A prayer with my mother-in-law

June 28, 2008 | 14 comments


My mother-in-law, Yaya, has been here since Monday. She came up here to show me the error of my potty training ways, only to find that she met her match with my children (one of them in particular). Also, she and I see the world different ways — we have different views on whether or not ice cream is one of the four food groups, different levels of tolerance for potty training accidents on the carpet before giving up in defeat, different perspectives on which live insects make suitable toys for children — and these differences occasionally led to some tension throughout the week.

Yesterday afternoon, it reached a boiling point.

It wasn’t anything she or I did, just the facts of the situation. With all the urine- and feces-related accidents and the chaos of trying to potty train two toddlers at once and the suffocating heat and our limited ability to leave the house, this week has been like being trapped in a hot, noisy septic tank with a loud television that plays outdated “potty time” videos from the 80’s over and over and OVER again.

Sometime after lunch, we were both about to snap. The situation was going down the toilet (PUN INTENDED). I didn’t know what to do. I’d tried everything to make it better: I’d wallowed in self-pity, complained to my mother-in-law, sent multiple emails to my husband about how frustrated I was — nothing was working!

Finally, when prayer time rolled around, I did something I almost never do: I asked another person to pray with me. Given my background, this is not something I’m used to at all — especially with my mother-in-law, since we almost never talk about faith. But, having exhausted all my options that involved ignoring God to handle the situation on my own, I finally clued in that there might be a better way. I asked my mother-in-law to join me in praying the opening Psalm for Matins.

“Jesus, we really need your help today, ” she said as I crossed myself. “We ask you to be with us.” We both said a heartfelt amen. And together we prayed Psalm 55.

It’s funny what happens when two people spontaneously stop to turn their eyes to God in the midst of a stressful situation. She is a lifelong Southern Baptist. I am a Catholic, a recent convert from atheism. Our backgrounds and worship styles could not be more different. And yet the words of the anguished Psalmist united us; the act of humbling ourselves before God (and one another) to admit that we needed help changed everything. When we were done, there was an unmistakable feeling of peace. Sure enough, the Holy Spirit had accepted our invitation to enter the room.

Prayer is always an act of humility, and even more so in a situation like ours yesterday. Praying together forced us to unite as Christians and daughters of God, and to share in our mutual need of his mercy. It made us remember that that situation was so much bigger than our different views on diapers or reward systems or the origin of that brown stain in front of the couch. Amidst our differences, it reminded us of something on which we were in agreement: that this situation was nothing more or less than an opportunity to love and serve God; and that the best way to do that would be to love and serve one another.


  1. Antique Mommy

    Part of the power of praying is the effect is has on the person offering the prayers, regardless of whether or not those prayers are answered as requested. When you assume the posture of humility and seek to be still, half of the prayer is answered.

  2. Abigail

    Tears in my eyes! This is what all wives and mother-in-laws need to do. Ruth and Noami were doing cartwheels together in Heaven during this group “prayer time.”

  3. Mary@notbefore7

    You have captured it beautifully. Amen.

  4. Amy Jane (Untangling Tales)

    What a beautiful reminder.

    The last 24 hours held the closest I think I’ve ever come to a panic attack (nothing to do with my family)and my prayers concerning my anxiety (that I oh-so-carefully presented before I dove up-to-neck in procrastinating) were answered more completely and perfectly than I would have dared to ask for.

    (All I can say about that.)

    I am so thankful for God’s faithfulness and perfect timing.

  5. Sarah

    When two atheists stop to do a Mindfulness Meditation, you get the exact same effect. I know because I was a devout, born-again-Christian for nearly 20 years, but I have more peace now with meditation and the knowledge that there is no god. Good wishes to you, either way.

  6. Hope T.

    I read this post yesterday and thought about it during the night. My current parenting dilemma is not potty training but a baby who won’t sleep. Thank you for giving discouraged mothers like me a different perspective on things.

    By the way, is the video the one with the clown and the birthday party where all the children go to the bathroom? If it is, take comfort that your not the only one who has heard those less-than-dulcet tunes a few too many times.

  7. Laura

    What a wonderful post. I wish I could pray with my mother-in-law. Maybe someday. I am also in the throes of potty training my seventh child who is over 3 and he has put me through the ringer. He will go if you take him (although not poop, of course) but if you forget for that one hour, he has no qualms about peeing in his pants. I would love to hear what you have been trying as nothing seems to be working for us, either. God Bless

  8. asv

    Beautiful and uplifting post. Thank you and God bless you! Angie

  9. november


    The power of prayer cannot be underestimated during conflict. It is such a blessing that you have a mother-in-law who is also a believer (and with whom you can pray). Thanks be to God!

  10. Sara

    I would never have believed that potty training was so stressful before I had kids . . . with our third, I’m going very low-key. I think that potty training is one of the number one areas that we tend to forget that our children are their own individual persons and we treat them like objects. “*I* am going to train *that* child . . .” we assign success and failure to ourselves, when really, ultimately it is the choice and success of the child–

  11. Carrien

    Nature’s Miracle-gets poop stains out of carpet and off of upholstery, and erases the smell of pee.

    It truly is a miracle (Pun intended) of the most practical.

    Not to downplay the rest of your post by any means. 🙂

  12. Shannon

    Excellent reminder. Prayer changes things. I need to be praying more often, but often forget and chose to take things on my own. I’m always pleasantly surprised to see God’s hand when I invite Him into a situation.

  13. Multiple Mom T

    That is awesome!!

    So often I feel the prompting to pray and squelch it. I’m ashamed to admit it, but there I am.

    Trying to be a light out here, though….praying constantly!

  14. Kristen Laurence

    What a beautiful account of a grace-filled moment. May our Lord continue to bless you both!

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