‘The 40 Day Prayer Challenge’ explores partnered prayer

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SQuire Rushnell and Louise DuArt, authors of "The 40 Day Prayer Challenge." —Photo by Ralph Stewart

It’s a well-known homily that “the family that prays together stays together.” Husband-and-wife team SQuire Rushnell and Louise DuArt would like to extend the sentiment to couples. It’s all upfront in the introduction: “This book is designed to guide you and a partner through the 40 Day Prayer Challenge to develop your daily habit of speaking together with God. In so doing, you are unwrapping a special gift that has been awaiting you in these ancient words: ‘Whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.’”

Mr. Rushnell, a veteran TV executive and bestselling author of books in the “Godwink” stories (synchronistic happenings with a touch of the divine about them), has involved himself in faith-based lectures for years, including his popular monthly feature on the NBC “Today” show with Kathie Lee Gifford and Hoda Kotb. Ms. DuArt, a comedian and impressionist who cut her teeth on the “Carol Burnett Show” at the age of 8, has also engaged herself in faith-based activities, including co-authoring three “Godwink” books with her husband.

This book is squarely, sincerely, and completely Christian, of the evangelical variety that — to outsiders — generally brooks no access to the divine other than the teachings of Jesus and the Bible. However, Rushnell and DuArt present the case for partnered prayer as a spiritual practice for everyone — with data from Gallup and Baylor University’s Institute for Studies of Religion — as an aid to marital happiness. They do so with such charm, delightful stories, and candor that the reader, of whatever spiritual affiliation or nonaffiliation, will come away with a sense of “Well, of course this would work!”

DuArt and Rushnell took their cue from a nonprofit group called Pray Together, Stay Together, which works in association with churches around the country to “restore relationships and revitalize families.” The couple’s specially devised program, the 40 Day Prayer Challenge, urges loved ones to pray together for five minutes a day for 40 days, and then stand back and evaluate the results. The authors not only swear by the practice for themselves, but they point to results from the Baylor studies that show happiness is elevated by 19 percent, ability to compromise boosted by 22 percent, lovemaking soaring to 20 percent, and the fear of divorce plummeting to zero.

It makes sense, doesn’t it? Imagine a couple that holds hands and spends five minutes in out-loud prayer, even if, as the authors suggest, one person might feel more comfortable with the vocals, the other by supplying a heartfelt “Amen.” Afterward, would they not be reckoned less likely to argue about the $75 she spent on a new kitchen rug with the cute penguin graphic, and the similar amount he blew on a carton of cigarettes? In other words, a pair that pray on a daily basis may also submit more willingly, even happily, to a weekly budgeting summit.

Full disclosure: This reporter has dipped less into Protestant traditions, and is partial, as are so many of us these days, to Eastern philosophies. My Christian affinity has never really extended past the medieval mystics such as Dame Julian of Norwich and Hildegard of Bingen. But today’s trend to “never cease in our exploration,” to paraphrase T.S. Elliott, makes one wonder if, even as so many of us have turned to the East for meditation techniques, some of us are also willing to glance back at the West to try old-school prayer.

DuArt and Rushnell stud their narrative with choice stories, such as the one about an 8-year-old named Shelby who prayed daily — and pestered her parents openly — about her desire for a pet bird. Not just any bird, but a cockatiel. She even prepared a PowerPoint presentation for Mom and Dad, but when they still refused to budge, she persisted in her exhortations to God. Eighteen months later, a neighbor found a cockatiel in his trees and remembered Shelby’s wish. “She’s the very color I wanted!” cried the girl. “Gray with peach cheeks!”

This is a fine example of one of Mr. Rushnell’s “Godwinks.”

The authors address the experience of hearing the voice of God, whether out loud or, more consistently, the “small still voice inside” with which many people of faith are familiar. No stone is left unturned. There’s a study guide, and a final section on sample prayers, such as this one, so fitting as it follows on the heels of Valentine’s Day:

           

                       Heavenly Father, thank You for loving us

                       Thank You for my [husband/wife].

                       Please help us to be open and honest with each other.

                       Help us to be kind and patient.

                       Teach us to show appreciation every day.

                       Help us to honor each other more than we honor ourselves.

                       Help our marriage grow stronger and stronger.