Two marriage lessons from the Wedding at Cana

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Logan and I recently had the opportunity to attend a marriage enrichment event hosted by a local church parish (thanks to the generosity of friends!). There was a delicious 5-course meal, a different wine served with each course, and a different speaker at the end of each course. Most of the speakers were married couples, but the parish priest spoke at the end of the main entree. The topic he talked about? The Wedding at Cana. (I did mention this briefly on Instagram).

The Gospel reading at our wedding was the Wedding at Cana, and I pray the Rosary every day, so I’m not stranger to the story. In fact, it’s one of my favorite mysteries. How awesome is it that Jesus (because of Mary) chose to perform his first miracle at a wedding? What does that say about the importance of marriage?

Anyway, I’ve been thinking a lot about what the priest said in his brief talk. He made two points:

1. Do the work so God can do the miracle.

The servers had the difficult task of filling those six stone water jars (each twenty to thirty gallons!) with water. Can you imagine how long that took? How much work that was? But they did the work so Jesus could turn the water into wine. They were able to see the miracle because of the effort they put forth.

The same goes in marriage! I know that Logan and I did not see God working in big ways until we did the work necessary. God wants to do great things…but he also wants us to do our part. Think about how many miracles in the Bible happened because of the effort put forth by that person!

The woman with a hemorrhage knew she just needed to touch Jesus’s cloak, the Syropheoenician woman insisted on Jesus driving the demon out of her daughter, the leper prostrated himself before Jesus because he knew that Jesus could make him clean. The list goes on and on.

2. God saves the best wine for last.

On our wedding day, we think that’s the best it’s going to get. We’re so happy and we love each other more than ever! How could it get any better? But it does. We’re only 9 years in, and we’ve seen the growth in our relationship through all of the highs and lows. Our marriage is definitely better than it was on our wedding day! Can you imagine what it will be like in another thirty years? Just like Jesus saved the best wine for last at the Wedding at Cana, he saves the best wine for last in our marriage.

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All of that to say, those two points go hand-in-hand. Just like we have to do the work so God can do the miracle, we won’t get to taste that best wine by staying stagnant. Anyone who’s been married knows that it’s not easy! It takes constant effort. And just when you think you and your spouse are doing well, something happens to make you realize that there’s still work to be done. We have to constantly fill each other up!

It’s important to remember, though, that we can’t do it without God’s help. We have to seek God first and foremost. He will give us the grace we need to live our married vocation. Just take it from Fulton J. Sheen in his book, Three to Get Married:

“Two glasses that are empty cannot fill up one another. There must be a fountain of water outside the glasses, in order that they may have communion with one another. It takes three to make love.”

So make sure you’re inviting God into your marriage. Pray together, have those difficult conversations together, share everything with each other, and support each other. Keep doing the work by filling each other’s glasses, trusting that in time, God will provide that best wine.

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Waiting Together – An Advent Devotional for Couples

There are so many Advent devotionals out there! And it’s great, really. Advent is the perfect time to spend dedicated time each day praying and meditating on Scripture.

But a couple of blogging friends and I realized there’s not much out there specifically for Catholic married couples. So we decided to write a devotional together!

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Do you want a simple way for your and your spouse to prepare for Christmas together? Waiting Together is an Advent devotional specifically for Catholic couples! Each day in Advent, we give you the Gospel reading for the day, a reflection, questions to discuss together, and a prayer. That’s it! It will take you less than 10 minutes each day. (Most days will probably only take 5 minutes. Easy peasy, right?)

There are a few challenges scattered throughout, and all are simple things that you and your spouse can do together to help keep the Advent season sacred.

We centered the devotional around marriage (obviously) and each week has a different theme. For example, I wrote the first week of the devotional, which is all about hope. I share experiences and insights from my own marriage and tie them into Advent.

A brief overview:

  • Week 1, Hope – written by myself, Jen, of Surprised By Marriage
  • Week 2, Faith – written by Kristi Denoy of Hail Marry
  • Week 3, Joy – written by Hilary Thompson of Messy Buns and Latin Chant
  • Week 4, Peace – written by Rachel Washington of Hail Marry

You can print it out yourself or read it on any device. (I’m a big fan of emailing PDFs to my Kindle – here are instructions on how to do that.)

