Article by Veronica Harris-Mays
We looked great, happy even… in pictures, that is. But once we said “cheese” for the camera and snapped back to real life, we were at each other’s throats hard and heavy. 4 years ago, my late mother-in-law, Earnestine Mays and I, were about to kill each other! I felt so victimized, like Regina Hall's character, Candace did in Think Like a Man when she first met her future mother-in-law.
My father-in-law, Willie Sr., on the other hand, is really laid back, a lot like my husband—who I think is his father’s twin personality.
So Dad Willie and I got along royally from day one.
Before my mother-in-law passed away of lung cancer a year and a half ago, we had resolved our issues and gotten a better understanding of each other, thank God. “Mama Ernie,” as I called her, turned out to be a great friend and shopping buddy, and was one of the wittiest women I’ve ever known.
That’s why it felt like someone stuck a dagger through my heart when Mama Ernie discovered her cancer in stage 4. It had already metastasized and she lived for only 3 short months after being diagnosed.
Her passing was one of the saddest days of my life.
Before we got things right, though, we were like oil and water. We couldn’t see eye-to-eye on anything or find a way to blend our personalities. We couldn’t even pretend to be amicable.
She never liked me, which is something she told me to my face one day during an intense argument. She said she didn't think her son needed a "ready-made family," since I had a son from a previous relationship. It hurt me so bad and made me angry at the same time. She said she wanted her son to marry someone else. She felt I wasn’t good enough for him and I wasn’t the person she had envisioned for “Junior.” She then ordered me out of her house and so I left, but not before knocking over a chair or two.
Mama Ernie (at the time) wasn’t saved, so the fact that she was acting up should not have surprised me. I had a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, though, so my behavior was inexcusable. Harboring resentment, letting the sun go down on my wrath (Ephesians 4:6), tossing chairs, and railing against this woman, was not pleasing to God. I should have been ashamed of myself.
But I was too busy nursing wounded emotions to think about what my behavior should have been. All I could see was what she was doing wrong.
And, what upset me even more than my mother-in-law’s insults was the fact that while all this was going on, the cat mysteriously got my husband’s tongue, or at least I thought so. I felt like he had betrayed me by allowing his mother to berate me without coming to my defense. “How can you just let her talk to me like that?” I asked, er, shouted at him during the car ride home. “I’m your wife, remember?”
In his calm way, hubby said, “I tried to say something, but both of you were just screaming, so I stayed out of it.” I hadn’t even heard him saying anything at all. I supposed I was so engrossed in the fight I couldn’t hear anything. So I simply huffed and turned my face to the foggy passenger side window, aggravated. But he kept talking. “I don’t want my mother coming between us, but I don’t know what you want me to do. The two of you seem to like arguing and I can’t control two adults.”
I just rolled my eyes to show him how annoyed I was feeling, but he was telling the truth. The ongoing feud with Willie’s mom was beginning to spill over into our relationship and I needed to get a handle on that.
I didn’t know how to, but I wanted peace of mind. I was sick of the verbal and emotional wars. It had gotten to be ugly and draining, both for me and my husband.
So that night when I got home, though I felt huffy and mad at the world, I prayed. But this time, I didn’t ask God to change Mama Ernie. I asked Him to help me see myself.
I believe that’s the place God was waiting for me to get to, because when I shifted the focus from outside to inside, I saw how bitter, mean, disrespectful, and intolerant I had become. At some point, I had completely stopped filtering my words or emotions. I just said whatever I felt and justified it with the juvenile phrase, “She started it!”
But the Lord showed me a better way to deal with her. He shared with me a scripture from 1 Peter 3:9 that helped me so much: “Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.”
God challenged me to stop focusing on what I could not control (my mother-in-law’s behavior) and take a long hard look at me, the one person I can, by the grace of God, control.
I agreed to try it God’s way.
It was hard at first. I had to do a lot of lip-biting, forced smiling, overlooking and ignoring. But with consistent obedience to His word, I was no longer rattled by my mother-in-law.
Eventually, she calmed down. Her attitude toward me, slowly but surely, began to change. Our civil greetings, turned to lengthier talks, and eventually, we became fast friends. Even Willie and I grew closer. He was so impressed with my transformation and even started speaking up for me when his mom got too out of hand. Before, I was so aggressive, he couldn’t get a word in edgewise.
The difference was no less than amazing. The in-law war stopped.
All it took was me being willing to be the bigger person, gentle and kind, not vengeful and difficult.
To this day, I am convinced that my willingness to change myself led to my mother-in-law’s willingness to change herself. After a couple years, Mama Ernie started coming to church with me and God saved her.
And when her time came for her to leave this earth, Mama Ernie was ready to meet God. That gives me tremendous peace in times when her death hits me in the heart like a ton of bricks.
After 18 years of marriage, I advise women to use that scripture, not just with in-laws, but also within the marriage. Sometimes, when disagreements arise, both parties get caught up in emotions and ego. Those two "E's" together make for EXPLOSIVE disagreements and can drive serious wedges between couples.
You can't allow tit-for-tat arguments to tear your marriage apart.
Even though parties are technically grown and can say whatever, it's not healthy if you want to build a strong relationship.
When you begin controlling your tongue and your general responses (Self control or "temperance" is a fruit of the spirit according to Galatians 5:22,23), you'll see the atmosphere in your home shift.
In order to be the BIGGER person, you have to depend on the GREATER God that lives within you. You can do it and it will pay off BIG time!
This article is written in loving memory of Earnestine Odette Mays.