I was in my early thirties, established in my career and comfortable in my skin, but I was still nervous when the time came to meet my future mother-in-law. Would she like me as a person, approve of me as a daughter-in-law, accept me into the family, even with my bad-girl past?
Our first meeting was cordial, and she always made me welcome in her home. But as each year went by, I became less certain of my place in her heart and held her at arm’s length emotionally. Yes, I dutifully sent flowers each Mother’s Day, made her favorite dish for Thanksgiving, and showered her with presents at Christmas. But whether it was pride, anxiety, or insecurity, something kept me from building a nest for her in my heart.
Then I studied the book of Ruth. Undone by the loving kindness Ruth showed her mother-in-law, Naomi, I realized something had to change in my life, and that something was me.
A phone call to my mother-in-law seemed the place to begin. My hand shook as I punched in the numbers.
I had no real plan, trusting God to give me the words to say: I’m sorry. Please forgive me. I love you. Can we begin again?
When my mother-in-law answered the phone, an overwhelming sense of peace washed over me. Whatever fears I’d harbored — of rejection, of losing her as I’d lost my own mother, of not measuring up — were gone.
Nothing was left but love.
The next time we visited my in-law’s house, I wrapped my arms around her and gave her my first real hug. Our last five years together were sweeter than all the years that came before them, combined. I have Ruth the Moabitess to thank for that, and the Lord she vowed to follow.
When Naomi started for home after ten years in the far country of Moab, she urged her two daughters-in-law, Orpah and Ruth, to return to Moab and to their gods. Orpah was convinced; Ruth was not. She told Naomi, “Don’t plead with me to abandon you or to return and not follow you. For wherever you go, I will go, and wherever you live, I will live; your people will be my people, and your God will be my God” (Ruth 1:16, CSB).
Ruth was determined not to go back to her false gods. Instead, the Spirit of God must have moved through Ruth like living water — cleansing her, filling her, making her altogether new. She wasn’t merely making a choice to follow her mother-in-law. Her decision was about the Lord Himself.
God alone ordained and orchestrated this sacred moment. Ruth’s great-grandson would one day write,
“The counsel of the Lord stands forever, the plans of his heart from generation to generation.”
(Psalm 33:11, CSB)
Naomi and Ruth are woven into those plans. So are you, beloved. Long before Naomi and Ruth walked the earth, God’s plans for you were already in place.
Before Naomi could respond that day, Ruth made a bold vow: “For wherever you go, I will go.” More than one dewy-eyed bride has repeated Ruth’s words while gazing into her bridegroom’s handsome face. But Ruth wasn’t talking to or about a man. She was speaking to and about her mother-in-law, who by all appearances didn’t want her daughter-in-law along for the ride.
Ruth’s second vow is equally powerful: “…and wherever you live, I will live.” She’d never been to Bethlehem, yet seemed to care little about where she was going, as long as she was with Naomi. She continued, “your people will be my people.” It’s one thing to leave your house and quite another to leave your country. Ruth promised to adopt the laws, traditions, dialect, foods, customs, folklore, and history of Israel, turning her back on the only life she knew and embracing a world she had yet to experience.
We’ve seen Ruth’s courage and commitment on display. Next comes her extraordinary leap of faith: “and your God will be my God.” Over the years, Naomi had plenty of time to teach her daughter-in-law about the covenant with Abraham and the exodus with Moses. She’d also had countless Sabbaths to show Ruth what a life devoted to the one true God looked like. Yet in the end, it was God at work in Ruth’s heart that made her confession of faith possible: “Your God will be my God.”
If you have a mother-in-law, Ruth’s brave example shows how you can strengthen or rebuild your one-of-a-kind relationship. Perhaps some of these practical ideas might be helpful:
Praise her good points. Just as you may wonder if your mother-in-law likes you, she may think you don’t like her. So praise her every chance you get and help put her unspoken fears to rest.
Brag about her son. At any age, mothers long to know they did a good job. Sincerely compliment your husband’s fine character or commendable actions, then watch his mother light up.
Request a favorite recipe. Gourmet or everyday, her home-cooked meals fed your growing husband. Find out his favorite dish and ask his mother to share the recipe.
Give thanks. Show your gratitude for the woman who raised the man you love. She wasn’t a perfect mother, but she was his mother. She still is, and always will be. Even after she’s gone, honor her memory and be grateful for everything she did and who she was.
As relationships go, this one can be complicated, which means it also has the potential to go deep and wide. Open your heart, my friend. Let her in.
Are there any relationships in your life that need mending? What can you do today to begin that process?
We’re thrilled to share this devotion written by Liz Curtis Higgs in the (in)courage Devotional Bible! It’s one of more than 300 devotions found in this beautiful resource. Right now the (in)courage Devotional Bible is 20% off at DaySpring.com — plus when you order one, they’ll tuck a beautiful leather journal in alongside your Bible for FREE!
