alarm clock black and white

Spiritual Disciplines for a 600-pound Troll and His Little Lady

In Articles, Faith Journey, Family, Marriage, Spiritual Growth by Mark Buchanan

Clothes are better if they fit you, and so are spiritual disciplines

I rise most days at 6:30 AM. I am not a morning person.

Those two facts clash. I greet the dawn with a gimlet eye, a fixed scowl, a deep crankiness. The early hours skew me in body, mind and spirit. I want nothing more than to slink back under the rock I crawled out from.

I have long embraced the wisdom of Solomon on this matter: “If a man loudly blesses his neighbor early in the morning, it will be taken as a curse” (Proverbs 27:14). I want neither to speak nor be spoken to before, say, 8:00 AM. Even that’s pushing it.

My wife, Cheryl, is chatty in the morning. Or used to be, before 27 years of my gloomy matins cured her of that. Now, she’s as quiet as a shadow. Now she tiptoes mutely around me like she might a dim-witted 600-hundred pound troll who she fears startling, lest he eat the children or break the furniture. This enforced morning quietness on her part is sad to me.

And an enormous relief.

When we were first married, my behavior in the morning hurt her. It didn’t help that by evening, when her natural rhythms turn her more laconic and pensive, I become loud and voluble. We could never mirror each other. And she felt my stony morning silence was a punishment I doled out for something she had done wrong.

Then she realized it was all my problem. Right or wrong, I just need space in the morning. Space, and alone-ness, and quietness. Space to coax the troll into daylight.

When we first married, the prevailing wisdom for nurturing spirituality in marriage—or at least, what the pastor who married us advised—was to do morning devotionals together. This, for reasons just mentioned, never worked for us. We tried. It had the opposite of its intended effect. Those loud blessings in the morning rang in my ears as curses. It was hard for Cheryl to bask in the love of Jesus when I sat there glowering and grunting like the 600-pound troll she dare not provoke.

Then we found our rhythm. It’s twofold. Every morning, we each nurture our own spiritual life individually: Cheryl uses her talkativeness to talk to God. And I use my—what shall we call it?—inward-ness — to be inward with God. I go into a corner and brood over Scripture. I groan inwardly with the creation, and pray with groans that words cannot express. I offer, yet again, my trollish self to God as a living sacrifice.

And then I’m fine. And she’s fine.

And then every evening—this is the second part of our two-fold rhythm—we nurture our spiritual life together: for at least half an hour, we engage in a face-to-face, heart-to-heart conversation about everything, anything—our joys, our sorrows, our fears, our dreams. Mostly, we talk about how we met or missed God that day. It’s like an examine for couples.

Clothes are better if they fit you, and so are spiritual disciplines—if they fit your rhythms, fit your temperament, fit your ways of being alone and being together. Cheryl and I have found spiritual practices that fit. That seem good to us and to the Holy Spirit.

I caution couples against two things. One is adopting spiritual practices that just don’t fit, that force you or force your spouse to become someone you’re not or they’re not. The other caution is abandoning the effort altogether.

Most of us have discovered daily rhythms for our marriages. We’ve figured out how to manage all the sundry, mundane household duties—who weeds the garden, who pays the bills, who washes the dishes. And we’ve figured out how to steward our deepest intimacies— who initiates sex, how we speak our hearts, how we say we’re sorry.

To have a healthy, growing, deepening spirituality in your marriage, simply take what you’ve figured out about how to serve each other in the mundane and in the intimate, and apply it to how you seek God. Experiment until it seems good to you and to the Holy Spirit.

And then watch. Even dim-witted 600-hundred pound trolls can become more Christ-like.

Mark Buchanan
Mark Buchanan is a pastor, author, and Associate Professor of Pastoral Theology at Ambrose University in Calgary, AB. His books include Your Church is Too Safe: Why Following Christ Turns the World Upside-Down.
Mark Buchanan
Mark Buchanan is a pastor, author, and Associate Professor of Pastoral Theology at Ambrose University in Calgary, AB. His books include Your Church is Too Safe: Why Following Christ Turns the World Upside-Down.