When I Would Rather Hit You Than Love You

I really loved the people of my host country before we came. I mean, I prayed for them, I sacrificed for them, I fought for them and advocated for them, I spoke in front of groups for them! It was a God given love fueled by excitement at what the future could be.

And then we moved here.

For awhile the excitement held through the stressors. The new houses, the new tastes, the new language and the new people all brought with them a sense of adventure and the future still held such promise. I loved the people and I loved their smiles, they were so friendly, and I just knew God would do amazing things.

Then we were robbed. Then I was sold eggs for triple the price. Then I was blamed for things that weren’t my fault. Then I was yelled at as we walked the streets. Then we were touched and grabbed until my children would cry and as my language improved I began to understand the words behind those friendly smiles.

Sometimes smiles hide the meanest words.

My love for my people has dwindled. In fact, it is bordering on non-existent, which I hear is quite normal for a newbie first termer such as myself, but I miss the old me who loved. The old me who was so passionate. The old me who was untouched by the reality of humiliation and stress.  I miss the old idealistic me.

It must be by God’s design that I now find myself deeply enmeshed in 1 John, a book of love.

Love your brother.

Love one another.

Those who abide in God’s love.

Those who know God’s love.

I want to ask these questions of God, “But, who IS my brother, really? Do I have to love these people or can I just love my fellow Christians? Can’t I just love those who love me back? Those who help me? Those who are kind to me? Do I have to love those who despise me? Those who use me? Those who objectify me?”

I don’t know, it sounds so Christ-like to love like that, but I want so desperately to hold onto my anger, to find a loophole that delivers me from the pressure to love those who disdain me and end the war raging in my soul.

“In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son as the propitiation for our sins.” 1 John 4:10

I feel it in my bones.

True love, love that comes from God, is a love that doesn’t need to be met with equal love, or any love, for that matter. It’s a love that perseveres through the mocking humiliation that comes daily.

“By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.” 1 John 3:16

True love is expressed in death, his death, my death, our death and it brings life.

“So, death is at work in us, but life in you.” 2 Corinthians 4:12

My death = Their life

It is really quite easy to love someone theoretically from a distance, it is quite another to be faced with a daily death of self, where your weaknesses are exposed and your value is diminished, where you feel unsafe and insecure. That kind of love MUST come from God alone and that love is the real Christ exposing love.

This kind of God given sacrificial love actually requires real life sacrifice and there is a tension in my soul because true sacrifice is true loss and I feel it. I believe Christ felt it too. The pain from the mockery, the tiredness from the crowds, always misunderstood. Yet he endured, with joy, for our sake, to manifest perfect love.

I miss idealistic me because of the passion I once had to see people changed by the gospel, but old idealistic me didn’t truly love this people, how could I? The love had not yet been tried. Now I have an opportunity, an exciting one, to love for real and to love as Christ loves, unconditionally for the sake of those who have not yet heard.

To walk what Jesus walked and manifest his love by willingly accepting the humiliation that has and will come.

“Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church.” Colossians 1:24


What have you been learning about loving those you came to serve?

Did you find it was “love at first sight” when you got to your host country? Or did love have to grow?



  1. Jennifer April 27, 2016

    Thank you Joy for your honesty. This is my fourth year hear South America. (so I count myself a still a relative newbie as well). As I read your post I found myself thinking, “Yep, felt that today. Felt that on Sunday…” This was truly something I just didn’t expect while raising funds and probably my first year on “the field.”

    I have been struggling with this very thing. I have been thinking of it as cynicism and having lost hope or drive for what I do.

    Your words really spoke directly to the issues that have been bothering me. I love how you talked about how Jesus must have felt ostracized, misunderstood, humiliated, yet he endured. This is just what I needed to hear today. Now I know how to pray for my heart, and some scripture to memorize so that I can pray them when I am feeling ostracized, misunderstood, or humiliated.

    1. Joy Smalley April 28, 2016

      Jennifer, I am glad that the article spoke to you and that it was relatable. I really like how you mentioned memorizing the scriptures and praying for your own heart. I think I am going to “steal” that and use that in my own life 🙂

  2. Amy Young April 27, 2016

    I am a pretty good theoretical love too 🙂

    1. Joy Smalley April 28, 2016

      Then I’m in good company!

