27. As She Prayed

27. As She Prayed

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Power of Forgiveness

As She Prayed

You don’t need strength to let go of something. What you really need is understanding.

~Guy Finley

Even though my ex-husband and I had recently divorced, his family and I enjoyed a pleasant relationship. Throughout the divorce, my sister-in-law and I had remained friends. She lived around the corner from me, so we often socialized. Unfortunately my niece—her older daughter—had experienced painful headaches for several months. As the headaches increased in intensity, the family traveled out of state to consult with a specialist.

When my sister-in-law called to give me an update, I immediately sensed something was wrong. “They discovered a brain tumor,” she murmured. Several minutes passed before her words sunk in. “The operation’s been scheduled for tomorrow, but they won’t know if they can remove it all or if it is malignant until they reach it. Please keep us in your prayers.”

“How is your mom handling this news?” I asked, for I knew my mother-in-law had offered to stay at their home and watch their other two children. “Do you think she’d like company while the operation is taking place?”

“Would you mind?” she asked with a relieved tone.

“Not at all,” I replied, and hung up the phone.

Everyone knew I had a turbulent relationship with my mother-in-law. Before the wedding, our relationship seemed amicable. Yet after the marriage, it became volatile. Of course, I respected my elders, but the wicked mother-in-law characters portrayed on TV portrayed my mother-in-law perfectly.

Nothing I did satisfied her. As a result, she never hesitated to publicly voice her distaste. She stuck her nose where it didn’t belong while she endlessly doted on her son. Whenever she disagreed with my actions, she would become verbally abusive. In truth, I felt intimidated, so I kept my distance.

However, at this moment, I envisioned her with her grandkids, feeling distraught and alone. As a mother, I could not imagine how anxious she felt. Officially, she was not my mother-in-law, but I felt a deepening urge to reach out and protect her from all of this.

That afternoon, my children stayed at the neighbor’s house while I walked to my sister-in-law’s home. My mother-in-law stood waiting at the door.

“Thank you so much for coming,” she said, in her thick Dutch accent. “I’m so worried about her.” Both of us had received news that they shaved my niece’s head and presented her beautiful auburn locks to her mother.

“Would you like tea?” she asked. But before I could answer, she poured me a cup. “Would you like to pray?” I asked, and then glanced at the clock. “It’s almost time.”

“Oh yes, please,” she replied. Her hands trembled as she pulled out her delicate handkerchief and dabbed the tears from her eyes. Without hesitation, I clasped her hands tightly in mine.

As she prayed, I opened my eyes and searched this woman’s face for answers. Where had we gone wrong? When had I passed judgment and decided she was cold and callous? At this moment she seemed anything but intimidating. In fact, she appeared vulnerable and terrified.

Suddenly, the years of built-up baggage released and a channel opened. It felt as if a vacuum cleaner had sucked away my grudges. By the time she had finished her prayer, the bottled-up anger and hatred ceased to exist. At the same time, I felt relieved and refreshed.

For the first time in eight years, she was simply a woman. I harbored no animosity, no defensive walls, and no hostility. As a result, I listened to her words with an earnest and unprejudiced heart. She spoke frankly about her life in Holland, the death of her first husband, and her marital problems.

Even though she never apologized for her behavior, I felt as if she had. While it was too late for us as mother-in-law and daughter-in-law, suddenly I had nothing but compassion for this woman, and an immense sense of freedom. Through the power of forgiveness, I had obtained complete liberation.

Eventually my children and I relocated to another state. Several years later, my mother-in-law passed away. At that time, I heard that even after my ex-husband remarried, she had kept my photograph on her wall—in its place—with the family photos. When I heard about the photograph, I smiled. It appeared that not only had I forgiven her, but perhaps the photograph symbolized that I too had finally received her forgiveness.

~Jill Burns

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