My husband and I had to travel to our country home last weekend to attend the burial of a late family member. I couldn’t get off work early enough, so we arrived almost late for the Christian wake-keep.
I barely had time to change before we rushed off to the service. It was pretty late when we returned and my mother in-law had gone to bed. Exhausted from the journey and the wake-keep, I slept like a log of wood.
It was the voice of the CNN newscaster that woke me up the following morning at around 7.45. I took one look a t my husband who sat glued before the box enjoying his usual morning ritual with Larry King, his cup of coffee in his hand. The only thought in my head was to turn over, and start a fresh round of sleep as the country home’s unwritten law for me is ‘sleep unlimited’. The serene atmosphere, coupled with the pollution-free air, is always a welcome breath of fresh air from the hustle and bustle of Lagos. As I pulled the duvet over my shoulders to settle for sweet slumber, I remembered I had not yet seen my mother in-law since my arrival yesterday. The last thing I wanted to do was get out of bed, but I know I would have no excuse if I waited till the noon time to see her. Grudgingly and reluctantly, I got out of bed, put on my housecoat and staggered downstairs to her chalet. As I went, I murmured to myself, ‘if she were my mum, I would still be in bed now and I was certain, no ill-feeling or offence would be nursed by her, she knows I love her whichever way.
A subtle anger seeped into my heart as I was so sure my husband had not yet seen her and would probably not all day, and that would raise no dust. Approaching her door, I gave myself a stern warning to behave while a halfhearted smile crawled to my face, lacing the grudge and reluctance that had earlier registered there.
I feigned pleasure as I stepped into her apartment while we exchanged pleasantries. She quickly expressed her usual reprimand and disapproval about my frequent trips to the United States of America. I still cannot fathom the basis for these incessant complaints as all my children live there and I expect her in particular to understand the reasons for my “frequent” visits.
All protocol observed, I sat on the sofa in her living room, rather uncomfortable as we engaged in our rather stiff and polite small talks. Of course, we soon ran out of meaningful things to chat about. I fidgeted severally as I sat there, trying to decide the appropriate duration of the call to qualify it a ‘landing visit’ rather than one of my often labelled ‘flying visits’. I asked after her church activities for the umpteenth time, I felt I should shut up and save myself the pain of sounding like a broken record. I gave her my gifts and got up to leave, relieved that it was all over and I could go back to bed and hopefully catch some more refreshing sleep before getting ready for the funeral service at 12 noon. I bade her goodbye beaming my feigned smile. Just as I stepped out, I heard it loud and clear! It was so real; I actually turned back and stupidly asked Mama if she said anything. She had, however, returned to her bedroom and did not hear my question. “You know quite right it couldn’t have been Mama who said it, so cut that out” “I was not sure what I heard” “Of course, you were sure. It was loud and clear!” And in that searching tone which I have come to recognise, the phrase kept echoing in my ears until I got back to my room.
“DISTANT, BUT CORDIAL… DISTANT, BUT CORDIAL…. DISTANT, BUT CORDIAL…DISTANT…”
I took off my housecoat and got into bed, but I knew it was time to learn. Sleep was now the last thing on my mind. The Lord was ready to speak. ‘Speak Lord for your guilty daughter listens’
The first question the Lord asked as I settled in bed was this; “Is this all you will have to share in your column; this hypocrisy of love, you have just displayed with your mother in-law?
The Lord quietly reminded me of my decision never to teach anything except that which I have lived and experienced. With the most understanding and encouraging tone, He said; “If then, you must feature in the
IN-LAWS column, it must be the living experience-able word, the reality of your faith.”
I was exceedingly glad for I knew I am in for a new lease of life – marital life as it were – for even after 29 years of marriage, DISTANT, BUT CORDIAL would best describe my relationship with my in-laws still.
But for this divine encounter, I bet this column would have been just another irrelevant addition to the various articles that dwell on mental knowledge without the experiential. It is obvious that it is the marriage institution that confers the title “in-law “on any people group. Though marriage is a covenant, a legal transaction by every standard, yet, the ingredient of true marriage; marriage as God its author and originator intended is, LOVE, because God Himself is love. The legality of marriage is an outflow transaction resulting from the bedrock of love between a man and a woman. If you ask me, I would have chosen a better name for family members united as a result of a blissful love relationship between a daughter and a son. I would rather have called them by the strength of their bond than by the law that only ratifies their free-will covenant. If you go by my standard, the world today would have been full of MOTHERS-BY-LOVE; DAUGHTERS- BY-LOVE and a whole load of family-by-love! By the very appellation ‘in-law’, the relationship is bound to fail. How did
I arrive at this conclusion? As long as the relationship is established by the law and remains ‘in’ the law, then, there is no hope for it as the Good Book declares an eternal truth that “the law makes nothing perfect” Heb. 7:19. The law is the letter, a written code or rules that bind. The name ‘in-law’ is rooted to the law, which only kills; it is the Spirit that gives life. Love; agape love that ingredient that is prerequisite
for the covenant bond of true marriage is not only from God but is also of God. Love is the fulfillment of all law and it is Spirit and Life. The law has been allowed to overshadow love, and to breathe its imperfection on the in-law relationship. There is an urgent need to rescue family ties by marriage from the damaging mire called ‘in-law’. Distant but cordial has no application where such love exists and it should have no application in a true practicing Christian family. Let’s share some interesting practical tips which could help in bridging the distance within the in-law relationship.
Delegating a spouse to attend the in-law family meetings
A friend of mine who practised this claimed his father almost had a heart attack the first time he sent his wife to attend an exclusive family meeting. He stood his grounds and his family has come to accept his reasons: “If there is anything my wife must not hear about, then, I’m not interested in hearing it.”
Ensuring communication from your family is generally channeled through your spouse and vice versa
This might seem awkward and unnecessary, but I was quite impressed to know it worked for a colleague who shared how he was able to develop a wonderful friendship with his reserved mother in-law by this. He claimed that his parents’ phone calls to the home were usually to his wife, likewise his father in-law never called his wife but him, while the mother in-law spent hours on the phone with her. He insisted that his mother in-law could only phone the home if she was willing to talk to his wife through him.
Establishing Kingdom principles by the Biblical decree: “The violent take it by force.”
Recently, I attended a grand wedding of a spiritual daughter, the first child of her family. The bridegroom in his response to the toast turned to his bride’s father and declared; “Sir, I am now the first son of your family” and then called out to the biological first son and tendered no apology for the usurpation. We all laughed but I think that young man had the revelation of true cleaving. As I round up this piece, I hear the
Spirit of God asking me, the needed question: what about your mother by love? I reflected for a few minutes and said; Lord, you have taught me a couple of new things from all these, but Lord, you know your teachings are profitable only when we learn from them. The true test of my learning rests on my becoming the message. Though I have not seen Mama since, I pray aright for both of us now. Guess that is a good starting point.
I pray DISTANT BUT CORDIAL would remain foreign in all Christian homes as they become models fulfilling God’s intents in instituting marriage, Amen.