  3. Stacy April 28, 2016

    This rings true! It should be required reading for trainees and sending bodies.

    1. Joy Smalley April 28, 2016

      Thank you Stacy, I hope that people are encouraged by it!

  4. Carola Santos April 28, 2016

    For years, I´ve been trying to understand myself. Why am I sometimes not able to love the people that I serve? How can I not, being an overseas worker. A lot of times I was thinking that I must be a very bad cross cultural worker. This finally gave me the answer I was needing. I can´t, but God trough me. Thank you so much for this. (English is my third language, so I hope you understand, what I´m wanting to say.)

    1. Joy Smalley April 28, 2016

      Thank you Carola, I am so glad that it helped give words to what you have been feeling and I agree it is only God’s loving through us, it is not in our own effort, that true love is exposed.

  5. Anita April 29, 2016

    This article is so spot on. We have been in Central America for 3.5 years and it is hard sometimes. We just want to love them and they don’t always accept it. Through God’s amazing grace, we keep pushing on so they can learn to accept our love. It is hard not to feel like they only want us for the resources we offer. Jesus is the best gift we have. Sometimes, forming relationships with them is so hard, but occasionally it happens and the blessings roll in. I am thankful for the few who are able to accept our love. I love your perspective about how Jesus suffered. I needed that. Also to hear that others on the field have this same issue. Thanks for being so open and vunerable.

    1. Joy Smalley April 29, 2016

      Thank you Anita. I agree that we need to place Jesus at the forefront, remembering that he is the reason that we persevere because he is worth it 🙂 Blessings to you in Central America!

  6. Jodie April 29, 2016

    This is so true on the field, and I found myself thinking of adoption too. My husband told our social worker at our one year home study that we entered the adoption journey because we thought we had love to share, but God has been showing us that this journey was for us–so He could teach us how to love. We have so much to learn, from the idealistic love from a distance to the love up close that’s not natural or easy.

    1. Joy Smalley April 29, 2016

      Hi Jodie, I can totally see it’s relationship to adoption also! I love how you said the up-close love is not natural or easy. That’s the truth, isn’t it? It’s not natural or easy and only God can sustain it.

  7. Annalisa April 29, 2016

    I think I have said that exact sentence to my husband: ‘I miss the old idealistic me’. I’m also a relative ‘newbie’ and often feel so full of doubt rather than the passion I got off the plane with… But your encouragement to see this is an opportunity to develop a true, proven love was a really helpful perspective-changer. Instead of mourning the ‘old me’, I must trust God to form that new creation in me that’s more like him. Thanks!

    1. Joy Smalley April 29, 2016

      Annalisa, I am so glad it was an encouragement to you. It was an encouragement to me as I wrote it and processed through my own heart. I love that we are all in God’s hands. Nothing is without purpose, even the crumbling and loss of idealism is necessary, so that in it’s place God can build a stronger foundation for love.

  8. Jenilee April 30, 2016

    reading this and waking up to a new security threat from the embassy. whew.

    “It is really quite easy to love someone theoretically from a distance, it is quite another to be faced with a daily death of self, where your weaknesses are exposed and your value is diminished, where you feel unsafe and insecure. That kind of love MUST come from God alone and that love is the real Christ exposing love.”

    1. Joy Smalley April 30, 2016

      Hi Jenilee, I just woke up to one of those embassy emails this morning! It always send a little shock wave through me as reality hits.

  9. Ellie April 30, 2016

    Amen. That’s pretty much all. 🙂

    Tired, check, emotionally exhausted, check, trying to love through the suffering and knowing more fully what it *means* to love and give up it all and how that’s not at all easy.. yep.. that’s pretty much where I’m at.. Thanks for sharing your words!

    1. Joy Smalley April 30, 2016

      Thank you Ellie! I am so glad I am not alone!

  10. Spring April 30, 2016

    Joy thank you so much for this post. I am a newbie myself and it is good to see I’m not alone! Sometimes I think to myself about all of these awesome women who write for here and have all of these years under their belts.. maybe they didn’t have the struggles I seem to have.

    What a great command and reminder. For me it has been a challenge to love my teammate.  A few months ago my husband kept saying “I know you don’t like her” and I struggled to admit it.  I struggle with what love looks like, but I believe this is where we become wholly dependent on the Holy Spirit to guide us.

