness, being invisible, being hated. The heart feels abandoned, even when words and actions of the other follows the rules. The heart that betrays the loved one in exchange for love of ‘my rights’. We talk about how much easier it is to see another’s rot than our own. That even in marriages looking quite put together, we indulge in betrayal thoughts dozens of times a day.
I ask “Do you pray together?” This couple attends a Bible study and support group, attends church. They are believers. The type who walk the walk. Christians who want God’s will, who weep at the kindness of the Lord. And I ask if they pray together. “No, we don’t,” he says. “How would we do that?” And I pause. No one has ever asked me what marriage prayer looks like. And as we move ahead a step and then another, I hope my words match the stirring at the core of me.
Then I laugh. I catch the puzzled look out the corner of my eye. “I know a lot about what not to do.” Prayers can’t be used to blast the other person. “Dear Lord, I pray that you help my husband to not be such an absolute selfish narcissistic jerk”. The sad eyes wrinkle into a smile. “A prayer like that will ruin prayer for the two of you.” I know, from experience. Doing the opposite works better. “Lord, I am selfish. I’m blind to the garbage in me. I can only mostly see (my spouse’s name) faults clearly, and not my own very well. I pray that you show me how to love _______ ( put your spouses name here). Help me see how I hurt (him/her). Give me clues for making (his/her) life a joyful one. Life here is short. Let me be a blessing for the days (he/she) has left. Let me be a warm place for (him/her) to come to. Please forgive me for harming this person I love so much. I’m not good at love, we are so different. I pray this all in Jesus name, amen.”
We walk in silence. He understands. I encourage him to not use this prayer script, but to pray from his heart with her near him, and plead for God to give him what it takes to love his wife. Its hard to do when the other person feels like an enemy, but it works.
The only reason my adored husband and I are still together is because we pray. We would have strangled each other if we hadn’t continued to pray. We are just naturally too dysfunctional, selfish and warped to follow simple directions for making changes. God has had to change us one prayer at a time. We don’t pray just right all the time, either. Sometimes we break all the rules for praying, and harm each other in our petitions to God.. .especially me. But we move back towards each other and God. It’s our only consistent healing habit that has saved us from ourselves.
It’s easy to betray. The heart finds ways to reject the one who knows too much about me. The reason the subject of betrayal belongs with marriage prayer is because betrayal, even at its earliest stage, is the invisible aggressor that destroys love, and prayer is what stitches love back together. God is the one who kindly reminds us of all the ways we harm the other, and shows us again how to love, even when the other person is unlovable. Especially when the other person is unlovable. White underfoot, we move beyond despair toward God love. To the only thing that stops betrayal and brings us together again.