Meaning and purpose

in the life of a Christian


The experience of pain, in whatever form it takes is

universal. Human suffering is one of the world's greatest

unanswered questions. Especially during the newness of the

Christmas season, do we become more and more aware of the mystery

involved in it. I'm not writing this article to attempt an

answer to the suffering question. I am writing instead, simply

to share some of my thoughts and experiences on the matter.

Also, perhaps by examining my mistakes, and efforts in dealing

with pain, you will have something to fall back on when it comes

your way ... as it inevitably will.

Just by way of background, I was on Cross Fire '75, the team

to West Africa. I spent much of the fifteen months we traveled

in pain, and incredible fatigue. I never really took it too

seriously, as most of us were sick regularly. It became

frustrating for me, and the entire team though, when my illnesses

outweighed my healthy times. The situation reached a crisis the

final month of team when I just couldn't continue. I was

hospitalized at the end of August 1976, and due to the

persistence of a caring doctor, discovered I was the victim (and

had been for years) of an incurable, and oftentimes cruelly

painful disease called Systemic Lupus Erythemetosis. Lupus for

short. The cause, and the cure remain unknown.

I remember laying in the hospital in a state of dis-belief.

My head whirled with questions, but none so prevalent as the

eternal "why?" Why me ... why now ... why this? I was suddenly

faced with the reality that I would be dealing with pain on a day

to day basis for the rest of my life. In the fear that such

thoughts bring, I began to observe the attitudes toward suffering

in the people around me. Most of us view pain as something

alien, something to eradicate and be rid of as quickly as

possible. This attitude may be fine when you deal with ills that

are temporal, definable, and curable. But not all suffering

falls into those categories. What do we say to those ills and

accidents that leave their victims permanently disabled,

disfigured, or mentally incapacitated? We cannot simply dismiss

them. They are real, and difficult, and very much a mystery.

When a Christian deals with life situations, we must keep in

mind the fact that God is a mystery. He cannot be defined or

explained by our limited knowledge. Who hasn't heard someone in

desperation or grief ask the unanswerable "why?" And who had the

power and wisdom to respond? Once we accept that sometimes there

are no answers, at least for now, we experience a release of

those gnawing doubts, and become free to start learning. When

there are no answers, only questions for us, we must look to

Christ, and His example. Jesus felt. He hurt and laughed,

suffered and died as we all must. He was and is God incarnate,

sensitive counselor to our despair, as He has felt the very same

pain we do. C.S. Lewis, upon the death of a dear friend, wrote

in his book A Grief Observed:

"When I lay these questions before God, I get no answer.

But, a rather special no answer. It is not a locked door. It is

more like a silent, certainly not unkind gaze. As though He

shook His head, not in refusal, but waiving the question. Like,

'Peace Child, you don't understand."

The enigma of pain reflects the mystery of God. It begins

as a journey of trust. We can choose to accept and deal with our

frailty, or, like Ivan Dostoevsky stated, "If God offered me

suffering as a pass through life, I for one would return the

ticket." We can face, and even learn from the realities of our

humanity, or we can run from them.

Why must suffering remain a mystery? I can't give a pat

answer, but isn't it true that the times we are closest to the

Lord are those times we have no control? For me these are also

the hours of my greatest sensitivity and compassion to those near

me. It's only when our efforts to rationalize and eradicate

seemingly useless pain are gone, and we reach the end of our own

rope, we see Christ's strength available to us. If the mystery

were fully explained, there would be no crisis. Most of all,

there would be no need of our faith walk with God. Pain and

suffering are not some type of Cosmic Character Builders sent by

the Almighty. They are however, used by Him to strengthen and

cleanse our relationship to Him and to each other.

As Christians we believe that God's promises are true.

Romans 8:28 reminds us that the Lord is ever present and working

in our trials. Sometimes this is comforting, but often, the pain

is still there, and still very hard to cope with. Just because

we know we are living a mystery, and God is using it, doesn't

make it hurt any less. But so much of our suffering depends on

our attitude toward it. It's very human, and necessary I

believe, to experience fear, anger, self-pity, and even

bitterness. We wouldn't be normal if these emotions didn't pass

through us. I think so often of one of my African friends, who

when I reached a high pitched frustration, would always shake his

head and say, "Kristi, it will pass." It will pass. Fear, and

all of the so-called "negative" emotions that follow it can be

healthy, normative, and even creative forces in our lives. A

well balanced emotional human is capable of them all. They only

become evil when we allow them to immobilize and blind us to the

lessons we could be learning. Personally, I have chosen to

concentrate on life, my life as it is now. I cannot wish the

pain away, or ignore it. It has become a very real part of who I

am. But what I can do, whether I am suffering or not, is to

concentrate on the health that exists inside of me. The

acceptance of my human condition, in the light of God's promises

leads to a fresh hope, and a new peace of mind.

As I study the Bible, I'm always amazed at the incredible

sensitivity Jesus has toward us. We humans, unfortunately are

much more ego-centric in our view of suffering. We mean well

usually, but never quite know what to say or do. In sharing with

a person in pain, or dealing with it yourself, it is vital to

remember that the suffering Christian lives with a constant

reminder of his/her frailty. There is no question that God

heals, likewise there is no question that we don't always

understand how He does so. Ours is not a total theology of

glory. We live, as Martin Luther puts it, "In the shadow of the

Cross." We must take this cross seriously, with all of it's

implications. There is no victory without defeat, glory without

shame, or health without suffering. For example; I cannot say

that I have been healed of my disease. (Not yet anyway) I can say

however, that I have been healed of many other things through my

disease. I've never felt as loved as when I discovered I had

Lupus. I saw Christ alive through the caring of His church, and

I experienced firsthand the sensitivity and faith of His

followers. Healing with suffering ... victory, in the shadows.

I'd like to tell you that I accept and trust at all times,

but I can't. I'm human. When I'm in pain, I'm constantly

reminded of my mortality. But, I'm also reminded that in the

shadow (or light?) of the cross, and God's promise of redemption

through Christ, there is hope.

In closing out my thoughts, I think it's important to

mention a little bit on the practical side of sensitivity to the

suffering person. I believe the most important attitude you can

take is honesty. A person is rarely alone in their pain. If

there are people around who care, they will be suffering also.

If you find yourself in that boat, don't be afraid to admit

you're afraid. Be honest about your feelings, hurts, and fears.

If you're angry or confused, talk about it, it helps. Be

supportive of the suffering person, but don't pity them. Let

them know you care by being yourself, that is after all who they

love and need. Accept the ills of those you're dealing with as a

part of themselves. A very real part. Most of all, don't

underestimate them. They will fight the pain, fear, and

desperation hand in hand with you, and with our Lord.

I hope some of the things I've talked about will help you in

your trials. I hope it helps the next time you hold me, or

someone like me as they cry. I hope most of all, you use your

experience in suffering to grow in sensitivity, and that our God

will burn into your conscience your need of Him in health as well

as pain. This Christmas, may you be guided by the tender

compassion of our bleeding Savior.

Kristi Lee Hernmeir

NOTE: This article was written by Kristi for the Christmas, 1977

issue of the National Lutheran Youth Encounter Newspaper. The

article was written only a few days before Kristi's death.

Permission to reprint the article was given by Pastor Gene

and Ruby Hernmeir, Kristi's parents.



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