Anger, Emotions, Family, People Pleasing, Relationships, Worry

Mary’s Story: Dealing with a Challenging Sister-in-Law

Our family dynamics changed when my sister-in-law entered the picture. My family is loving, kind, grace-giving, supportive, and rarely has conflict. But my sister-in-law is the opposite; it’s hard to handle her unprovoked harshness, disrespect, rudeness, cutting and crass spirit.

Most of our family gatherings are actually pleasant and fun (mainly because we are a conflict-avoiding family), but there’s always a mild tension in the air. We walk on eggshells as to not trigger her into a bad mood; her bad moods, regardless of the cause, affect us as she doesn’t hide it. I end up getting tense, anxious, and angry in seeing how one person can bring such a “darkness” to my “light” family.

I miss the days of my carefree, easy-going family dynamics. I miss the comfort I once had, feeling safe and comfortable in my family’s presence. I remind myself that God needs to change my heart and my response to her, not just her or the situation itself. Therefore, I turn to the truths of God’s Word to speak into this challenging piece of my life.

My only true source of comfort

As I reflect on what I’m missing and wanting (mainly, comfort and zero conflict), I am reminded that my Lord Jesus is my only true source of comfort. He is the only one who is able to supply me with a comfort I could never find on my own.

I love how the apostle Paul describes Him: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God” (2 Cor. 1:3-4).

It’s important that I call to mind how our almighty Creator tenderly and thoughtfully knit her together in her mother’s womb as he did me. And he loves her too! I can look to His steadfast love and promises to comfort me (Psalm 119:76).

The idol of comfort

I am convicted of my sin as I examine my heart. Though God is the God of all comfort, I see how I idolize comfort itself, not necessarily the Giver of comfort. In my efforts to obtain comfort and avoid conflict, I fall into the sin of people pleasing (Prov. 29:25). I lie and act in ungodly ways to win my sister-in-law’s approval and stay on her good side; I’ll curse or gossip with her to win her over, and I’ve failed to defend Christ when she mocks Him.

The Holy Spirit has also opened my eyes to see the unbelief taking up root in my heart. I’m impatient with the Lord for not saving her (yet). I feel like I have made endless prayers and petitions for her salvation, and that God is obligated to respond. I fear how I cannot control her salvation, when really, I can find comfort in the fact that only God saves.

My mind also swirls with sinful thoughts where I find joy in dreaming about unleashing all my pent-up rage and anger on her. In my pride, I fantasize about “putting her in her place” and turning the tables where she needs to walk on eggshells around me. Essentially, I am fantasizing about being the opposite of a godly woman. Why would I want to be that?!

Wanting the Savior

Why would I want that, God?! You sent your Son to bear these ugly sins of ungodliness on the cross for me. You are for me, not against me (Rom. 8:31); nothing can separate me from your love (Rom. 8:38-39) — hallelujah!

Jesus saved me from condemnation and wrath, and I no longer need to walk in darkness. I have been clothed in Christ, am a new creation, and I’m forgiven (Gal. 3:27; Col. 3:10-14)! His peace rules my heart (Col. 3:15), and I can trust Him for a peace in all times and in all ways (1 Thess. 3:16). Jesus, I want only You.

Authentic Christlike love by faith

In knowing and believing these truths about my Lord and Savior, I am called to exercise my faith. By faith, I can confess the sinful thoughts that occupy my heart and mind and ask the Lord to forgive me (1 John 1:9). I can ask Him to equip my heart to change in its response to my sister-in-law. I can meditate on the fruits of the Spirit and ask for love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

As my heart grows in godliness, naturally, I will be more patient with her. I will humble myself to give her grace just as Christ has given me grace (James 4:6). I will love her as Christ loves me, and meet her in true, authentic, Christlike love (Rom. 12:9; 1 John 4:7-11).

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. (John 13:34)

Ultimately, I want to entrust her fully into the Lord’s care. I want to trust Him and His ways above all else. I want to be a woman who isn’t rattled by what I cannot control; I want to be a woman who only wants Christ as my comfort, now and forever.

*Author’s name has been changed.

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