by Josh Zeichik It’s often spoken of in humorous terms, but it’s actually a sad reality that most married people don’t get along with their in-laws. It’s really not unlike any difficult relationship, it starts off with having different backgrounds, differing opinions about how things should be done and it turns into a wedding day filled with hostility or passive-aggressive anger towards the in-laws or from them to you.
The difficulties I face in my relationships aren’t really any different than the ones you face. My mother-in-law and I can both be pretty opinionated and overly focused on our own perspectives. We find it hard, at first, to see other people’s points of view. But something is different than the average in-law relationship; we love each other. And, no, I don’t mean, we love each other because we are family and have to. No, I mean we genuinely care about each other.
Why? It’s simple, really; we have disciplined ourselves.
In Donald Whitney’s book, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, he explains that, "God's eternal plan ensures that every Christian will ultimately conform to Christlikeness.” In other words, God’s intention is to make us die to the thoughts, words, and behaviors of the sinful nature we were born with and cause us to conform to the thoughts, ords, and behaviors of Christ.
Colossians 3:1-17 sums up this concept well. The first 4 verses are a reminder of our new identity in Christ and a call to dwell on things that honor God instead of the selfish things of this world. Verses 5-9 are a call to abandon the thoughts and behaviors of sin, while verses 10-17 cover a list of things that we are to replace those sinful attitudes with.
So, if I’m seriously trying to follow Jesus, when Paul writes in verses 8-9,
But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices,
then I have to apply that to frustrations that come up with my in-laws, coworkers, friends, neighbors, family, my wife, and anyone else in my community. I can’t show up for Thanksgiving with a smile and then speak insults about them behind their backs.
And when Paul writes in verses 12-14,
Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.
I need to show love and forgiveness and pursue unity and not just resolve to myself that certain relationships will never be unified.
While my and my mother-in-law’s natural tendencies may be to get annoyed with each other or butt heads, we have and continue to walk through the disciplines of putting off selfishness and putting on forgiveness and love. As a result, we have built a relationship of unity.
So, what’s the point? Mainly that pursuing the spiritual disciplines can enhance your experience in community. While your default may be to respond in irritation or anger with certain people in your life, you are called to put those attitudes off. Rather, having God’s word in your heart, you are to discipline yourself to be compassionate, discipline yourself to be kind, discipline yourself to be humble, discipline yourself to be patient, discipline yourself to forgive, and discipline yourself to love. And all for the sake of having healthy community with fellow Christians.
What if you have an unresolved conflict in your life right now and you don’t know where to begin to resolve it? Well let me offer a suggestion. Start with you. As valid as your thoughts might be about the issues you see in the person you aren't getting along with, you have sin habits to put off, too. If you are not sure where you are in the wrong, then begin with prayer. Use Psalm 139:23-24 as a prayer, trusting that God will reveal areas in your life where you aren’t yet fully like Christ.
Confess your sin. First to God, and then to the person you are in conflict with. Primarily our offense is against God, but our sin hurts people in our lives as well. Discipline yourself to start a conversation with the person you are not reconciled with and begin by confessing your sin to them without demanding that they hear what they did wrong.
Ask for forgiveness. All too often, we say we are ‘sorry’ for what we did wrong, but we don’t ask people forgive our offense so we can be restored. So ask to be restored. Then, God willing, if the person that you are in conflict with is a believer, they will come to that conversation with the same desires to reconcile. If they aren’t, you can explain why forgiveness is so important to unified relationships and pray that God opens their eyes to believe the gospel.
Finally, don’t be discouraged if this conversation doesn't go flawlessly the first time. Working through conflict towards unity takes time. and it takes discipline. Be committed, because in the end it will display God’s reconciling love.
Josh Zeichik is the lead elder over the Karis Jeff City campus. Josh and his wife, Harmony, are expecting their first child in May.