Tucked into the cracks of the history of World War II is the story of two Christian women who were imprisoned and sent to a concentration camp for hiding Jews in their home. Upon arrival to Ravensbrück, these two sisters were assigned to their barracks and found a dilapidated building with broken windows, backed-up toilets, and wooden slabs built as beds for four people that packed in seven other women and thousands of fleas.
Betsie and Corrie ten Boom reacted as anyone would upon finding that they would be sleeping with fleas. Their hearts sunk, their bodies cringed, and the pit in their stomach deepened. But though their circumstances were bleak, they had hope; they had miraculously managed to smuggle in their small Bible. They had the gift of God’s Word.
It was Betsie who remembered the recent reading from 1 Thessalonians 5: “Comfort the frightened, help the weak, be patient with everyone. See that none of you repays evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to all. Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (vv.14-18).
They obeyed God’s Word and thanked God that they were together. They thanked Him for the precious gift of His Word which had somehow slipped past the notice of the guards. They thanked Him for the crowded quarters that would enable many women to hear the Gospel. Then Betsie went a step further:
“Thank You,” Betsie went on serenely, “for the fleas and for---”
The fleas! This was too much, “Betsie, there’s no way even God can make me grateful for a flea.”
"Give thanks in all circumstances," she quoted. "It doesn't say, 'in pleasant circumstances.' Fleas are part of this place where God has put us."
(pp.209-210, “Ravensbrück”, The Hiding Place, ten Boom, Corrie; Sherril, Elizabeth & John)
Corrie reluctantly joined Betsie in thanking God for the fleas.
Weeks later, they learned of an excellent reason to give thanks for the fleas. The terrible infestation caused the guards to avoid their building, allowing the inhabitants to hold uninterrupted worship services and Bible reading that encouraged and strengthened the overcrowded barracks full of broken, dying women.
Betsie ten Boom had a perspective that truly only came through the Holy Spirit’s work in her life. She had developed a close relationship with the Lord long before the hardships of war had disrupted her life. Because of that close relationship, the harshness and evil of the concentration camp did not squelch that spirit, but instead made the Holy Spirit’s Presence even more evident in her life.
I greatly admire Bestie’s attitude of thankfulness. Though I have never been starving, I have been hungry. I have been in some dark and dirty places, but I have always had access to a shower and a clean bed at some point. I have never had to sleep in a flea-infested building surrounded by tired, harsh, people laying in the stench of their own filth, but I have been in situations out of my control. I too, have had the choice to express thankfulness in the midst of all kinds of circumstances: good or bad.
Betsie’s thankful heart is a reminder that even the darkest, dirtiest of places and the cringiest critters can show God’s hand at work. We can be thankful for seemingly terrible, dirty or disgusting things, because God doesn’t waste them. He uses them.
Being thankful is more than just a positive attitude or a bright outlook on the future. It is not a natural or easy to be thankful for nuisances in our lives. But thanksgiving to God takes the focus of ourselves and places it on Himself. When we lift our attention to the Giver and Sustainer of even the fleas, joy will follow; a genuine joy given by the Holy Spirit. Such a joy is only made sweeter by the contrasting darkness of sin and suffering.
Like Corrie and Betsie, we may never understand why God allows us to endure hardships, or to walk through circumstances that are beyond our control and understanding. But we do know that the words of 1 Thessalonians 5 apply to us as well. This is his will for us, and in that, He will be glorified. This mindset is what sustained Paul while he was in prison. It strengthened Corrie and Betsie ten Boom in the flea-infested barracks of a concentration camp. This surrender of giving thanks in all things can sustain and strengthen you and your circumstances too.
- Practice thankfulness in all circumstances.
- Memorize all or parts of 1 Thessalonians 5.
- Pray that God would give you a thankful heart.
- Join with a friend and hold one another accountable in giving thanks for hard things in your lives.
- Read more of Corrie’s story in her book The Hiding Place.
|About Erica: Lives with her husband, Justin, in South Dakota. She teaches middle school and loves traveling, collecting quotes, learning fun facts and historical information, drinking coffee, eating ice cream and enjoying good conversation with friends.|