When I Would Rather Hit You Than Love You

When I Would Rather Hit You Than Love You

I really loved the people of my host country before we went. 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 there.

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 dwindled. In fact, it bordered 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. Ellie November 14, 2019

    Wow Joy, this is challenging. I hear you on the humilliation although our circumstances will have been different – I remember being severely ripped off by a street vendor from an ethnic minority and walking away feeling so angry and tearful, feeling betrayed and thinking “I want to go back and tell you how you’re giving your people a bad reputation – reinforcing the stereoptypes I’m trying to break!” I remember being followed round a local store by security guards regularly because I was a foreigner and they thought I must be untrustworthy. It is so hard to lay down our reputations. I somehow was thinking: “But you must/should know I’m a good person” – (maybe because I’m white and speak English that kind of discrimination was relatively new to me?! 🙁 )
    And I hear you on the loving people more real-ly when it’s been tested. Now I’ve been “home” for a while and I still feel pain with those in my former host country when they struggle, as if they’re still here with me. I am reflecting that it’s a family kind of love. Families are far from perfect but our ties run deep..

    And also thinking that we become weary and travel worn as it were. I think we were really close to burn out when we came “home” (after 8 years on the field and the multiple changes that represents) and some of those daily stressors take such a toll. So although fighting on is a good option, being kind, super-kind to ourselves and looking really carefully at my “shoulds” and musts has become something more of a reflex for me as I have tried to stabilise – it’s amazing how much baggage I find myself carrying and God might not be asking of me directly but I put pressure on myself. Learning to ‘live’ a little more and release over-responsibility has been a hugely freeing thing for me recently and I will pray for your grace and energy levels and self compassion in case that’s helpful for you too. Blessings friend.

    1. Joy Smalley November 17, 2019

      I love this, Ellie. I love what you say about looking carefully at all your shoulds and sorting through the baggage to discern what God is truly asking of us. It’s beautiful and true. I am finding that learning to love myself and all that I carry releases me to love others more fully and freely. Blessings to you.

  2. Michelle November 16, 2019

    This is so accurate and we’ll said. The challenge to love after cultural hurt is real

    1. Joy Smalley November 17, 2019

      Hi Michelle, that cultural hurt is so real and deep. Blessings to you.

  3. Theresa November 17, 2019

    Thanks for this honesty. We’re in a very international neighborhood: the people I came to love, immigrants and refugees, are not that hard to love… pretty regular amounts of difficulty, if there was a scale for such a thing. But the people of our host country, who are part of our package deal of holding out Christ as the hope for true reconciliation between us and God (and us and others, ironically) really ARE hard to love… they seem like they’re proud of it, too. So yes, hitting rather than loving sounds about right sometimes!! Have been struggling lately with having compassion (really, NOT having compassion, actually) toward the people who make up the host culture for so many others, and I have so much to learn.

    1. Joy Smalley January 2, 2020

      Hi Theresa. It is so hard to have compassion for people who are annoying and mean and hard to love. I wish there was an easy way to find grace within myself but I find that it tends to come in waves. Some days/years I can see the humanity of people and other days/years I just can’t seem to find any. Blessings to you as you weather this life, thank you for sharing your heart and your experience.

  4. Amber November 19, 2019

    Wow! this post! i know i’m late, but for what it’s worth, i am crying while typing this. Reading this through the lens of a recent and painful broken intercultural relationship, i’ve been feeling all these feelings recently. “I miss the old me who loved..the idealistic me.” Broken trust and feeling like i gave all commitment and sacrifice for others and came up empty handed and a hurting heart… thanks for the reminder that it’s with God’s love that i live and love others and to pick myself back up and find the new me.

    1. Joy Smalley January 2, 2020

      Oh man, Amber, broken trust is the worst! You can intellectually understand and mentally prepare for cross-cultural relational issues or hard team issues, but the reality of it happening is a lot more painful and traumatic than we can realize without experiencing it firsthand. I am so sorry that you are living that broken trust. Lord willing there will be healing but if there is not, I have no doubt that God is with you. Blessings.

  5. Emma December 16, 2019

    This was the most validating, humbling, honorable thing I’ve encountered in regards to these very real emotions we aren’t supposed to tell people. Thank you. I’m 3 years back stateside now, but this was so good for my soul. God is so faithful to sanctify us in the midst of all our shortcomings.

    1. Joy Smalley January 2, 2020

      Hi Emma. It’s true, isn’t it, that we aren’t supposed to express the lack of love (dare I say hate) that we can have for the people we serve. I’m blessed that this was validating for you, I know it was healing to write. Blessings.

  6. Bonita December 23, 2019

    Thank you for saying something that is not often expressed.

    1. Joy Smalley January 2, 2020

      You’re welcome, Bonita 🙂

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