This time of year brings the hope of new beginnings, fresh starts, and yes—the New Year’s resolution.
For most of us, the resolution is easy to make. We’re quite clear about those things that need our attention. There are those that fall into the “start” category: eating more healthfully, exercising regularly, or keeping your desk clean and tidy. There are some in the “stop” category as well: smoking, overeating, and texting while driving. Identifying the resolution is the easy part; finding the resolve to make it a reality is another matter entirely.
Resolve, according to the dictionary, means to decide or solve. In other words, make a choice to solve an issue or problem. It goes on to say resolve may also be expressed as, “determination, steadfastness, tenacity, doggedness and firmness.” Not easy, but possible.
Life is always about the choices we make and the resolve to see it through determines our success.
For some of us, the holidays may have produced a tension-filled gathering or two. Weird Uncle Harold caught you alone and recited his entire new conspiracy theory about global warming. Your cousin Frederika may have taken great pleasure in telling you all about her newest career success, pausing only to ask you about your job search, “How long have you been at that now, dear? Nearly a year, right?”
We all have those in our extended family that make us wonder how we ended up in the same tree. Not to worry, the holidays are few and far between. Besides, these folks can even add a bit of comic relief at times.
There is another relationship, however, that may bring a sense of dread, nerves, or even hurt when you know you will be together. One that’s close to the bone where the meat is really tender and is more difficult to dismiss. I’m talking about the toughest love triangle most women will ever encounter: the mother-in-law/daughter-in-law relationship.
What makes this so challenging? These two women love the same man and should find a bond over their mutual affection for the man in the middle. Sadly, it doesn’t usually work that way. Even in Christian homes and families.
In preparation for my book, Related By Chance, Family By Choice: Transforming Mother-in-Law and Daughter-in-Law Relationships, my daughters-in-law and I talked with hundreds of women through focus groups, online surveys and interviews. 96% of those who completed our survey identified themselves as women of faith and of that group, 97% of that group, self-identified as Christians.
30% reported the relationship with their woman-in-law was bad, which they described as difficult, filled with criticism, or simply off-balance. More than half (57%) said the difficulties in the relationship were either mostly their fault, or they at least equally shared the responsibility for the failure of the relationship. These numbers are nearly identical to those in a survey conducted on the popular website iVillage in October 2010 where there were no statistics on faith.
How can it be that our faith provides us no advantage in this area of our lives? Especially since 79 percent reported their faith was foundational to their daily lives and guided their decisions and actions?
As believers in Christ, we live in a world that endeavors daily to shape our thinking, and our opinions. It’s difficult to avoid the powerful influences we’re exposed to every day. Add to this the real experiences we have observed or the stories we’ve heard from friends or family who have found hurt, disappointment, or sadness in their MIL/DIL relationships. Our own expectations may be low in this regard. We expect little, so when little shows up, we are neither surprised nor alarmed. It is what it is. And we do little or nothing to address it. We’ve fallen in lockstep with a worldview that does not represent who God asks us to be. We must challenge this lie.
God’s Word is our user manual in this life. There’s wisdom and instruction on every topic we will encounter, including our family relationships. The Bible will guide our path if we will allow it to do so. The stereotypical view of the MIL/DIL relationship is so bleak it creates a perfect opportunity for the Christ-follower to demonstrate the impact of the Lord in our lives by choosing to do it His way and not the world’s way.
There is good news. One of the most significant survey results revealed that 70 percent said they would be willing to make the effort necessary to improve the relationship if they knew how. So here are a few tips to help you make 2014 the year for a fresh start.
- Check your heart. Have you contributed to the difficulty in the relationship? Have you honored God’s word in this relationship? He asks us to love one another, to prefer others above ourselves. Have you honored your son’s choice of wife? Have you honored your husband’s mother? If not, ask the Lord for forgiveness. Then ask her. It’s a good place to start.
- Pray for her. And I don’t mean one of those, “Oh Lord! Show her I’m right and she’s wrong,” kind of prayers. Pray for her in her role as a mother, a wife, a career person. Lift up her needs and her desires and ask God to bless her in all she does. Pray she softens her heart toward you, or be open to your approaching her about improving the relationship. It’s hard to lift her before God and curse her in conversation at the same time.
- Resolve to become family, starting today. You might be saying, “But you don’t know what she’s done to me or said about me to others. I don’t see her as family.” You’re right; I don’t know what she’s done. But the Lord does. He knows firsthand about the heartache that comes when betrayed by those who should love you. But He chose to come to us anyway. Choose to follow Him in overcoming personal preference and past hurts. Let them go.
So who should make the first move? The one who’d like to make her heavenly Father smile! Whether you are the mother-in-law or the daughter-in-law—either of you can start the process. Resolve today to live together in a way that will unite the family and honor the Lord.