MOTHER-IN-LAW/DAUGHTER-IN-LAW RELATIONS

(From introductory comments for panel held at Abundant Life Christian Fellowhip; April 2010)


As I prepared to introduce the subject of the mother-in-law(MIL)/daughter-in-law(DIL) relationship, I spent a lot of time talking it over with the Lord, praying, and listening to what He has to say in His Word.


The in-law relationships portrayed in the Bible run the gamut from good to capital B-bad.


Of the few on the “good” side, we find the notable example of the widows Ruth and Naomi. Ruth makes this famous statement to her MIL, “Entreat me not to leave thee. Whither thou goest I will go, and thy people shall be my people.” These women had become truly, beautifully family to each other. In fact, Ruth, through her second marriage to Boaz, became an ancestor to our Lord Jesus.


Of the many on the “bad” side, there’s the reaction of Rebecca, Isaac’s wife and Jacob’s mother, when her twin son, Esau, married two Canaanite women. She says, “I am weary of life because of the daughters of Heth that Esau has married. If Jacob marries one of them, what good will my life be to me?” (Gen. 27:46) In other words, these women so repulsed Rebecca, that they made her just want to die! Subsequently, Esau and his wives meld into the people of the land and become historic enemies to God and Israel. King Herod was one of Esau’s descendants.


These are only two examples among many, but they demonstrate the importance of the mother-in-law/daughter-in-law relationship, and how, for better or worse, they can reverberate for generations.


Unfortunately, in modern life, just as in the Bible, poor relationships seem to predominate. I have often wondered why should this be true when MILs and DILS have so much in common?


• We are both women.
• We love the same man.
• We want to be loved by the same man.
• We want good for the same man.
• We experience joy and grief through the same man.
• The same man loves us both.


That’s a lot of commonality, and we have so few differences:


• We want to be loved by the same man, but in very different ways - one as a mother and the other as a lover.
• We are loved by this same man, but in completely different ways.


Even our differences are appropriate and good, so there can only be one explanation for any problems: It is the proud, selfish, grasping, judgmental Flesh at work between mother- and daughter-in-law.


Because this special relationship can fall victim to our fleshly pride on so many levels, the mother-in-law relationship may be among the most difficult in which to be a godly woman and a follower of Jesus. To succeed in making it a good relationship, you will need the most ignored, yet most precious fruit of the spirit: self-control.


Every woman wants to be known as loving, gentle, and kind, but nobody wants to be seen as that really "self-controlled" woman. The label just seems to smack of inhibition. Yet self-control is like the stem from which all the other spiritual fruits are suspended from the branch. Without self-control your spiritual fruit will fall straight to the ground and quickly become like the grumpy-fruit we see at the base of trees.


So as the males in my house say, “Man-up.” Get to work developing your self-control. The Lord wants to train those flabby self-control muscles with the heavy, but effective weights known to you as your in-laws. Try to think of your mother-in-law as a kettle-bell in the hands of the Master Trainer!


As our Lori so beautifully said last week, “YOU ARE ON EARTH TO TESTIFY ABOUT JESUS.” Therefore, you must surrender this relationship to Him. A mother-in-law or father-in-law may never change their behavior in your lifetime; but God can change you, and this will cause the dynamic to alter much for the better.


Prayer is good, but listening to God through reading your Bible is even better. Not one thing in your life can get better without knowing the counsel God has for you and applying it. Do not project what you think He says. Find out exactly what He does say. Obviously, you can't do this without a functional familiarity with your Bible.


That said, here are a few Bible-based recommendations the Lord showed to me to help you on your way:


General Guidance for a Daughter-in-Law:


• Bathe all in-law conflicts in prayer. God wants to talk it over with you, and He wants to comfort and inspire you.


• Don’t be jealous, possessive, or selfish of your husband with your mother-in-law. This is ugly behavior that will make you appear ugly to your husband and children. It is not God’s way. She’s his mother, not a competing girlfriend.


• Apply the 6th commandment: “Honor your father and mother that you may live long in the land.” Because of the one-flesh principle, your husband’s mother is now your mother, too. You now owe his parents the same honor, respect, and courtesy, as he does to yours. (Remember, your husband’s actions are not your responsibility. You are only responsible for your own actions.)


• In a corollary to the above - - You were created by God to be your husband’s helpmate, so be a help to him. Encourage him to honor his parents. Don't fuel his resentments by complaining about them. Imagine how you are going to feel when you are in your mother-in-law’s shoes and take care not to alienate his affection for her.


• Go the extra mile to include your mother-in-law through photos and updates on the family. Be inclusive.


• Do not project thoughts or motives onto your mother-in-law, as in some perceived disapproval or hidden motive. She can't read your mind and you cannot read yours.


• Find something about which to be openly positive, and offer honest praise of your mother-in-law.


• Employ the Golden Rule. You need to be selfless, not selfish, for the sake of our beautiful Lord. Be to your mother-in-law the daughter-in-law you hope to have someday!


For mother-in-laws, try implementing the following:


General guidance for a Mother-in-Law


• Bathe all in-law conflicts in prayer. God wants to talk it over with you, and He wants to comfort and inspire you.


• Children are on loan. They do not “belong” to their mothers as a possession might. They belong to God.


• Married children actually do belong to their spouses. They are united as one in a new and separate family entity. (In the Word of God, they are told to leave mother and father and cleave to their spouse and become one flesh.)


- A mother must accept this as good because it is the Lord’s decreed will.


- Because this separation and resultant union is good in the sight of the Lord, a mother of a married child should do all she can to cause the new union to flourish.


- To this end, a mother must strive not to cause conflict within her child’s marriage.


• Find something about which to be openly positive, and offer honest praise for your daughter-in-law.


• Do not project thoughts or motives onto your daughter-in-law, as in some perceived disapproval or hidden motive. She can't read your mind and you cannot read yours.


• Focus your love on your own husband to strengthen your own marriage, so that you both can find satisfaction and love in each other, rather than through the children.


• Employ the Golden Rule: You need to be selfless, not selfish, for the sake of our beautiful Lord. Be to your daughter-in-law, the mother-in-law you wish you had.




FOR TABLE DISCUSSION:


Choose a problem below, or bring up one of your own, and apply the following three questions:


1. How does God view the situation?
2. What does His Word say about it?
3. What does God want me to do?


Possible In-Law Problems:
1. Doesn’t approve of my mothering style
2. Criticizes my cooking/cleaning/figure/etc.
3. MIL/FIL lives with us
4. We live with MIL/FIL
5. PILs too involved in our finances
6. Give the children things/food/movies we don’t want for them
7. Talks only to my husband and ignores me
8. FIL hits on me
9. MIL dresses inappropriately, or thinks I dress inappropriately
10. Hates Christ
11. PILs verbally abusive to my husband/me/our children
12. Etc.

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