I was in my early thirties, established in my career, and comfortable in my skin, but I was still nervous when the time came to meet my future mother-in-law. Would she like me as a person, approve of me as a daughter-in-law, and accept me into the family, even with my bad-girl past?
Our first meeting was cordial, and she always made me welcome in her home. But as each year went by, I became less certain of my place in her heart and held her at arm’s length emotionally. Yes, I dutifully sent flowers each Mother’s Day, made her favorite dish for Thanksgiving, and showered her with presents at Christmas. But whether it was pride, anxiety, or insecurity, something kept me from building a nest for her in my heart.
Then I studied the book of Ruth. Undone by the loving-kindness Ruth showed her mother-in-law, Naomi, I realized something had to change in my life — and that something was me.
A phone call to my mother-in-law seemed the place to begin. My hand shook as I punched in the numbers. I had no real plan, trusting God to give me the words to say: I’m sorry. Please forgive me. I love you. Can we begin again?
When my mother-in-law answered the phone, an overwhelming sense of peace washed over me. Whatever fears I’d harbored — of rejection, of losing her as I’d lost my own mother, of not measuring up — were gone. Nothing was left but love.
The next time we visited my in-law’s house, I wrapped my arms around her and gave her my first real hug. Our last five years together were sweeter than all the years that came before then, combined. I have Ruth the Moabitess to thank for that, and the Lord she vowed to follow.
When Naomi started for home after ten years in the far country of Moab, she urged her two daughters-in-law, Orpah and Ruth, to return to Moab and to their gods. Orpah was convinced; Ruth was not. She told Naomi, “Don’t plead with me to abandon you or to return and not follow you. For wherever you go, I will go, and wherever you live, I will live; your people will be my people, and your God will be my God” (Ruth 1:16).
Ruth was determined not to go back to her false gods. We can’t say for sure, but sometimes I wonder if the Spirit of God moved through Ruth like living water in that moment — cleansing her, filling her, making her altogether new. One thing we can know is that Ruth wasn’t merely making a choice to follow her mother-in-law. Her decision included a commitment to the Lord Himself, the God of the Israelites.
God alone ordained and orchestrated this sacred moment. Ruth’s great-grandson would one day write, “The counsel of the Lord stands forever, the plans of his heart from generation to generation” (Psalm 33:11). Naomi and Ruth are woven into those plans. So are you, beloved. Long before Naomi and Ruth walked the earth, God’s plans for you were already in place.
Before Naomi could respond that day, Ruth made a bold vow: “For wherever you go, I will go.” More than one dewy-eyed bride has repeated Ruth’s words while gazing into her bridegroom’s handsome face. But Ruth wasn’t talking to or about a man. She was speaking to and about her mother-in-law, who by all appearances didn’t want her daughter-in-law along for the ride.
Ruth’s second vow is equally powerful: “…and wherever you live, I will live”. She’d never been to Bethlehem, yet seemed to care little about where she was going, as long as she was with Naomi. She continued, “Your people will be my people.” It’s one thing to leave your house and quite another to leave your country. Ruth promised to adopt the laws, traditions, dialect, foods, customs, folklore, and history of Israel, turning her back on the only life she knew and embracing a world she had yet to experience.
We’ve seen Ruth’s courage and commitment on display. Next comes her extraordinary leap of faith: “And your God will be my God.” Over the years, Naomi had plenty of time to teach her daughter-in-law about the covenant with Abraham and the exodus with Moses. She’d also had countless Sabbaths to show Ruth what a life devoted to the one true God looked like. Yet, in the end, it was God at work in Ruth’s heart that made her confession of faith possible.
If you have a mother-in-law, Ruth’s brave example shows how you can strengthen or rebuild your one-of-a-kind relationship. Perhaps some of these practical ideas might help:
- Praise her good points. Just as you may wonder if your mother-in-law likes you, she may think you don’t like her. So, praise her every chance you get and help put her unspoken fears to rest.
- Brag about her son. At any age, mothers long to know they did a good job. Sincerely compliment your husband’s fine character or commendable actions, then watch his mother light up.
- Request a favorite recipe. Gourmet or otherwise, her home-cooked meals fed your growing husband. Find out his favorite dish and ask his mother to share the recipe.
- Give thanks. Show your gratitude for the woman who raised the man you love. She wasn’t a perfect mother, but she was his mother. She still is, and always will be.
As relationships go, this one can be complicated, which means it also has the potential to go deep and wide. Open your heart, friend. Let her in.
Story by Liz Curtis Higgs, as featured in A Mother’s Love.
Above is an excerpt from our book, A Mother’s Love: Celebrating Every Kind of Mom, which is full of reflections on God’s heart. Featuring unique and diverse stories from the (in)courage community, A Mother’s Love offers heartfelt encouragement to all kinds of moms, whether they’re a mother in a traditional sense, a spiritual mother, or a mother-like figure who breaks the mold.
This book is sure to help any woman share a meaningful gift with someone who has been impactful in her life, a new mom learning the ropes, or a close loved one facing the joys and challenges of any stage and type of motherhood. Compiled with all women in mind so we can celebrate those who made us, shaped us, helped us grow, and loved us well, A Mother’s Love is a beautiful gift for the moms in your life.
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