Finding how to love my mother-in-law

A Christian Science perspective.

I’ve learned over the years that how we love others changes our circumstances.

While we were raising our children many years ago under severe economic stress, including the threat of foreclosure on our home, my mother-in-law became increasingly hard to deal with. Everything she said and did became a point of contention in my marriage.

Finally, I’d had enough and told her I just didn’t care anymore. It felt really good to get it off my chest, but then things got even worse. Her phone calls usually included complaints and criticisms of people she knew, and she was filled with anger and hatred about the events in her life. With the emotional drain I felt after every call, I began to feel animosity toward her, especially given all the other demands upon me at that time.

I reached a point of no return, and then did what I should have done first: pray. As I prayed, a hymn from the “Christian Science Hymnal” (No. 182) helped me understand the necessity of expressing love in every encounter. I realized that to love my mother-in-law would be to open the door for love to flow right back through our own lives. If I wanted to see more of God’s goodness, I couldn’t push her away. Love flows through channels, and the hymn taught me that when we cease to provide those channels for others, we may find they’re also empty for us:

Make channels for the streams of Love,
where they may broadly run;
And Love has overflowing streams,
To fill them every one.

But if at any time we cease
Such channels to provide,
The very founts of love for us
Will then seem parched and dried.

For we must share if we would keep
That blessing from above;
They cease to have who cease to give:
Such is the law of Love.
Richard C. Trench

As I prayed with the idea that the resolution to my situation was to express more of God’s love to my mother-in-law, I began to appreciate the plea that was behind her phone calls. I saw that her effort to be in touch indicated her desire to be part of our family. In her own way she was reaching out, and I knew I could respond compassionately.

I felt inspired to invite her to visit us for Easter. She responded with joy, and it turned out to be a memorable visit for all of us. My husband spent more time including her in conversation, and I took the time to share some insights on how she might learn from some of the experiences she’d been through. She brought packages of spring clothing for our three children and interacted with our family as though we had never been at odds with each other.

Also, my husband’s contracts began to multiply, and we were able to catch up with our bills.

Using God as the reference point of Love, and reaching out from His love rather than reacting to the problem, helped me stop trying to justify why I’d said the things I’d said to her. Offering an olive branch provided the basis for a peaceful holiday. This love was being felt on every level.

Although the relationship wasn’t resolved all at once, improvements came in small steps over the years. Each time a need for harmony arose, I would begin with God and pray from the standpoint that each of us, in the likeness of God, is good, kindhearted, and honest. If I wanted my thoughts to be at peace, it made more sense to start with peace, rather than with the problem.

Gradually, I realized that I was the one who was changing – by responding rather than reacting to her, and by refusing to take on her opinions of others. I continued to work at leaving the old stereotypes behind and discovering ways I could include my mother-in-law without forfeiting our household harmony.

In response to the passage, “And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors,” Mary Baker Eddy wrote, “And Love is reflected in love” as part of her spiritual interpretation of the Lord’s Prayer (“Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” p. 17). The nature of Love is infinite and it calms, comforts, nourishes, and cares compassionately and mercifully. Exemplifying this love opens up ways in which to reflect love to others, and by reflection rejoice in the fact that this love is ever present – flowing back to us.

God knows everything there is to know about love, because He is Love. So now when I find myself in a relationship that isn’t bringing me peace, I pray to see more love expressed – not by the other guy, but by me.

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