I do not know what it was about that café on that particular rainy spring day. Perhaps it was the warm cup of chai soothing my sore throat, or the plate of steaming hot beans set before me. Or maybe it was because I was dreaming up plans for household organization rather than studying the local language. Whatever it was, I suddenly felt an overwhelming sense of joy and peace in being right here, in this city, at this time, with this people who would consider me to be a yabanci (foreigner). What surprised me even more was the love I felt bubbling up inside my soul.
My husband could not have been more surprised or more pleased by the text he received from me that day.
“I love it here!” That is all I wrote. Four simple words, yet it took me three years to write them. Can love really be so hard to come by? You see, living here in this unreached country which is 99.9% Muslim has at times nearly sucked the very life out of me. I came because I believe this is where God is calling us to serve at this time, but I honestly have not had a natural love for this people or this country.
I hate to admit it, but I have often been like a stubborn mule protesting at its master’s leading. I have been willing to obey, but more out of a sense of sacrifice rather than love.
Jesus Himself said, I desire mercy, and not sacrifice (Mat. 9:13). As hard as I have tried, I cannot muster up love for these people on my own. My husband and I have been slandered and gossiped against. We have been rejected, misunderstood, and taken for granted. The hurt is real. The pain runs deep. How then can I love, when each time I try it feels like a slap in the face?
Jesus said we are to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us (Mat. 5:44). He summarized this incredibly difficult task with an even more impossible one: You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect (vs. 48). There is no humanly-possible way for me to fulfill these commands. First of all, have you ever tried to love an enemy? And secondly, no one is perfect!
Now, flash back to that rainy day when love poured out of me for a people and a place that have caused us such real pain. Where did that love come from? It was not natural. That un-natural love came from the One who loves perfectly on our behalf. From the One who is my perfection. I have come to realize that the harder I try to love these people, the more impossible the task becomes. My love falls short—but His love knows no boundaries.
It was Christ’ love that day which enabled me to bubble up till I overflowed with a surprising “I love it here!” text to my husband. It will be Christ’s love alone that will supply me with the ability to go against all odds and continue to love—to love UN-naturally.
Question to consider: Have you been able to move from “obedience as a sacrifice” to “obedience as love”? If so, how?