How to pray for your in-law relationships during the holidays

November 25, 2021

For many, love, family, and favorite foods stir up happy dreams of coming home for the holidays. For others, gathering with family is more like a nightmare. Dashed hopes, unmet expectations, and disappointments lead to family fissures and intentional distancing. While this applies to any family relationship, this can be particularly difficult with in-laws. But, in the midst of what seems impossible, the good news is that God can bring hope into the most hopeless and hard relationships.

Everyone has a dream

The mother-in-law/daughter-in-law relationship can be especially complex. Each woman comes to the newly-created family with a dream. A mother-in-law may dream of carrying on with her traditions. Or, she may look at the relationship as a way to start over and make right what she did wrong in the past. Likewise, a daughter-in-law may dream of starting traditions of her own. And while she knows confidence in her new role will take time, she expects respect for her desire and effort. 

So, what could go wrong with wanting to spend time together as a family? Us! Our broken world and our own broken hearts stain our best efforts. Sin twists our good desires into unreasonable expectations. Unmet expectations can lead us to manipulate or guilt trip those we love best, and we get full of anger and resentment. But our emotions shouldn’t control us. We can ask God to show us where our good desires went wrong and plead for the grace to change. 

One year I started to dream of a holiday celebration with those I love most. Like a playwright, I turned my precious dreams into a complete story. I planned to a fault. I wrote mental notes of every scene imaginable. No one had access to the script, but I expected everyone to play their part in my dream perfectly. It didn’t take long, though, to realize that each person in my family came with their own dreams. I was surprised and hurt by unmet expectations.  

I’ve recently written a book with my daughter-in-law Stacy titled, Making Room for Her: Biblical Wisdom for a Healthier Relationship with Your Mother-In-Law or Daughter-In-Law. Writing together has helped us have some good conversations. We’ve learned a lot about loving each other well. Frustrations are certain. But we need to remember that we love each other, and our expectations usually arise out of good intentions. 

A better dream

Though working through these relationships can be frustrating, the answer isn’t to throw our hands up in the air and give up. God created relationships to help us see what his real love looks like. Your relationship with your mother-in-law or daughter-in-law — and every family member — is no exception. Our relationships are designed to not only show us what God’s love for us looks like, but also so that we can embody that kind of love. If you give up now, you’ll miss out on a chance not only to know God better, but to become more like him. 

Maybe you think, “Holidays will always be tough. You don’t know my in-law. I can’t love her. I’ve tried and tried — nothing I do makes any difference.” Here’s the truth: When you received Christ’s salvation by faith, God forgave you, and he did not leave you to try and live the Christian life on your own. He filled you with his Spirit (Gal. 3:14), and will do in you what you cannot do for yourself (Gal. 5:13–15; 22–23). 

Love for your in-law is the fruit that grows in your life by the Spirit’s power working in you. Notice what this means: You cannot produce this love on your own. Let this truth encourage you. Love is a fruit of the Spirit. If you could naturally love your in-law, it would be a fruit of your personality or your emotional intelligence. True love never happens without God’s Spirit working in you. 

God’s bigger dreams 

How does love keep growing in your heart? The same way it began: by faith in God. Faith comes by hearing the Word of God (Rom. 10:17). And God’s Word assures us that he loves us and will give us all we need to produce the fruit of love. Even in the most difficult of in-law relationships, God fills us with his Spirit so we keep growing in his love by faith. Only he can do it, so let’s ask him. Here are a few ways you can pray for you in-law relationships this season. 

Ask God for love. Pray for more love for him, your husband, and your in-law. Commit to pray for your in-law. Let your life and words be filled with courtesy and grace. 

Ask God for contentment. Pray for rest in your in-law role (Phil. 4:10–13). Take stock of how God blesses you every day, no matter how your role changes. Add your in-law to your list of blessings. Embrace her as a companion to your entire family. Realize her presence brims with beautiful potential. Trust in the Lord and take delight in him (Psa. 37:3–6). Commit your way to him and he will give you more love, joy, and peace. Choose to view your in-law in the ways you hope she’d view you. Trust God to help you grow to cherish her presence in your life.

Ask God to help you recognize your blind spots. Pray he’s help you repent quickly of jealousy and pride. Stop comparisons. Don’t view your relationship as a competition. Your in-law does not have it all. She needs your support, not your insecurity. Just like you, your in-law has problems, trials, and weaknesses. Ask God to help you learn to celebrate your in-law’s joy and success. Seek to reconcile, not to win. 

Ask God to help you forgive. The natural barriers between mothers- and daughters-in-law can make unforgiveness grow. We all need constant reminders to forgive. Has she hurt you? Has she wounded you? Ask God for a heart to forgive any slights. Don’t wait until you feel like it or she apologizes. Talk to her when the time is appropriate, and be ready to forgive her. Committed love promises forgiveness. And do not allow self-pity to eat away at your relationship. As you repent and forgive, God will teach you to love your in-law for who she is, not for what she will give you (Eph. 4:31–32). 

Our dreams for the holidays and for our lives are so small. God’s dream is always greater than we can imagine (Eph. 3:20). Your relationship with your in-law is a building block toward God’s greater vision. Begin now to ask Christ to make your in-law relationship part of his strong foundation for many faithful generations of your family to come (Isa. 58:12) — and to make this a happier, enjoyable holiday. 

Barbara Reaoch

Barbara Reaoch, author of A Jesus Easter, is former director of the Children’s Division of Bible Study Fellowship. She loves God, her husband, their family, and writing gospel-centered family materials. www.barbarareaoch.com Read More

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24