A Thankful Father-in-law
For about a year now, I have been Christina's father-in-law.
She and Patrick live in Los Angeles while my wife and I live in the Bay Area, a good seven-hour drive apart. They have come to see us a few times and we have been to their home a number of times. We have also come to know her parents, brother, sister, grandmothers and some of the members of her extended family. We cannot ask for a better relationship.
Months before Thanksgiving '99, Christina invited Maryann and I to spend their first Thanksgiving with them at their home. As I pondered upon the situation, I realized a truth about reality and perception: reality itself is almost unimportant compared with the meaning a person assigns to it.
For example, take the reality of the invitation. Here we have a daughter-in-law who thinks enough of us to ask us to spend her first Thanksgiving as the wife of our son with them. Great!
Here is a possible father-in-law's distortion of that reality: why did she invite us to go to their place for Thanksgiving instead of coming up to OUR place for her first Thanksgiving as my daughter-in-law? You know, according to Chinese culture, it is always the younger generation who has to visit the older generation and not the other way around. Is she disrespectful of me by inviting me to her place? This misperception of reality can turn the best of intentions into the worst of motives.
Another reality: she fixed the perfect Thanksgiving dinner for us. She also invited her parents and grandmother. The setting, the food, the company and the whole atmosphere was the fulfillment of every American dream of what a Thanksgiving gathering ought to be.
The distortion of reality: how come there was not even one Chinese dish? In all that time spent in preparing the food, why did she not even make a little effort to fix some Chinese dish to please her father-in-law?
So you see, unless the older folks have a proper perception of things, there is nothing the younger folks can do to please them. On the other hand, if the older folks can look at things with thankful, appreciative and grateful eyes, then there is almost nothing the young folks can do wrong.
I thank the Lord for giving Maryann and me our daughter-in-law. In fact, I prefer to call her our daughter-by-grace. It is by the grace of God that we can have her as our daughter. On her part, I hope she thinks of me not as her father-in-law but father-by-choice. It was by Patrick's choice, and it was by her choice when she accepted Patrick's proposal, that I became her father.
If I think of Christina as my daughter-by-grace and thank God for finally giving me a daughter (I have only a brother and two sons and always wanted a daughter!), then I can interpret her action, the reality, in a positive light.
It does not matter if the reality is an invitation or the lack of it, whether there is a Chinese dish or not or whatever else the reality may hold in the future, it is my perception and my interpretation of her action that is most important.
Nobody can please another person at all times. But it is also true that if a person chooses to interpret a particular person's action in a positive light, there is almost nothing that particular person can do to displease the other.
This can be applied to our relationship with God. If our relationship with God is good, then we can interpret everything that God allows to happen to us in a positive light.
In fact, this was exactly true with the prophet Habakkuk.
Habakkuk's perception of reality was total barrenness and destitution. He describes his environment saying, "the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines...the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food... there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls." In spite of
Habakkuk's perceptions, he still responded to his reality proclaiming, "I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Savior" (Hab. 3:19). Habakkuk's faith in God was not dependent on the reality. In fact, his faith in God shaped his perception of reality and ultimately determined his response to it.
Reality is important but the perception of and the response to reality is even more important.
Take it from one happy father-by-choice.