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Turn to Jesus (Article)

Growing Up Together
Letting go of spiritual oneupmanship


By Betty Duffy

Published on the Faith & Family blogspot and on Reprinted with permission.

Coming into our marriage, I assumed that I was more spiritually advanced than my husband. I’d lived a year in poverty, chastity and obedience after all—an entire year of daily Mass, Rosary, and Benediction, plus frequent retreats, and a virtually guaranteed life of grace. Meanwhile, my husband was just a (crinkling nose) Sunday Mass Catholic.

Once or twice I thought that he was holding me back, that if he just went to one more meeting a week, one more retreat, then we could leap into our status as a spiritual power couple, one that sits in the front pews at Church with perfect kids saying the responses with such sincerity and volume as to edify everyone in the Parish.

I wanted to be the kind of couple whose spontaneous prayer flowed from our lips at every turn (“Let’s just pray about this …”). And I wanted him to initiate it — even though I married him with full knowledge that he was not comfortable with this kind of prayer. I thought it was his responsibility as the spiritual head of the family to acquire it and henceforth, to lead us all as I saw fit.

Well, none of that happened. He just would not agree to be as Holy as I was — didn’t matter how I poked, prodded, or complained. And, being the spiritual giant that I am, I threw tantrums, deciding that if he wouldn’t be Holy then neither would I.

But what is marriage if not a growing up together? Maybe it was a matter of growing in maturity and experience, for me to realize that a person with free will, when yanked upon, will pull back with an equal opposite force. The more I hounded him, the less interest he took in matters of a spiritual nature, so that it’s quite possible that by association with my nagging, he lost what interest he had. And for me, too, prayer became something conflicted:

“If we have unrealistic expectations of others, our spouse, our kids, we probably have unrealistic expectations of prayer. If we are nitpicky fault-finders, we think that is how God will be with us. Who wants to go to prayer to be nitpicked? If we appreciate others and enjoy their presence, their good and bad, we will know that prayer is not always a perfect scenario, but is good and necessary.” (Father Robert DeCesare, LC)

The many retreats I attended and prayers I said didn’t really set me forward in virtue over my husband. While I cleaned out some of the less savory elements of my life, my interior disposition was saturated with pride and self-righteousness. At nearly every retreat or spiritual talk I attended, I thought, My husband really needs to hear this rather than How can I apply this to my life?

“In talking about religious life, men can focus more on the priesthood rather than their consecration, but women can sometimes focus more on the practices of the religious life rather than the consecration to God. Consecration is what matters—assiduous union with God in prayer.” (Father Geirtych,  theologian of the papal household)

For many years, I have referred to my prayer life as my “commitments,” and each day, I measured them out, weighing the value of my day based on how many of my commitments I accomplished. There’s certainly no problem with making prayer commitments, but it’s no wonder, with such value ascribed to completing my checklist, that I have looked down my nose at anyone who doesn’t share my accomplishments—and that I have beat myself up when I “fail” at them. When I view prayer as a reciprocal relationship with my Creator, not only is it impossible to fail at it, there’s no way of comparing it with anyone else’s prayer.

Prayer does not win me anything in a spiritual competition with my husband.  It doesn’t propel me forward in advance of others.  Consecration is what matters in my married life and in my prayer. And if I’m comparing my spiritual life with other’s, then I probably need to work a bit more on that “assiduous union with God.”

—Elizabeth Duffy blogs at



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