We are so passionate about encouraging couples to pray together and foster a spiritual life together, so we’re very excited about this project! We hope it blesses you and your marriage this Advent. Click below to purchase. (Note: it’s a digital download!)

 

 

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“A Month for Your Marriage” Challenge

One thing I’ve realized over the years we’ve been married is that we constantly need to put effort into our marriage. It’s way too easy to let our relationship with our spouse slide to the back-burner without even realizing it!

That’s partly why we’ve been posting weekly marriage challenges on Instagram and Facebook over the last several months (#marriagemondaychallenge). It’s a reminder every single week that we need to be intentional about our marriage.

Now you can be intentional for an entire month with our challenge cards! Dedicate a month to your marriage by completing a challenge every day for 31 days. Some are simple, some require a little more effort, but every single one is meant to bring you and your spouse closer together.

It really is the little things that foster growth in a relationship, and that’s never more true than in a marriage.

Are you ready to take “A Month for Your Marriage” challenge? Click below to buy your challenge cards! Just print, cut, and put in a basket or box to pick one every day for a month. Use the hashtag #marriagechallengecards to share on Instagram and Facebook. We’d love to see them in action!

 

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10 reasons you should go on a marriage retreat

When most people hear about a marriage retreat, they think that it’s just for couples who are struggling. While there certainly are retreats for strained marriages (Retrouvaille, anyone?), there are also some retreats for married couples who want to grow closer together by spending a weekend away, focusing on God and their marriage. It doesn’t matter if you’re a newlywed or have been married for 40 years – any couple can benefit from a marriage retreat!

We’ve been on 3 marriage retreats in 9 years of marriage…and we didn’t go on the first one until almost 5 years in. Needless to say, it was amazing and just what we needed, so we’ve made it a priority to make it a regular occurence. We HIGHLY recommend every married couple to go on a marriage retreat and to make it happen every single year, if possible (hard when you keep having babies, I know…which is why we’ve done it every 2 years).

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On our second retreat in 2016, with our youngest baby in utero

Here are 10 reasons why I think you should go on a marriage retreat (but honestly, there are even more!):

  1. God first, marriage second, then everything else. A marriage retreat helps you do exactly that!
  2. No cooking or cleaning for a weekend. (Enough said.)
  3. A retreat helps you to move forward in your marriage, especially if your marriage is in a rut. Consider it a jump-start!
  4. To know you’re not alone. Every marriage has their struggles and crosses, so hearing the stories of other couples is reassuring and comforting.
  5. It’s the perfect opportunity to talk about important topics with your spouse uninterrupted.
  6. To find encouragement and community from other couples. As a young couple, it’s so inspiring to see couples 40 years ahead of us! And the older couples are encouraged by seeing young couples putting effort into their marriage.
  7. To learn more about your spouse. There’s no better time to learn about your spouse! A couple’s vacation is fun (and also necessary at times), but the focus is still on vacation….not your marriage.
  8. To embrace the Sacraments together as a married couple.
  9. To be reminded that the Sacrament of Matrimony is a gift, and one we should make a priority.
  10. Great food! (Logan had to add that one, ha)

God wants to be an integral part in your marriage. And he should be! A marriage retreat fosters that in more ways that I can explain here.

Have you ever been on a marriage retreat? If so, what reasons would you add to the list?

In case you missed it, we vlogged during our last retreat! Check out the video:

The biggest misconception of Natural Family Planning

A friend sent me an Instagram story the other day where someone was answering the question: “What is your opinion on NFP?”

The person’s answer was basically saying: NFP is often used as Catholic contraception and that you shouldn’t have sex if you don’t want kids.

I have thoughts.

Let me just first admit that I used to be that person who thought there was very, very rarely a reason to avoid pregnancy. When we first got married, we were very open to pregnancy, despite Logan making barely any money and me being temporarily unemployed. So I just figured that everyone else didn’t have any serious reasons to avoid either! (I know, I know.)

Thankfully, I’ve gotten way more perspective in the last 9 years and am truly grateful that the Catholic Church, in all Her wisdom and glory, gave us the gift of Natural Family Planning (NFP). Check out the Catechism, paragraphs 2368-2370. (It’s online here if you don’t have a copy, but I highly recommend getting one!) The main line, to assure that the Church does indeed say we can use NFP is from paragraph 2370: “Periodic continence, that is, the methods of birth regulation based on self-observation and the use of infertile periods, is in conformity with the objective criteria of morality.”

