A man went on safari with his wife and mother-in-law. One night the couple woke to find the mother gone. In a clearing, not far from the camp they came upon a chilling sight … the mother-in-law face-to-face with a snarling lion. The man’s wife said: “What are we going to do?” “Nothing!” replied the husband, “The lion got himself into this mess, he can get himself out of it.”
Mothers-in-law can be quite formidable it is true, but this is not necessarily a negative attribute. One of the things I respect about my mother-in-law, Olivia, is her ability to put things behind her and move on. We have recently helped move her out of her large detached five-bedroom cottage in Rodden, Dorset, to a much smaller cottage in Ebbesbourne Wake, Wiltshire … next door but one to Julia’s younger sister, Livy.
We were all rather anxious about this move … well everyone except Olivia herself as it turns out. Was it right to suggest to Olivia, in the first place, that she needed to move to be nearer one of us? How would she feel about leaving the lovely home she had lived in for 25 years? Could we have found a better alternative – hiring live in carers, for example – that would have enabled her to stay at Chipps Barton? What about all the hassle of selling the cottage, finding a new home, moving her out at her age, settling her into a new place, etc., etc.
In the end, it has all gone amazingly smoothly. The first couple to look at Chipps Barton bought it … although it took them three months to sell their own property. Miraculously, the cottage next door but one to Livy – Vine Cottage, the cottage Livy had always imagined her mother living in – suddenly became available. We could get all the work on Vine Cottage (mainly thanks to Livy’s organisational skills) done before Olivia moved in. The removal itself went well – apart from the fact that Olivia took far too much stuff with her, and we now have to ‘re-locate’ some of it – and Olivia is now very happily settled in to her new home, and she loves it.
What I have found personally both interesting and challenging, however – and evidence that a son-in-law has plenty to learn from his mother-in-law – is that whilst the rest of us were (and still are occasionally) worried that we have done the right thing in taking Olivia out of Chipps Barton, Olivia herself is not the least bit anxious. She has obviously ‘moved on’. She has never been one for ‘looking back’. She enjoyed living in Dorset but it was time to move on. There is a ‘new adventure’ ahead – a ‘new chapter’ in her life (even at 90) – and she is looking forward to it!
Thinking about my mother-in-law’s approach to life I found myself meditating on the story of Lot’s wife (Genesis 19) who suffered the fatal consequences of ‘looking back’ instead of moving forward, and the Apostle Paul’s exhortation to ‘forget the past and press on to what lies ahead’ (Philippians 3:13,14). We need to learn from the past, of course we do, but what a terrible thing it is to get stuck in the past! As an ‘old person’ myself (I shall be 75 next year) there is nothing worse in church life than old people who keep banging on about the past? Sadly, to listen to some Christians, the last time God did anything significant in their lives was 30 years ago or more? I am reminded of the old joke: ‘How many Baptists does it take to change a light bulb?’ ‘Change! Change! Who said anything about change!’
Society itself is not that much different, actually. The same disease of ‘backward-looking-ness’ can infect and cripple any individual, family, group, society, organisation, and so on. You don’t have to ‘be religious’ to catch this disease. If truth be told, at times, we all need a dose of what my mother-in-law has – the ability not to look back, and move on – to see life ahead as an exciting new adventure! If Olivia can do so at 90, surely we can do it whatever our age!