Friday, September 27, 2013

God and in-laws

In his commentary on the Lord’s Prayer, St. Thomas Aquinas said, “The Lord's Prayer is the most perfect of prayers. . . . In it we ask, not only for all the things we can rightly desire, but also in the sequence that they should be desired. This prayer not only teaches us to ask for things, but also in what order we should desire them.” By petitioning God, “Thy will be done,” grace is also given to prioritize how we love those who are closest to us. But in the absence of this grace or with the lack of proper spiritual formation, this proper sequence of desires and love’s priority will suffer want. This is especially important for those who believe they are called to the vocation of marriage.

Any marriage-prep program worthy of the name will communicate the following advice to engaged couples: “Make sure you soon-to-be spouse loves God more than you; and you more than his parents.” As for the first part, it suggests that your prospective spouse will put God first in his life. But by putting God first, his spouse will be a strong second with no rivals. In other words, the distance between his first love (i.e. God) and his second love (i.e. wife), creates the same distance between his second love (i.e. wife) and the love of everyone else; including mom, dad, and siblings. In fact, by making sure the needs and the wishes of his wife comes first, he, at the same time, helps to strengthen his relationship with God. After all, it is God’s will that he should put his spouse above all other human beings, including his own children.

Right priorities: God first, spouse second, and children third! If this order is preserved and put into effect, marriages and families do well. Well defined boundaries are then put in place to protect outside intruders, namely, boundary-deficient in-laws. But the absence of well-defined boundaries will inevitably create trouble for married couples. And according to Dr. Phil, the following are habits are symptomatic of boundary-deficient spouses and in-laws:

• Mother-in-law is insensitive; doesn't respect boundaries
• Mother-in-law is overly dependent on son for emotional and lifestyle support
• Partner clearly puts mother-in-law needs/requests ahead of yours
• Partner talks to mother daily; drops everything when she calls
• Partner values mother's advice and opinions over yours
• Partner runs to mother when arguments occur
• Mother-in-law attacks your character
• Mother-in-law treats her son like he's still a child/competes with you
• Mother-in-law actively campaigns against your marriage

Every single one of these characteristics betrays St. Thomas Aquinas’ proper sequence of desires. What many do not realize is that putting first things first can be an occasion of division. As for our Lord Jesus, he cautioned his followers that by putting him first will inevitably lead to conflict or division even within the family. He said, “For I have come to set a man 'against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and one's enemies will be those of his household.' Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me…” (Matthew 10:35-37)

Notice that the line in the sand is not between the husband and the wife; rather, it is between other family relations. Jesus, here, is saying: “Listen. To love me above family may cause tension with those family members. But in the end, your life will prosper in spite of it.” Just as loving Christ more than family can have the potential of conflict and division, so too does loving one’s spouse more than parents and siblings. Indeed, the consequences of putting husband or wife first may involve losing the favor and esteem of loved ones. But in the larger scheme of things, making the spouse the highest priority (second to God) will create a balance in the network of our relationships. And from this balance comes fulfillment. As for those who wince at the cost, have them consider the alternative.

Do not think that a married man or a married woman who bends over backwards to appease their parents and siblings avoids conflict. Quite the contrary, they just choose that the conflict be with their spouse…where it absolutely should not be. In other words, they choose to make the wrong people happy at the expense of the right people. And if we were to trace this chain of unhappy events back to its origin, we would find a person who did seek to please God in everything as the highest of his priorities.