Sometimes the best thing for you, your spouse, and your children (and/or future children) is to wait a bit before you have a baby. And I won’t even go into the possible reasons, because the Church does not give a list of them for a reason. NFP is designed to make us discern for ourselves.

I’m so thankful we have an option other than birth control during those times, because when my husband and I give ourselves to each other, we want to give ourselves fully, fertility and all – as terrifying as it can be sometimes! Withholding the gift of fertility from each other – using birth control – is not conducive to a holy marriage. You cannot have a self-sacrificial love for your spouse when you are giving them everything except your fertility.

Please know I am in no way judging anyone who uses birth control. I’m simply telling you that there is a better way! God intended for every marital act to be open to life. NFP enables us to do just that! (I could go on about the effects that using birth control has on a marriage but that could be another post in itself and much more qualified people have written extensively on the subject.)

Now for my thoughts regarding NFP being a “Catholic contraceptive.”

NFP is not contraception. It’s not even close. Google’s definition of contraceptive is: “a device or drug serving to prevent pregnancy.” With contraception, you are having sex and withholding your fertility, using a device or drug (or the withdrawal method, which is not effective by the way).

With NFP, you are not using a device or drug. You don’t need those because you are not having sex. You are abstaining on fertile days because you have prayerfully discerned with your spouse that this particular month is not a good month to conceive a baby.

Some couples decide to not use NFP at all. God bless them. I truly wish we were one of them, but we are not. I think God knew I needed a bigger perspective and more humility. I just cringe thinking of my former judgmental self, because now I know the reasons for postponing a pregnancy are numerous, and nobody will completely understand those reasons except for the couple themselves.

What people who have never used NFP don’t realize is that NFP is hard. Sometimes you just really want to renew your wedding vows and be close to your spouse but life circumstances tell you that you need to wait. And the thing about NFP is that you’re having to abstain during the time that your body is telling you it wants to make a baby.

In a world that tells us we should have all the sex we want, whenever we want? ABSTAINING IS HARD. But it is still so much better than the alternative.

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Could a couple be selfish in their reasons for postponing a pregnancy? Perhaps. We are human, after all.

But the thing about NFP is that it makes you communicate and pray with your spouse about whether or not we have good reasons for abstaining. You’re not going to want to abstain unless you have serious reasons to do so!

In our experience, our “plan” ends up changing because our hearts change. Each month, we become more and more open to another pregnancy. Like I said, abstaining is hard, and NFP makes sure we’re doing it for the right reasons. We eventually find ourselves in a place where we are not sure whether our reasons for postponing a pregnancy are still valid. So we give it to God, as cliche as it sounds.

NFP is actually a gift, and one we should use wisely. Like the Catechism says, “For just reasons, spouses may wish to space the births of their children. It is their duty to make certain that their desire is not motivated by selfishness but is in conformity with the generosity appropriate to responsible parenthood” (CCC 2368). Nobody can discern that other than you and your spouse. It does require a lot of prayer and communication, and if you’re not doing that on a regular basis, you’re missing the point.

And perhaps that’s what the person on Instagram was referring to, but I still have to say…NFP is not a contraceptive. Each marital act is still open to life, which is what God intends.

Do read those paragraphs in the Catechism (2386-2370) to know why God and His Church has given us this gift. God has such a beautiful plan for and every one of our marriages, and NFP plays a big part in that for many of us.

A tale of 4 vacuums

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We’ve had a rough go of it with vacuum cleaners lately. A shop vac and two indoor vacuums. They’ve all been around for years, though, so when I opened our newest indoor vacuum, I was optimistic. There was no way this thing would die on me! I put it together and it worked really well. Whew.

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Before I knew it, though, the vacuum had caught the loose strand from the corner of the living room rug. In a matter of 3 seconds, the vacuum sucked up over 30 feet of thread from the rug and shut off.

Say what?