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Powerful words today for today: I’m sorry. Please forgive me. I love you. Can we begin again? - @lizcurtishiggs in the #incouragebible: Click To Tweet Leave a Comment
Bev @ Walking Well With God says
Sometimes it is hard for me to not have ill feelings toward my mother-in-law. She was very young when she had my husband and really wasn’t ready to have children and neglectful might be a euphemistic word to use, but the Bible still commands me to honor your mother and father and that includes my husband’s mother and father. We are all human and we all make mistakes. Bottom line – if it hadn’t been for my mother-in-law, I wouldn’t have my wonderful husband. Your tips are excellent. I love to tell stories of my husband’s goodness to my mother-in-law, like how he took such great care of me through my surgeries, how he is admired by his colleagues, etc. Her face does light up! I like to send her little cards from time to time with a Starbucks card tucked inside since she is on fixed income. Loving someone brings far more peace than resenting. It’s a choice. Great reminders this am!
ps. Liz, praying for you and your health. You are an inspiration!! I saw your original Facebook live announcement as I was headed into have a cancerous cyst removed. Talk about a divine appointment. Thank you for your bravery and encouragement.
Beth Williams says
Praying for you sweet one! You have been through so much in these last few years. May God bring healing to your body. May you feel His nearness to you. I pray you don’t need chemo or radiation. I am working with Relay for Life to help end cancer. It seems like everyday you hear of another person being diagnosed. Sending ((((((((((Hugs)))))))))) your way from Watauga, TN – Turkeytown unincorporated-upper E. TN near NC border.
Bev @ Walking Well With God says
Thank you for your prayers….yes it has been a rough several years, but I am hoping and praying that all that is behind me!! I just started with a personal trainer to get my battle weary body back in shape. I am hoping this is the sign of things looking up and leaving the surgical suite behind me!!! One of the ER nurses complimented me on how well I scooch from the gurney onto the operating table. I told her I’d had lots of practice lol. Not something at which you want to be good!!
Blessings sweet prayer warrior,
Michele Morin says
I really won the Mother-in-Law Lottery, and I considered her to be a bonus who came on top of the blessing of my good husband. So . . . now I have stepped into the mother-in-law shoes myself, so it’s my prayer that I can fill that role with godly grace and be blessing to the next generation.
Pearl Allard says
Liz, such words of wisdom! God orchestrated several events early in my marriage that forced me to decide how I’d handle things. While they were difficult situations to go through, I’m so grateful for the way it knit my mother-in-law and me closer together. She is an amazing, humble, generous woman. If not for the hard things God allowed, I might have missed out on knowing my mother-in-law the way I know her now. Great article! Thank you.
Next to my favorite story of Esther, Ruth’s story is the next in line of favorites for me. Just like Mary, these women are not only courageous, they are willing – willing to follow God’s leading. We can only do as much to become women of ‘such a time as this.’
Thank you for your words of wisdom.
You sound like such a cool and down to earth sister in the Lord.
Sometimes you might have a mother-in-law who is toxic.
Unfortunately, this is my situation and I have tried all of these things and more, yet have been met with bitterness, anger and gossip behind my back. Sometimes mending may not always be possible. Right now I pray, and love from afar in order to guard my kiddos hearts and mine. I have come to the conclusion I can be the most loving and forgiving with her when there is distance, rather than when hurtful things are constantly happening to my family or me. So for those who are in a similar situation I just pray for peace and continual guidance in your relationship.
Thank you, I needed this message of grace
Becky Keife says
I’m so sorry that this is your situation. And yes, you are so right, sometimes toxic people come into our lives through all sorts of relationships and circumstances, and those must be handled with their own set of boundaries and discernment. It sounds like you are doing the best you can in a very difficult situation. Thanks for modeling grace and love in the messy middle of your story.
karen hickling says
My mother in law is now with the Lord, but I so adored her as I did my own mother. She was always so good to me and the last card I got from her was a Christmas card that said how she loved me as her own daughter of which she had 2. I miss her but know i will one day see her again and I like to think my mother and she are now best friends although they never got to see each other much since she lived in Canada and my mother in Calif. Thank you for your words and I didn’t have to start over. I had it from the beginning.
Beth Williams says
I don’t have a mother-in-law. My husband’s mother died from cancer years ago. I have a special step-mother-in-law. She & FIL are dealing with his Stage III bladder cancer. To show her love I have been cooking for them a lot lately. Every chance I get I take them food I have gathered. Trying to ease her burden of meal prep. In the past I was able to take her to several doctor’s appointments so he could stay home. I call & check on them several times a week. Always telling her I love her. She has been through so much in her life & now she deserves to be “pampered” a bit. I’m doing my part to shower her with the love she deserves.
P.S. Just found out about your cancer diagnosis. Praying for you sweet one. Know that I am working with Relay for Life to help fight cancer. Everyday someone new gets diagnosed with that disease. I look up to you as you always seem to have a smile on your face & laughter in your heart no matter the situation.
I do love the story of Ruth and Naomi and came to love it through one of Liz’s books. Overall, female to female relationships can sure be complicated! Anytime we choose kindness and respect for each other even when feeling betrayed and hurt, builds God’s kingdom. I know this sure can be hard sometimes! As a single (divorced woman for decades now), I don’t have a mother ‘n law but I am a mother ‘n law, though, so on the other side where I too, have a responsibility to be loving and respectful to my son ‘n law. Always wonderful to read your words Liz!