“The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.”— John 10:10
“For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.” – Ephesians 6:12
Chapter 2 – Recognizing the Enemy
Your mother-in-law is not the enemy
A friend tells me she and her husband always join her parents and her husband’s parents (at the same time) during holidays and birthdays, and she says this with joy. Wow! What a concept. Don’t they know that in-laws are always outlaws? Don’t they know you just have to put up with these people, and no one expects you to actually like them?
In Biblical times most families considered marriage serious business. Two young whippersnappers weren’t just sent out into the wilderness among the wild beasties and forgotten. No, indeed. There was preparation—spiritual, financial, physical. There was feasting and rejoicing. Not only was a new family formed, but the existing families on both sides were now considered one family by all parties. They were made one by a sacred covenant. It is no wonder, for example, that Ruth stayed with Naomi. Naomi accepted her not as her son’s poor choice, but as a beloved daughter. The implications here are huge. The cynic might say it was just the patriarchs doing good business (and what, really, is so bad about good business, and starting marriage off on a sound financial footing?). But let us think about the possibilities in a mindset of acceptance, where his parents love her as a daughter, as hers love him as a son. And let’s forget about how that worked or didn’t work out way back when. Let us make some changes in the here and now.
Yes, this can be a bit tough. I’ll admit it: when I was first around my daughter-in-law’s parents I was curious to get to know them, and polite enough, but that was about it. The idea that God might want me to embrace them as prayer partners for this lovely couple and their child, and enjoy them as new friends with whom I already had much in common, was so foreign it never entered my head. Of course, John and I enjoyed them, and it was a blessing to see their great love for our mutual grandchild. Still, in spite of all the evidence, and common sense’s suggestion that we should be close friends, family even, deep down I didn’t believe we could. I certainly had never seen such a thing.
In fact, I saw the opposite. Grandma (maternal grandparent) had no liking for my dad, and Grannimother (paternal grandparent) not a lot for my mom. So, in spite of the fact that Mom loved Grannimother and that in her later years Grannimother often wanted Mom’s care rather than that of her own children, there was always that thing, that barrier that never quite fell: you don’t ever truly and completely love and accept your in-laws.
Following the example of their parents, is it any wonder couples think division is normal? Rather than having a faithful, stalwart, and wise cheering section from both sides of the family, they accept as inevitable such evils as competition, jealousy, and Strife.
Even if you, like my parents, had mothers-in-law who were simply not behaving well, and had no intention of ever doing so, you, smart girl, can overcome. Let me tell you a little story that will give you an idea or two about where to begin.
Once upon a time we moved to a tiny mountain village where outsiders were suspect, to put it mildly. The children’s librarian told me she didn’t agree with my homeschooling, the general store employees told us we’d made a mistake moving to their town, and the postmaster was so reserved I felt like apologizing for asking to buy a stamp.
It came to light that we were disliked before we ever came to town due to the whining of the couple we replaced in our new job. Never mind they were fired long before we were hired. Logic has little to do with such matters.
So I said my mantra: A smart girl like you oughtta be able to figure this out. Then it came to me. Cookies! I am a good cook—a little more butter and salt, extra nuts, raisins, organic brown sugar, chocolate chips, etc. I baked cookies and took them to the post office, library and general store. I invited the librarian over for Thanksgiving, and made a point of complimenting and thanking the postmaster. As a family, we prayed for the entire village and individuals as they came to mind. I asked the elderly how they felt and gave out free essential oils for their aches and pains. I set out to bless the town.
It wasn’t long until I began to get compliments on my kids instead of criticism of my methods. The librarian asked what we wanted in the library as far as books and programming, and the postmaster became someone I looked forward to seeing.
It is a rare person who cannot be won over, and even if they never like you, you will come to like and even to love them, if you bless them long enough. So, it won’t matter what they do and say—the sting will be gone. And yes, what’s good for the post master is good for the mother-in-law. And the mate.
Your Mate is not the Enemy
When it comes to marriage the stakes are higher (marriage success is the ultimate success, and considerably more important than favor at the post office), obedience to God is tougher, and the battle is more fierce. But the enemy is the same.
So, back to your mate, the scoundrel. If he’s not the enemy (just bear with me) then who is? And what good does identification do, you ask? Well, does a policeman shoot in the dark in the general direction of where the burglar was last seen, or would he prefer some night vision equipment before he starts wasting ammo?
OK, clever you. You know I’m going to say the enemy is Satan, and based on the awful things you and your mate each said in your last fight, that’s a believable assertion. So what now? Now you get over any and all teaching that scoffs at the idea of demonic influences and spiritual warfare. Now you get into the New Testament like your life (and marriage) depends on it. Because actually, it does. Study and become adept at putting on and keeping on the full armor of God.
As you study this, beginning in Ephesians, you will notice that after you’ve fully donned the armor of God you are admonished to pray for all the saints. It is my experience that this—praying for others—will keep your armor intact. And always remember, pray first and last for that one God has given you to love first and last.
The Brain on Strife
You may recall the aforementioned scripture, James 3:16 – “For where envying and strife is, there’s confusion and every evil work.” I was praying for revelation about the full implications of this one day and I got a vision in my head of a brain on Strife. There were wires tangled everywhere, running amok over and under each other, in blue, yellow, orange and green. They all had little round connector pads on their ends, but they were connected to the wrong parts of the brain, and it was obvious the signals were getting crossed and going to the wrong places and nothing was making any kind of sense for this poor brain. This—chaos—is what happens to logic in the presence of sin (Strife being the operative sin in this particular case).
Once Satan has the upper hand (via Strife) your behavior will be appalling. Don’t waste your time lamenting the immaturity of your mate. It takes two to tango. Does your spouse’s awful behavior justify yours being just as bad? Are you really OK with a Pre-K maturity level?
I have to admit I speak from experience. John used to call me Teflon Woman. “Nothing sticks,” he explained, as I simply refused to ever take the blame. Incidentally, refusing to take the blame and responsibility for one’s actions is a symptom of ASPD (anti-social personality disorder), or to be blunt, it is the behavior of a sociopath. Well, I prefer to say I was simply immature. And I hasten to add that once I thought a bit about it, I realized my “I didn’t do it, not my fault” mentality was an open door for the enemy in our marriage. I decided Teflon Woman wasn’t really who I wanted to be.
Suggested Reading: House by Ted Dekker (not for the faint-hearted); Spiritual Warfare by Joseph Prince, who discusses how-to’s of binding the Spirit of Strife; and Dr. Caroline Leaf’s Switch on Your Brain: The Key to Peak Happiness, Thinking, and Health, in which Dr. Leaf states, The great news is that we are wired for love, which means all our mental circuitry is wired only for the positive, and we have a natural optimism bias wired into us.
Key to Victory: Know and refuse your enemy.