I was really tempted to just throw out the darn thing and give up on vacuuming altogether (melodramatic much, I know). But I took a deep breath, found a screwdriver, took apart the new vacuum, and cut out all of the rug pieces. It took longer than I would have liked, and I was really tempted to just wait until Logan was home so he could do it. But I kept with it and finally was able to turn on the vacuum. Much to my relief, it started working beautifully again.

How often does the same thing happen in our marriage? We think things are working well, then suddenly we hit a snag – a disagreement about an issue, a betrayal – and we don’t know what to do. Why fix yet another vacuum cleaner when this is already the 4th one in less than a month that has crapped out on us? (Yes, people, four. Talk about ridiculousness.)

But there is bound to be conflict in a marriage. We’re humans! And the only way to get past it is to resolve it, no matter how difficult it may be. We need to resist the temptation to just throw away the vacuum cleaner or sweep an issue under the rug. (Pun intended.)

Our marriage is thriving now because we’ve both taken honest looks at ourselves, realized what we each need to work on, and how we can support each other in doing so. And it’s still very much a work in progress.

Sometimes we’ve had to cut loose strings that were keeping us from connecting fully – just like I had to do to the vacuum to get it to work again. Sometimes the process has been painstakingly slow and brutal. We’ve had to be patient with ourselves and each other.

But it pays off. Fix the vacuum – er, address the problem in your marriage. Do the work you need to do to make your marriage thrive. It won’t always be easy, you’ll probably hit snags along the way (remember, the enemy wants your marriage to fail!), but God gives us the grace we need to grow closer to Him and to our spouse.

I know this is a lot easier said than done. If you’re needing a little help or guidance in how to communicate better with your spouse, I recommend taking a look at these resources:

  • The Temperament God Gave Your Spouse by Art and Laraine Bennett – our temperaments play a huge part in how we react or handle certain situations, and this book provides helpful communication techniques for each temperament
  • Praying for (and With) Your Spouse: The Way to Deeper Love by Dr. Greg and Lisa Popcak – prayer is a vital component of marriage and resolving conflict, and the Popcaks provide so much encouragement, inspiration, and helpful tips when it comes to praying both for and with your spouse
  • How to handle everyday conflict in your marriage at Aleteia – this short blog post provides some good tips/thoughts
  • The Bible – I’m always amazed at how many times I’m reading Scripture and come across the perfect verse that is an answer to prayer. There is so much wisdom in the Bible – don’t forget to read it often!

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” – Proverbs 3:5-6 (NRSV)

 

Unexpected loss

Logan and I were ready to have a baby as soon as we were married. But since my fertility was, well, not normal, it seemed like we would have problems getting pregnant.

To our surprise, we conceived only two months after our wedding. We were thrilled! We were married in June, found out we were pregnant in August, and I started a new job in September that I loved. Life was good. We weren’t making a lot of money, but we were so, so happy.

Even though I struggled a lot with morning sickness (that lasted all day), I was so thankful for the life inside of me. Logan was also so adorable when it came to me and my pregnant self – he looked at me with so much love. He kept telling me how he appreciated me carrying our child, he would kiss my belly after he kissed me on the lips, and he would tell my belly “I love you” after he told me. Despite his excitement, though, Logan couldn’t help worrying about something happening to our baby.

But according to my doctor, the pregnancy was going along swimmingly. A couple weeks into the second trimester, I finally started feeling better. When I was 19 weeks pregnant, we found out our baby was a boy! We decided to name him Levi Anthony and were even more excited to meet him a few months later. Christmas came and it was the best holiday we had celebrated as a couple thus far, and we couldn’t wait until the following Christmas when we would have a baby in our arms.

Just four days after Christmas, though, we ended up in the hospital. After several terrible hours of cramping, contractions, and bleeding, I delivered our son. He didn’t have a heartbeat. There are no words to explain the pain we felt that day and the months (and years) that followed.

At the time, Logan and I hadn’t even been married for seven months yet. We knew marriage would have its ups and downs, but still, we were completely blindsided by the loss of our son. It didn’t help that people kept telling us the statistics for divorce for couples who lost a child. Hadn’t we lost enough already? Was our marriage really doomed too?

Because Logan and I have very different personalities – as well as the fact that I was the one who carried Levi in my womb and Logan did not – we grieved very differently. I cried a lot and felt like I would never be happy again. Logan seemed to be handling it much better than me, so I didn’t tell him everything that was going on inside me.

