Are All Mothers-in-Law
a rather insensitive joke told about Jesus and Peter, arising from
the story in today's Gospel. One evening, it goes, they were having
a chat over a drink when Jesus asked, "Frankly, Peter, was there
ever a time when you were angry with me?" Peter hesitated and
shuffled for a moment. "Well, actually there was, Lord,"
he said. "The time that you cured my mother-in-law!"
say this is an insensitive joke because it trivializes what is a common
and grave pain felt by many wonderful women. A mother-in-law and daughter-in-law
can often be two good, sincere, kindly women and yet a high pressure
of toxic feeling grows up between then. It makes life intolerable
for them and often also for those around them. And yet, that this
happens is not too surprising, considering the dynamics involved.
To become a mother-in-law is to hand over your child - especially
your son - to the love and care of another woman. There can be an
unacknowledged feeling of having been robbed of your treasure and
your life's work by this girl who now takes the center of the stage.
She is younger, so you are getting older. She is life-giving, so you
are no longer fruitful. In short, she becomes a symbol of your own
daughter-in-law is young and inexperienced. She is exulting in her
newfound womanhood. She is a newcomer to the work of being adult,
wife, mother and she wants to be the best - in her own unique way.
She is, as yet, insecure and sensitive to criticism. Even the most
innocent remark from the old pro can be interpreted by the daughter-in-law
as criticism or interference. All sorts of meanings could be read
into a simple remark like, "John is looking tired today."
So the neophyte may find herself threatened by the old-timer who becomes
a symbol of her own anxiety. The grandmother will wonder often whether
she is being used or being useful when caring for her grandchildren.
Add to this the unpredictable moods associated with menopause and
morning sickness - and a husband caught in the cross fire between
the two women that he loves - and you have the ingredients of a bloody
Each of us are in different ways Mothers-in-law. From the day we are
born we begin to need to "let go." When we go to school
we let go of the security of the home. As we lose friends and relatives
to death, as we lose our teeth and need eyeglasses, we are letting
go to a process of aging which we often want to deny and subtly fight.
own experience, apart from observing five wonderful sisters-in-law,
is that of being a missionary. When I came to the Philippines 37 years
ago the role image that I had of myself was very much that of being
a mother. I was bringing the life of faith and the nourishment of
the sacraments to a dependent flock. But, to be a missionary today
is to stand back, to let the local Church take over, to let the laity
take charge, to facilitate the growth of the Spirit already present.
It is to move away from the center of the stage. It is, in short,
to be a mother-in-law.
also had the 'mother-in-law' experience. He had to let go of his own
home and his own mother. He prepared the field for others to plow
and reap. These others were humanly speaking very weak and incompetent.
The apostles were a cowardly gang. Peter was impulsive and unreliable,
Thomas lacked faith, and Judas used to help himself from the common
purse. Yet, he gave over the stage to them and they carried on the
work in their own way.
grasping, "Lord, give me what I want," kind of prayer will
do little to prepare us for the letting go of the center of the stage
that is the mother-in-law part of all of our lives. But if one has
been meditating for 20 to 30 minutes twice daily we will be used to
following the Lord's command to leave self behind. We will not find
it too difficult to accept 'the letting go' of control and of the
center of the stage, the becoming a mother-in-law, that is a part
of everyone's life.
into Silence - A Pathway to Life. Copyright © 1998 by Claretian
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