Isobel Kuhn

Losses and Those Terrible "Good-byes"

A Little Background

Mr. and Mrs. John Kuhn were missionaries in China for some years just prior to the Communist take over. They worked with the Lisu tribes people in the southern and western part of China.

This was during the time when missionaries were generally not "allowed" to have their children with them once they were of school age. The custom was to send them to a missionary boarding school or, worse yet, back to the "home country." This is a totally unbiblical practice. God's word says, Ephesians 6:4 And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. By sending the children away, or the fathers out into remote areas, it made it impossible for fathers to obey this admonition. It was impossible for parents, fathers or mothers, to instruct their children in the scriptures (2 Tim. 3:15), to train them up in the way they should go (Prv. 22:6), to teach them to walk in truth (3 John 1:4), and to correct them and direct them in the customs of their family (Heb. 12:9-10). Enough said.

This practice of separating children from their parents played directly into the story related here, and I would be emphatic to say that it was not right for the parents to be required to do this. It was even worse with the parents who considered their children a nuisance and did not want them with them! Thankfully, the Kuhns were not that sort of missionaries.

Isobel Kuhn was the sort of person who felt things very deeply. These sort of folks rejoice greatly in good times, tend to be quite sensitive to evil and spiritual issues, love greatly, and feel emotional hurts and disappointments very deeply. With this temperament there is the peril of depression, and also of being anxious and fretful when things are not going the way we think they should. I think we are overwhelmed more easily as well, especially by unforeseen events.

After their 1936 furlough, they were planning to return to China. The fighting in northern China nearly kept them from being able to return. However, the Lord opened the way for them and they were able to return through Japan.

This passage comes from Mrs. Kuhn's book, In the Arena. The context of this book is 1Corinthians 4:9, For I think that God hath set forth us the apostles last, as it were appointed to death: for we are made a spectacle unto the world, and to angels, and to men. She did not consider herself equal to an apostle, but she saw in this verse how the Lord puts His children on "platforms," as she calls them, which "display" us or make us a spectacle so that the power of Christ might be seen in us.

[By and large, this book was a great help to me at time when I needed it. She has a few ideas I don't agree with, or that she mistakenly describe in terms that were popular in the world in her day. She occasionally quotes another translation of the Bible as well, which is disappointing.]

Please note that Mrs. Kuhn was not a Charismatic. When she writes of the Lord speaking to her she is not claiming a revelation, but simply putting into words one of the teaching experiences all believers have when the Lord directs our thoughts so as to give us some particular instruction.

The particular lesson here involves dealing with partings and losses. Coming from a family of missionaries and people who move all over the country, I am fairly familiar with partings of this sort. If I allow myself or am having a particularly bad day, I can work myself into a terrible state over a "good-bye" like this. "Last-time-itis" is also a wretched master. I decided to include Isobel's experience because it has been so helpful to me in this area, and because it applies to other losses as well. We emotional people tend to struggle with losses terribly, and the practical advice here, along with other methods that the Lord may show you for your particular situation, can be very useful.

We take up the narrative on page 65, in the chapter titled "Frustrations":

We had some adventures in Japan, but my next "platform" occurred on September 9, when our boat pulled into Hong Kong. I was thrilled and happy over the prospect of having Little Daughter in school at Kunming. John's sister, Kathryn Kuhn Harrison, and her husband were in missionary work in that big city, so our girlie could stay with her uncle and aunt - so I told myself. Imagine the shock, then, to find a telegram awaiting us at Hong Kong: "Send Kathryn to Chefoo with Grace Liddell." [Chefoo was a great distance from where the Kuhns worked.] It appeared that Miss Liddell, one of our Yunnan workers, was going to Chefoo to help on the teaching staff. A safe boat had been procured, and Mission Headquarters though it a golden opportunity to get Kathryn into our China Inland Mission School. [Mrs. Kuhn is too kind. Missions had a bad habit of deciding things about the children without regard to the parents wishes in those days.] It was, of course, much better equipped and staffed in every way than the little Kunming school. But I was totally unprepared to give up my girlie so soon.

I knew, that in one sense, it was giving her up for life. Although our Mission planned that children join their parents when possible for holiday times, one never again could watch them grow from day to day. The parting was excruciating for me, and for hours afterward I could not sit, lie down or do anything but grieve. I pored over all I would miss in putting her to bed at night, her sweet childish ways, the likelihood she would forget me to some extent - none of the poignant details did I miss. The consequence was that I was fearfully broken up. My dear patient husband walked the streets with me at night until I was so physically exhausted that I could lie down and fall into oblivion.

Our boat out of Hong Kong to Haiphong was delayed, and so there was time to spare. I remember going to a Bible class when the subject was "Praise." The teacher stood at the doorway shaking hands with us at the close. As she took my hand she looked at me very significantly and said, "The sacrifice of praise" (Heb. 13:15). My inward reaction was, "But you have no children!" It was true; she and her husband were childless. Nevertheless, she had planted a truth from the Word in my heart which I have never forgotten. There are times when it is sacrifice to praise Him, in the human sense... But there are so few thing we can offer Him, this should be considered a privilege.

We took a boat to Haiphong and then through French Indo-China by train into Yunnan. It was during the long hours of sitting in the train that the Lord spoke to me. He said something like this: "Well, dear, you have indulged your grief. You have gone over your loss minutely and by detail. The last time you would give her a bath, the last night to tuck her into bed, the last energetic bear hug from the impetuous little arms, the last sight of lovely childhood sprawled gracefully in sleep, and so on. And now I would counsel you. What good did it do you? Emotionally you are as worn as a rag. It did not profit you physically. It did not help little Kathryn at all. It was a drag on your poor husband. Of what use was it to indulge your grief?