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Holding our precious baby. It still kills me to look at this picture because Logan obviously did a better job at smiling than me…but I’m very thankful to have this. Our first family picture ❤️

I did journal about all of my struggles, though. Because I couldn’t bring myself to actually say those things out loud, Logan ended up just reading what I wrote and we talked after that.

That’s when I really started to see the beauty of the Sacrament of Marriage – Logan made sure I knew that I was not going through this loss alone. I felt like I was falling further and further away from God, so Logan made it his goal to not let that happen. After all, our main goal of marriage is to get each other to Heaven. Sometimes it feels so impossible, but maybe that’s part of why we go through certain trials – to remind us to help each other.

It was two weeks after we lost Levi that we finally talked about everything that happened. Most trials can cause a couple to grow further apart or closer together, and I can totally see how the former happens. It almost happened to us.

But thankfully we were given the grace to share our pain with each other. Logan told me that day that he wished he could have gone through everything with me at the hospital (since poor guy felt so helpless just watching me in pain all night, and they actually ended up not letting him in the delivery room), but I told him, “I wouldn’t have wanted you to.” Because really, my hospital experience is something I wouldn’t wish on anyone – especially not my husband.

Even though losing our son was harder than I ever would have imagined, I couldn’t help but feel so blessed to have Logan as my other half. I couldn’t imagine going through that tragic time without him. It was only after pouring my heart out to him – and realized he wasn’t going anywhere – that I finally felt I could start on the path towards healing.

The honeymoon is over

Two days after our wedding, Logan and I were in Florida to spend the rest of the week there for our honeymoon. The resort we were staying at had an extra key, and there were instructions to put it in a key pad outside – just in case we needed it. It was a smart move on the owner’s part, since it would lessen the likelihood of him needing to drive over and let people in if they got locked out.

I reminded Logan to put the spare key outside as instructed, and since he tends to blow things off, he ignored me, acting like we wouldn’t need an extra key.

Later that day, we walked outside to open a bottle of champagne. It was our first time opening a bottle and we wanted to play it safe. Logan started to close the door, but I told him not to close it all the way (you know, in case it locked somehow). But like I said before, Logan blew it off and let the door close all the way.

It didn’t take him long to realize we were locked out since he had left his key on the kitchen table – along with the spare key, which should have been in the key pad outside.

To say I was upset with Logan was a major understatement. He should have listened to me! He should have just put the dang key in the pad!

Looking back, I’m not sure why I didn’t just put the spare key in the key pad myself, but it was still really annoying how Logan ignored me. Twice, at that. On our second full day or marriage! I hated that we needed to call the owner to come let us back into our resort, when the spare key would have done it for us.

I took a walk to refrain from saying mean things, and I sat down on some steps (far away from Logan) for a little while. Suddenly I was bombarded by all of these bad thoughts – I doubted our marriage, I doubted my call to the married life, and I doubted whether or not we were cut out for a life together. The devil was taking the perfect opportunity to throw so many evil thoughts in my head. It was crazy.

Thankfully, I realized what was happening, so I prayed for the grace to be a good wife and to keep God at the center of our life together. I ended with the prayer to St. Michael, and God really did help me overcome those evil thoughts.

I wish I had known back then that that was just the first of many, many times that I would question our marriage and my vocation. Sure, I knew marriage was going to have its hard moments, but I felt completely blindsided at just how hard it was at times.

For some reason, people don’t warn newlyweds that there might come a time where you regret getting married. That sometimes you will look at your beloved spouse and wonder what the heck happened to him since you said those blissful vows. I certainly don’t blame people for avoiding all of that when giving their well wishes and congratulations to the blushing bride and groom. Maybe it’s because if people really knew how hard it was, nobody would get married.

The divorce statistics say a lot though – half of all marriages end. Before I got married, I didn’t understand. How could you vow to love someone for better or for worse, in sickness and health, and then decide otherwise later on? How could you just suddenly change your mind one day?

It took me less than two weeks into marriage to understand that sharing every facet of your life with another human being is much harder than it seems.

A mere nine days after our wedding, once the honeymoon was over, and we were settling into our new life as a married couple, I wrote these words in my journal:

I think Logan and I are in for some rough times. It’s just a feeling (and I could be wrong), but I know we’ll make it through because we’re determined to keep God in the center of our marriage.

