By. Erin Davis
I once heard someone say that the relationship between a mother-in-law and daughter-in-law is the most fragile of all human relationships. If you are a MIL or a DIL, you already know this relationship can get sticky. Mothers-in-law often fulfill a role that is part mother, part friend, and part threat in the lives of their son’s wives. Daughters-in-law are not quite the same as a biological daughter, and yet they are a huge part of the make-up of the family. The result can be a lot of relational thin ice that is difficult to tread.
I will tackle this delicate human relationship with Truths from God’s Word. I think you’ll find the Bible offers surprisingly clear guidelines on how to treat each other, and I encourage you to read both posts. Even if your relationship is great, we can all learn about loving each other better.
We are given a picture of a healthy and holy mother-in-law/daughter-in-law relationship in the Bible. To be honest, the story of Ruth and Naomi has always seemed a little unrealistic to me. Ruth chose her mother-in-law over her own family (1:16). Amazingly, she even lived with her mother-in-law (2:23) for a long period of time and yet remained sweet to her. We have a lot to learn from their story! The book of Ruth contains many important themes, but one we often miss is that relationships with mothers-in-law can be amicable, and that honoring each other can lead to great blessing.
For daughters-in-law, here are several key themes worth noting from the book of Ruth:
- Ruth begged to stay with her MIL rather than return to her own family after her husband’s death. Ruth opened her heart and allowed herself to bond to her husband’s mom. As daughters-in-law, we’ve got to choose to be open to giving and receiving love from our MIL (Ruth 1:16).
- Ruth was willing to serve Naomi. She chose to roll up her sleeves and do the grunt work of gleaning wheat to provide for herself and her MIL. Have you done something sacrificial lately in order to provide for the needs of your MIL? (Ruth 2:2).
- It was because of Ruth’s kindness and faithfulness to Naomi that she found favor with Boaz. Disrespecting MILs may be socially acceptable, but it won’t earn anyone’s admiration. “But Boaz answered her, ‘All that you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband has been fully told to me, and how you left your father and mother and your native land and came to a people that you did not know before . . .” (Ruth 2:11).
- Ruth followed her MIL’s advice. DIL’s, is it possible your MIL is not trying to replace your mom? Maybe her advice has some merit. Don’t buck simply because your MIL offers her two cents every now and then. When possible, adhere to her wisdom (Ruth 3:6).
- Ruth included Naomi in the celebration of her son’s birth. The MIL/DIL relationship seems to really get slippery when the next generation arrives. Suggestions about how to burp and diaper a new baby can turn into fighting words. DIL’s, realize that your baby reminds your MIL of her own babies and that she desperately wants to be a part of the celebration (Ruth 4:17). Clearly, Ruth had an uncanny ability to love and respect her MIL in all circumstances. We can make all kinds of excuses why we can’t treat our MILs the same way, but the Bible writes us no such permission slip.
Ephesians 4:29 says, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” Your MIL may not be as sweet and understanding as Naomi. But honestly, does “unwholesome talk” about her help the situation? When was the last time you said something that built her up according to her needs?
Romans 12:18 says, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” You have no control over the behavior of others, including your MIL. But the Bible urges you to do your part to live at peace.
The story of Ruth and Naomi is an important one. It was from the line of Ruth and Boaz that David was born. Eventually Jesus came from the same lineage.
The story of your family is an important one, too. Ephesians 4:29 urges us to speak words of encouragement for the benefit of “those who listen.” People are watching how you interact to see what it reveals about your faith. God’s standards for how we should treat each other apply to this relationship, even if it takes extra effort.
What can you do today to love your mother-in-law with the radical love of Christ?