Swimming in the Deep End, available at: ForYourMarriage.org

Happily Even After

Swimming in the Deep End

August 9, 2010

by Josh Noem

On our recent road trip home to South Dakota for my grandfather’s funeral, we stopped at a hotel in Missoula, Montana. We picked a hotel (I won’t say which one) that a franchise guidebook indicated had a pool. After driving for 10 hours with three small children, we arrived at 9 p.m. to find it did not.

The kids were disappointed, but we filled the tub and let Simon and Lucy splash and play a bit. Oscar got to watch some TV. After voicing our complaint, the staff discounted our room, which we appreciated. The next morning, Stacey and I noticed that the hotel next door had a small outdoor pool. We could see it from the window in our room.

Before packing everyone in the car for another 10-hour drive, I decided to take the kids next door to the pool and let them burn some energy and have some fun. On the way over, Oscar noted the sign that said that the pool was for that hotel’s guests only. I told him that we’ll be okay and will only be there for a little while.

We were the only ones in the pool, but after about 30 minutes, an employee came out and asked us if we were staying with them. I said we were staying at the hotel next door and she told us we had to leave. We got out, gathered our things and went back to our room and began our long drive.

Stacey and I and Oscar had a long conversation in the car about what happened. Our conversation made me realize that Oscar closely observes my decisions, and the rationale I use and give for my decisions. He is at a stage in his development where he is discerning his moral compass. It is a gift for a parent to have influence on this stage of development. Knowing that Oscar is watching closer than ever, this gift is calling me to greater integrity and intentionality in how I live.

I realized that my own decision for using the pool was based on muddled thinking. I gave myself several half-hearted excuses to do something that I wanted for our family: we weren’t hurting anyone; we were going to use it for less than an hour; we weren’t costing the hotel anything; the kids needed some playtime before a long day in the car; we had stopped there expecting to be able to swim; etc. I found there to be a lot of grey in this situation, and in the grey areas I saw an opportunity for our kids and I took it.

When Oscar asked why we were asked to leave, and why we had decided to go in the first place (given that it was the pool of a different hotel), I stepped back and found all of my reasons disingenuous. I imagined Oscar in any number of “grey” situations as a teen and applied all of the rationales above and panicked. For example, there are things I don’t want him to do, even if he’s not hurting anyone else. Any one of these rationales used by itself would lead to a problematic moral compass.

At the bottom of it all, I decided to use the pool because after evaluating the risk, the worst thing that could happen is that we would be asked to leave. I could bear the risk of a small amount of embarrassment in return for kid time in the pool with 10 hours in the car ahead of us. This rationale is still not one I would like Oscar to use exclusively, and I also realize that strictly speaking, there is no good rationale for breaking a perfectly fair rule.

We shared all this with Oscar and asked him what he thought we should have done. He wasn’t sure. I’m still not sure myself what was the right thing to do. There were good reasons to use the pool and there would be good reasons to not use the pool. There are poor reasons to use the pool and poor reasons to not use the pool.

One thing I did learn, though: I’ll be much more careful in how I make similar decisions in the future, and I will strive for greater personal integrity and honesty, knowing that God isn’t the only one watching me.

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Praying Together

Praying Together

Couples we help prepare for marriage are interested in developing their spiritual lives together, and rightly so. Many of them ask us how to pray together, and this is one area where Stacey and I have surprisingly little to offer.

We pray in very different ways. I speak with God in contemplative, devotional practices like the rosary or the liturgy of the hours. Stacey speaks with God conversationally and relationally. Whenever we’ve tried to pray together, it never seems to be a fruitful experience—it feels more like “show and tell” than anything that allows us both to experience God’s presence.

Now this is not to say that we just throw our hands up in the air and say, “Oh well!” Prayer is an indispensable part of Christian life, and should be a foundational part of every marriage, too. So where does that leave us?

We both have cultivated our own prayer styles through the years, and even though we are not praying together by saying the same words to God in the same space and time, we still do pray, together. We support each other by sharing the fruit of our prayer—the insights and revelations that come to us in prayer, or even just the highs and lows of sustaining a relationship with God in the conversation of prayer. This level of conversation takes candor and builds intimacy with God and each other, and we are at our best when we are attending to it regularly.

With kids in the picture, our prayer largely falls during bedtime preparations, as it does for most families. We’ve had a solid routine for bedtime prayer that has carried our family from toddler years to the teens. It is an important time for us to close the day together, and to share whatever intentions each of us is holding—this is one important way that our family shares life together and communicates with God.

As our two youngest children get older—both are of age for their First Communion—it is clear that they are developing the capacity for deeper prayer than just reciting rote prayers and naming the family and friends we remember to God. So, Stacey had a brilliant plan.

Just before Advent we settled into our new house, which has a separate room for each of the kids. With that new space, Stacey helped each of the kids create a prayer corner in their rooms. We purchased small tables the size of a night stand, and took the kids to a fabric store so that they could pick out the cloth they wanted for their “prayer altar.” Then we helped them decorate their altar with prayer materials—Bibles they’ve been given, religious imagery, rosaries, photos of them at their baptism, etc.

Now, each night before we gather for family night prayer, we set a timer for 10 minutes and each of us goes into our own rooms for silent prayer. We’ve seen the children take to it like ducks to water—they read their Bible, or say part of the rosary, or use a book of prayers to talk to God.

So there we all are—praying, together, each in our own way. It is a beautiful time of the day in the Noem home. I love the feeling of that silence, knowing we are all approaching God in our own way. And that practice deepens our regular night prayer together—when we go around to name our special intentions, we all share with one another people or situations that we’ve already lifted up to God.

I am confident that one day we will look back and see that this prayer practice—just 10 minutes a day—will turn out to be one of the most important ways in which we’ve shaped the life of our family. It will allow our children to grow into a living relationship with God, and what could be more important?

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