Boy, if I only knew what was to come.

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The rest of our honeymoon was a blast, thankfully!

7 ways to bring Mary into your marriage

During our wedding ceremony, we presented flowers to the Blessed Mother, entrusting our marriage to her.

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Honestly, I don’t think we fully grasped the importance of that at the time. But as years have gone by, we’ve realized more and more just how vital our Mother is to our marriage.

She is the ultimate example of what it means to say “yes” to God’s will and to trust Him in everything. Her fiat – her “yes” – led to the salvation of the whole world. Not only did she have the perfect marriage, she was the perfect mother. As a woman, I look to Mary as a guide as I strive to become a better wife and mother.

(But a man could totally consider Mary as an example too! She was so trusting and self-sacrificial, two qualities essential in a marriage. The most awesome priests we know are the ones with a devotion to the Blessed Mother.)

Plus, the devil is terrified of Mary – have you noticed that many statues of Mary have her crushing the serpent? She is the WOMAN. Her prayers are so powerful, as she can literally whisper into the ear of Jesus. And he listens to her, just like he did from the very beginning of his ministry at the wedding at Cana.

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How can you bring Mary into your marriage? Here are some ideas:

  1. Place a statue of Mary in your home, specifically in your bedroom.
  2. Pray the Rosary together.
  3. Have images of Mary hanging on your walls, especially in your bedroom. (We also have one of Mary and baby Jesus right outside our boys’ room, which I love.)
  4. Create a Marian garden in your yard. (We just did this! See our video at the end of the post!)
  5. Celebrate Marian feast days. (One of our faves is the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe!)
  6. Read 33 Days to Morning Glory together.
  7. If your church has a place for flowers in front of a statue of the Blessed Mother, present those to her together and pray a Hail Mary for your marriage. (Our church has a little grotto which is perfect for this!)

May is the month of Mary, so this is the perfect time to think about how you can Mary into your marriage! Do you have any other ideas to add to the list?

7 ways to pray with your spouse

Are you tired of me talking about this yet? I hope not, because it’s so important!

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Even though Logan and I pray together every night before bed (when we’re both home, at least, and going to bed at the same time, which is most nights), we’ve realized the importance of changing up our prayer routine a bit. So I thought I’d share some ways you can pray together with your spouse.

  1. Spontaneous prayer. This is what Logan and I mostly do every night. Logan leads and starts with thanksgiving and adoration, then intentions. I add intentions, and we close by asking our family litany of saints for prayers too.
  2. Rosary. We usually pray the Rosary individually – Logan during his work commute and me at home – but during long car rides we pray together. And we recently started praying a rosary together on Logan’s off days. (I completely admire couples who pray the Rosary together everyday!)
  3. Liturgy of the Hours. We’re not always up at the same time to do Morning Prayer, and Evening Prayer is hard to fit in with homework, dinner, and bedtime. But we have prayed Night Prayer together, which is my favorite. It’s the perfect way to end the day – and it’s even better when you pray it with your spouse! And maybe one day our schedule will allow to either do Morning or Evening Prayer together…
  4. Devotional Book. We just finished Forever and highly recommend it! Each chapter takes about 5 minutes – reflection, challenge, and a prayer. This is a great way to ease into praying together, I think.
  5. Mass. The entire Mass is a prayer! It’s hard to remember sometimes, especially if you have little kids and can’t focus the entire time. But going to Mass together is a lovely way to pray together.
  6. Lecto Divina. This is the one thing we need to start doing. We’ve been reading the Mass readings together with our handy dandy Every Sacred Sunday journal and talking about what spoke to us, but we haven’t really delved into praying with it together yet. But, baby steps!
  7. Retreat. This is one of those things that you won’t realize how important/helpful/fruitful it is until you actually do it. Getting away to a prayerful setting, embracing the Sacraments, and being able to focus on God and your spouse for an entire day or two is one of the best things ever. We’ve been on two and are going on another one soon! Every time has been such a source of strength and renewal in our marriage. Highly, highly recommend it.

Now you share! What’s your favorite way to pray with your spouse? What has helped you stay consistent with it?

Linking up with Kelly for 7QT!

And here’s our video on praying together if you missed it: