What if my spouse isn’t as spiritual as I hope he/she would be?
What if my spouse and I aren’t on the same page spiritually?
How do I help my spouse care more about his/her spiritual life?
How can I encourage my spouse to become a stronger spiritual leader for our family?
Some version of this question is almost always asked when I am speaking to groups about spiritual leadership in family life. As I’ve come to realize over the years, it’s one of the questions that rests – often quite heavily – on the hearts of many married men and women who are passionate about their faith.
Though there can be no cookie-cutter answer to this question, I have found that these few points are super important to keep in mind if you find yourself in a relationship where your loved one doesn’t seem to be as “far along” in their spiritual journey as you hope they would be.
- Pray. First and always, turn to God. Ask God to infuse your spouse’s heart with a greater desire to know, love, and serve Him. Get specific. Do you hope your spouse might spend more time in prayer? Would you love to see your spouse open his/her heart to learning more about the Catholic faith? Ask God. Believe in His Word when He says: “Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For every one who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.” Also, if your spouse is spiritual, but in a dry spell, consider asking your spouse how you can pray for them. They may genuinely want your spiritual support and may be happy to offer ways in which you can pray for their spiritual progress.
- Don’t push, invite. Negative feedback, nagging, and criticism regarding your spouse’s spiritual life will almost inevitably create more distance between you and your spouse, and often deter them from any spiritual growth. Instead, invite. Would you like to lead us in prayer? (Maybe your spouse is happy to lead prayer; they might just need a nudge from you – the spiritual teammate – that now might be a good opportunity to pray.) Would you like to join me at this talk they are having at the church? I’d love your company. Your spouse has the free will to say no, but you also have the free will to invite – both of you should recognize and respect this fact. Sometimes, if there are lots of “no thank you” RSVPs to your invitations, go back to prayer for a while and take a break from inviting, lest it become nagging.
- Be the most convincing disciple of Christ you can possibly be. Be more charitable, more patient, more loving, more kind. Be a walking example of 1 Corinthians 13. Conversion of heart is often sparked by the example of a radiant Christian. Be that holy fire in your spouse’s life to which they become more attracted to the faith, because they see it’s positive, life-changing affect on and through you.
- Look at the log in your eye. To help you become a better model of faith, look at your own spiritual life even more than your spouse’s. Where am I lacking? What vices am I struggling with right now and how can I root them out? How can I grow in virtue? How can I strengthen my prayer life? What are the spiritual goals I need to set for myself? Spend more time getting rid of the beam in your own eye than you do trying to dig out the splinters in your spouse’s (see Matthew 7:3-5).
- Acknowledge the spiritual beauty within him or her. Shift your outlook from “what’s wrong” with your spouse spiritually to all the things that are right with him/her. I may pray more rosaries than my husband or spend more minutes in Scripture every day, but my husband is the most sacrificial man I’ve ever met. He’s more giving than me, more hopeful than me…honestly, he’s just full of living, breathing virtue. Look for the beautiful, spiritual qualities in your spouse and spend some time in acknowledgment and appreciation of those things. Give yourself the freedom to love your spouse as he/she is, and let God work on the big transformations that might need to happen. Then, enjoy the peace that comes with doing this.
- If you have children, don’t underestimate their influence. Jesus said the kingdom of heaven belongs to little children (see Matthew 19:14). As you share your faith with your little ones, don’t underestimate the impact that their faith will have on your spouse’s own spiritual growth. It amazes me when my 3-year-old son can recommend an opportunity for prayer at the perfect moment. This, no doubt, inspires spiritual growth and a heightened awareness of the need for constant prayer in my husband and me. Keep encouraging your children to foster a relationship with the Lord, and teach your children the treasures of the Church, and their passion for the faith will naturally overflow to and influence your spouse, often in ways you may not see.
- There is no timeframe. Maybe you have some self-imposed deadline for your spouse’s spiritual progress. Maybe you want them to become a stronger spiritual leader before your kids are a certain age or, if they aren’t Catholic, you want them to convert before they are X years old. God works outside of time. Your spouse is on a journey that doesn’t have a timetable. Conversions (big ones like becoming a Catholic or little ones like reading the Bible more frequently) can come in an instant or over a lifetime. Don’t put expectations on the timing of your spouse’s spiritual growth. It’s not fair to the work of the Holy Spirit, it’s not fair to your spouse, and it’s not fair to you.
- Never lose hope. God doesn’t believe in lost causes. He searches us out, like a shepherd who loses one sheep (see Matthew 18). God wants to capture your spouse’s heart, even more than you want Him to capture it. The Holy Spirit is always at work, even though you can’t always see Him working. Pope Saint John XXIII has this beautiful quote about hope, and I added “your spouse” in place of you in a few spots. Consider referencing this advice regularly: “Consult not your fears but your hopes and your dreams. Think not about your frustrations, but about [your spouse’s] unfulfilled potential. Concern yourself not with what [your spouse] tried and failed in, but with what it is still possible for [your spouse] to do.” Never lose hope.