"Next time - for this is only the first parting of many times to come - let Me counsel you to gird up your loins and try to be a soldier. There are many small helps you can use, especially in the area of the mind. Refuse to let your mind dwell on your loss. It will not make you love her less. Deliberately think of something more helpful, or anything rather than your loss. I have given you a thing called common sense - summon that to your aid. Common sense will tell you to avoid all scenes which harrow the feelings. Singing or music, for instance. Deliberately plan your good-bye so that emotion will be strained as little as possible. When you return home after the loved one has left, change the furniture of her room around so as not to stir up memories which cause grief. And so on."

"But, Lord," I argued, "wouldn't that make me hard? I do not want to lose the ability to feel."

"You will not," He promised. "In fact, it will go all the deeper when it is not allowed to evaporate in bursts of emotion. [Redirect] your feelings, rechannel your attention toward helping someone else...

And so He taught me - bless His precious name! Never again did I allow myself to be so broken up over a grief. And I found that common sense was a good aid. Also, my love and my concern for my children certainly have never become less.

That train trip is wonderfully scenic as it climbs the heights of Kunming which is 6,000 feet above sea level, and the beauty of my dear Lord's handiwork coupled with His direct dealing with me in my heart was healing and quieting to me...

And from the end of the chapter on "Frustrations" -

"...Frustrations - have much to do in conforming us into His image. Yes, suffering, but also His sweet consoling fellowship in that suffering. It reveals to us the power of His resurrection..."


Let us press on, in patient self denial,
Accept the hardship, shrink not from the loss;
Our portion lies beyond the hour of trial,
Our crown beyond the cross.

W. H. Burleigh

Philppians 3:8 Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ, 9 And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith: 10 That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death; 11 If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead.

Now -

This is not to say that weeping or sorrow is inappropriate at a prolonged parting. In fact, we have more than one example in scripture to show that it is not sin. Some people have the strange idea that showing emotion in this manner is "wrong" or weak. It is not.

When David and Jonathan parted because it was no longer safe for David to be in the presence of Saul, they wept with one another. 1Samuel 20:41 And as soon as the lad was gone, David arose out of a place toward the south, and fell on his face to the ground, and bowed himself three times: and they kissed one another, and wept one with another, until David exceeded. These two men, who were very close friends, were sorrowful because they could not work together nor enjoy each others' comapny any more. This was, for them, a permanent "good-bye" as they did not know if they would ever see each other again.

In the New Testament we have the example of the elders of the church of Ephesus. Paul had called them to come see him at Miletus (Acts 20:17) so that he could give them a last charge. He also told them that they would not see him again. Acts 20:36 And when he had thus spoken, he kneeled down, and prayed with them all. 37 And they all wept sore, and fell on Paul's neck, and kissed him, 38 Sorrowing most of all for the words which he spake, that they should see his face no more. And they accompanied him unto the ship. These men loved Paul very much and were grieved that they would not have the joy of his company in person again.

So, weeping at a parting is not wrong. The problems arise from wallowing in it, so to speak; from allowing it to overcome us or plunge us into depression or excessive grief. This is what Mrs. Kuhn was talking about.

Partings are inevitable. We cannot escape them, so we would do well to try as much as possible to make them less distressful to ourselves and our loved ones.

Coming from a family of missionaries and pastors I have had a fair amount of experience with good-byes. My brother lives about 16 hours from us by road. If I allow myself to, I can start dreading his leaving from the time that he first tells us he is coming for a visit. Of course, that is not healthy nor useful and it basically would ruin the whole visit if I let it. As with Mrs. Kuhn, I must redirect my thoughts. I must concentrate on other things and other aspects of his coming visit.

To those who have never suffered much from "last-time-itis" and gut wrenching good-byes, I'm sure this all sounds pretty silly and even ridiculous. To those who have felt this way and know the feeling it is all too painful and real.

Here are a few more thoughts that may be of help:

Practical -

1. Try to say your good-byes in the least stressful situation. Is it easier for you to do that in private, or do you hold up better doing that in a public setting? For example - the last time my brother was here, I said good-bye at home and stayed home while my parents took him to the airport. It's about a 5 hour round trip and I knew that would give too much time for brooding. I stayed home and started in on house work that needed to be done. It was a great distraction. If you cannot avoid a public parting, perhaps you could say your "official" good-byes beforehand in private. Let your loved ones know why you are doing this.

2. Provide yourself with something that will help distract. If you are leaving on a trip, etc., take along a book or something that you can use to divert your thoughts for a while. If you are staying behind, plan to do a project that will include activity. Excercise is good for reducing stress.

Spiritual -

1. Strive for an eternal view. When thinking of a saved loved one we must remind ourselves that we have eternity to spend together. These present partings are very temporary compared to eternity.

2. Be thankful for those loved ones who are still with you. Set your mind to enjoy their company.

3. Remember ...he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee. Hebrews 13:5 The Lord is still with us.

4. Our Lord understands. He lived in this world of painful good-byes. Hebrews 4:15 For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.

5. Rest in the Lord's companionship. We must tell Him our sorrow and pain and ask His help and comfort. He is the God of all comfort (2 Cor. 1:3). He is our friend. John 15:13 Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. 14 Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you. 15 Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you.


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