By Ashley McIlwain
This is Part 2 of In Love With Your In-Laws. Check out Part 1 here.
I remember on one of my parents’ visits out here to Southern California there was a moment where I was somewhat overcome by emotion. As I watched Steve interact with my parents, I felt such gratitude for his genuine love for them. When my mom and dad left, I remember telling him, “One of the greatest ways you express your love for me is by loving my family.” I meant it.
After making that statement, I was struck by the notion that the sentiment wasn’t limited to me. Steve too feels so loved when I love his family. Our families are so important to us, and while they may not be perfect, neither are we. Your in-laws are your God-given family. It’s not always easy, but you have got to figure out a way to love them no matter what because if they’ve done nothing else right, they gave you your spouse, which is pretty special. Plus, that’s what love is … a choice.
When I think of this choice to love our in-laws, I’m reminded of the story of Ruth. Here is this young girl who just lost her husband, brother-in-law, and father-in-law, and despite the prodding of her mother-in-law to return home to her parents, she decides to “cling” to her mother-in-law (Ruth 2:14). Ruth stuck it out with her mother-in-law caring for and loving her along the way. In fact, she goes so far as to say, “Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever severely, if anything but death separates you and me” (Ruth 2:16-17).
Ruth sets and amazing example for what it means to love your in-laws. I mean that is going above and beyond the call of duty, and it certainly encourages me to step up my game. We could all stand to take a page out of Ruth’s book. Couldn’t we?
I remember a time when Steve and I were somewhat spinning our wheels over various things with each other’s family. I was feeling hurt and frustrated, and I wasn’t sure what to do anymore, what to say, or how to move forward with the situation. I knew Steve was feeling the same way. It’s just such a personal and sensitive subject that can be so difficult to discuss and figure out. We both just took it all to prayer knowing we needed God’s guidance.
One thing I remember praying was that God would change my heart. Because I realized that, while it’s easy to point the finger at Steve or even his family, there was a lot that I needed to change about myself and my approach. I too needed to adjust and adapt, learn and grow, and most of all, love. From that point on, any time something has turned up, I pray that God would do a work in my heart and attitude to always be gracious, loving, and understanding.
Am I perfect? No. But that prayer has changed my life and my outlook. Steve’s family is such a blessing in my life. God knew just what I needed when He brought them to me, and I choose to thank Him for the differences we share knowing that we balance each other out. They love me, and I love them. Truly, they are the best, and I want to honor and love them as my family because that’s exactly what they are and what they deserve.
And I see Steve treating my family with that same love and respect. He’s gracious and patient. He’s flexible and does his part to grow and develop understanding. Honestly, I know that he appreciates and loves my family for who they are, and who they have helped me to become.
It’s easy to point out, focus on, and harp on someone else’s flaws, but in that, we miss our own shortcomings and failures. Like Matthew 7:3 says, “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?” While it’s absolutely vital to work through issues and concerns you have with your in-laws, I would encourage you at the same time to search your own heart and motives. Is there something you can do differently? Is what you are bringing up important, beneficial, necessary, and out of love? How can you personally make the situation better? Are you approaching it with love and grace?
God doesn’t make mistakes, and I believe that He gives us just what we need, including our in-laws. And while I know that I am blessed with the best, not everyone is so fortunate. I am aware that there are some extremely trying, challenging, and downright nightmarish situations out there that feel unbearable. My encouragement to you though is to never give up and never stop loving. That’s the beauty of true love … it never fails (1 Corinthians 13:8). And when you feel like it’s impossible and you’re losing hope, lean and call on your Heavenly Father whose grace is sufficient (2 Corinthians 12:9).
What we often miss during the learning curve of marriage is the need to love and the opportunity for personal growth. Discuss things, set up boundaries, and make sure you are unified, but at the heart of it all needs to be genuine love and the willingness to do your part (and beyond). Loving your spouse means loving his/her family no matter what. It’s an opportunity, responsibility, and blessing all rolled up into one.
Let love and faithfulness never leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart. –Proverbs 3:3