    1. Joy Smalley April 30, 2016

      Spring, I am so happy that it resonated with you. I definitely relate and you are most assuredly not alone.

  11. Hannah Davis May 2, 2016


    Having grown up together as TCK’s, it was special to me to see God’s grace working in you to serve other women this way and to read about what the Lord is teaching you as you persevere in the first stages of  ministry in your new Field. Thanks for your willingness to serve women in this way. We always knew you would be a writer someday, didn’t we? 🙂

    It strikes me as I read this, that this really could apply to women in ministry anywhere. Pastor’s wives, church planting wives, wives of evangelists, etc. Only ministry wives in their “home” country (let’s face it, no country is really “home” until heaven) are probably more likely to experience this pressure from Christians. From the people in their own church. From within. While those in foreign fields might experience it both in the church and from outside, depending on their situation. As a church ministry wife, there will be criticisms of your husband’s pastoral ministry – his preaching, the way he communicates or doesn’t communicate, his leadership, his decisions, his discipleship, his facial expressions, his… fill in the blank. And many times people will tell their grievances to you rather than taking it directly to him or other leadership, because, well, you are less assuming and less intimidating. You are just the wife. This may happen especially often in young or immature churches. It is easy to love your church family before you meet them! And yes, as you said, this is a wonderful opportunity to learn how to love for real. And to have the privilege to share in the sufferings of our Lord. If our Lord was mistreated and reviled continually by outsiders, and even misunderstood and criticized by His own disciples, how can we, His servants, expect better treatment than our Master? We need to adjust our expectations in ministry. I love that you quoted 1 John 3:16 – our love has to be founded and sustained in the gospel, in God’s word, or it is not real love, and it will not last. We need to be daily humbled by deep meditation on God’s gospel grace in our own lives, or we will not be able to respond with self-effacing love and compassion towards others’ sin (especially when it is directed at us). We need to do away with our “us” vs. “them” mentality and learn to really, really identify with the people we are serving. Just like Christ identified with us in our frail humanity so that He would be able to sympathize with our weaknesses (Hebrews 4:15). We need to be so lost in wonder that God would forgive US! Even Me! The worst of sinners! – That we are joyfully ready to walk through rough waters with others.

    Thank you for this great well-worded reminder, I will probably tuck this article away for future discipleship use with other ministry wives. 🙂 Praying for you guys and keeping up with your updates.

    1. Joy Smalley May 2, 2016

      Hannah! Hi! It’s been ages!

      I completely agree that this applies to all areas of ministry and even life in general. It is not just a cross-cultural phenomenon but I really do believe that love that comes from Christ is a self-sacrificial one and self- sacrifice takes a literal cost and real loss is always hard. Women in all forms of ministry wether at church or in the home can/would experience similar feelings and I agree that as we rest in the reality of Christ’s sacrifice we can more willingly and joyfully sacrifice ourselves for others.

      I am so happy to hear from you! Thank you for the encouragement Hannah!

      1. Hannah Davis May 2, 2016

        Hi, Joy! 🙂 Amen! Would love to get back in touch personally… Can I just reply to your newsletter email? I do pray for you guys.

  12. Nancy Peckham May 2, 2016

    Dear Joy,

    What a joy to read this post. You are processing well what you are experiencing and what your responses are. I’m privileged to know you. Thank you for this, and will be praying.

    Love, Nancy

    1. Joy Smalley May 2, 2016

      Thank you Nancy! I am forever grateful for your prayers.

      Love, Joy

  13. Taylor May 22, 2017

    Love this. It so resonated with me – we are about 8 months in and life here can just be so exhausting between dogs barking and chasing us, people asking for things all the time, people yelling at us all the time, people thinking I don’t understand the language and talking about me in front of me. Tiring stuff that can make it hard to love people in my own strength.

    1. Joy Smalley May 24, 2017

      Hi Taylor! I am glad that it resonated with you! I can relate to all the exhausting and tiring new sounds and experiences that wipe you out. We definitely can’t love in our own strength when we can barely breathe, eh? May God extend his grace to you as you finish out your first year in your new home and I pray that he gives you glimpses of sweet relationship in the midst of all the emotional/spiritual/physical up and downs. Cause it’s just down right hard.

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