My arms wrapped around your waist, your arms holding me. My head nestled against one of your broad shoulders. Something I didn’t pray for in a husband, but that I’m glad I got. The sheet is half yanked down our reclined bodies because one of us, usually you but sometimes me, gets hot when we cuddle.
“Your turn,” I say. “I prayed last night,” you answer. If I press back, you usually give in. If your voice sounds assertive, I relent. We pray almost the same thing each night: we’ll sleep, the kids will sleep, God will help us with parenting; the Compassion kid we sponsor, our two godchildren, friends, and family will follow God and experience His love; those we know with cancer or other illnesses will be healed.
The lamp on the nightstand gives a gentle cast of light. My white noise app shushes at us on my smartphone. This is it. This is the end of the day. Bedtime. We try not to go to bed without the other even though I’m a night owl and you’re a morning person.
Prayer “doesn’t change God, it changes me,” says the character of C. S. Lewis in the movie Shadowlands. We both like that movie, but before we were married I had little notion of my need to pray with you.
I remember the first time you prayed for me. A free Thursday night at the Walker Art Center. I wasn’t prepared for an encounter with the sculptures of Kiki Smith, of a woman’s body, naked, bent, and hanging from a wall. I was devastated into silence, and you asked to pray for me as we parked outside of my apartment in your silver Scion tC.
We pray together now, but it’s not just the praying that changes us, it’s the showing up. Marriage is hard work, I tell my students. I’m not trying to quash their dreams, but I want to change their expectations. But it’s good work, I say. Before we were married, you brought up Gary Thomas’ work Sacred Marriage. Marriage is sanctifying, you noted. I didn’t want to read it. But I took your comment as a sign of your future commitment.
Some years ago, I read Nick Hornby’s How to Be Good about a marriage on the brink. Hornby had satisfied me with stories of men transformed by community, such as in About a Boy. What was this? The book ends ambiguously—the family together, the once-bored wife shelving her desire for divorce. The husband in his desperation latching onto a high-pitched pietism that made him as frustrating as he when he had previously been a narcissistic jerk.
But what mattered was the mundane. Or what felt mundane. The couple together in the little things.
We’re intentional each night. Each night despite that we may have squabbled over the housekeeping. Each night whether we have disagreed about how best to parent our strong-willed child. I don’t think either of us recognized how we would each want to control the other in the challenges of a household and raising children. Can you believe that there are couples who have kids to get closer? I said to a friend recently.
But here we are. Entwined. And when we least want to be with each other, we need to touch each other. If I didn’t love you, I tell you, it wouldn’t hurt so much. We need to agree to disagree, so we can do this. We pray. We kiss and say, I love you, and we turn out the light.