by Annette Bridges. © 2006. All rights reserved.
My husband John and I lived with our 3-year-old daughter Jennifer just a stone’s throw away from my in-law’s house on the family cattle ranch. Jennifer spent nearly every day with her grandparents and I wanted them to be part of her life. But their proximity suffocated me at times. After four years of daily exposure to my father-in-law’s “I know best” attitude, my resentment was building up. I found him opinionated, arrogant and domineering. Especially concerning my daughter. And this time things went too far.
It was a warm and sunny spring Saturday—the day before Easter Sunday. Jennifer busied herself building sand castles in our fenced-in back yard. I helped with the building until the phone rang. I stood at the back door where I had a clear view of Jennifer while I talked.
In the middle of my call, I watched as Pa-Pa, my father-in-law, suddenly arrived (he didn’t see me) and took Jennifer off with him without letting me know. Mind you, they often went for walks to pet the cows and feed the ducks and catfish on the farm, which delighted Jennifer. But his actions infuriated me. How could he take her without asking? After all, I’m Jennifer’s mother—I’m the boss here.
So later that day I confronted my father-in-law. I accused him of overstepping his bounds and disrespecting my authority. He staunchly defended his behavior with his own angry outpouring of accusations. The scene ended with hurt feelings on both sides. I walked away in tears, ready to pack up and move far away.
But I knew moving wouldn’t solve my problems. In retrospect, I think I wanted to find ways to prove him wrong—to assert my authority over his. And being the mother of his granddaughter seemed the only avenue I had for establishing my position in the family and gaining some respect for my viewpoints.
I welcomed the opportunity to get away.
Easter Sunday came. I welcomed the opportunity to get away from the ranch for a few hours. I had recently started attending church again and I loved the way I felt there: accepted, welcomed, unconditionally loved. But I dreaded coming home. I knew my in-laws would have Easter goodies for Jennifer and would want to come over. What would I say? How would I act? How could I face my father-in-law again?
In church, I listened to Christ Jesus’ life story. The meaning behind his teachings, his enemies crucifying him, his friends deserting him and the fact that he never stopped loving—friend or foe—astounded me. I sat awe-struck and humbled.
Clearly, Jesus intimately knew divine Love—and this knowledge healed and transformed lives. His life proved love’s power over hate, violence, apathy and fear. He instructed, “If ye love them who love you, what thank have ye? for sinners also love those that love them.” Jesus’ love enabled him to conquer death and the grave; his unconditional love enabled him to forgive all the evil directed at him.
Mary Baker Eddy, in her book Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, describes the “universal solvent of Love” as what’s needed to dissolve stubborn self-justification. I was certainly full of self-righteousness as I justified my actions and feelings toward my father-in-law. But through my study of Christian Science I knew the question I needed to ask was: where was the love?
I prayed to stop judging.
That Easter Sunday service left me humbled. I prayed to stop judging and critiquing my father-in-law’s every action and word. And I had a deep desire to love as Jesus loved.
Then, toward the end of the service, I began to feel nothing but compassion and yes, love, for my father-in-law. The power of Christly love and forgiveness filled my heart and replaced the hurt.
I felt resurrected from the destructive power of anger that had prevented me from seeing a solution. I knew I could choose a new basis for my relationship with my father-in-law—one based on unconditional love, understanding and gentle communication. The day took on a whole new meaning for me. I now looked forward to returning home.
I welcomed my in-laws when they arrived with their gifts for Jennifer and we spent a lovely afternoon together. As they departed, my father-in-law embraced me and, kissing my neck, apologized for what he had said. I said, “Me, too.” (My husband remarked later that he’d never seen his father apologize like that before.)
We made a mutual commitment to promoting harmony. And, you know, I can’t recall harsh words between us in the 25 years we’ve been neighbors since.
I have continued to learn more about love.
I have continued to learn more about love, the unconditional love God gives all His children. Also what Christ Jesus referred to as the second great commandment, “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.”
These words by Mary Baker Eddy recently reminded me of my Easter lesson:
“You must yield your obedience to God, give up your own will, love your enemies, do them good instead of resent or revenge wrongs…and rest in peace, for all things will work together for good to them that love Good.”
Forgiveness comes with Love’s help