Several months ago I read Corrie Ten Boom’s The Hiding Place for the first time. It’s the true story of a Dutch woman and her family who provided asylum to Jews in their home during WWII. Corrie and her sister, Betsie, and their father were arrested and sent to Nazi concentration camps. What is remarkable about their story is the hope and joy they – especially Betsie – continued to have despite their suffering. At one point they were sent to a dormitory meant to house 400 prisoners but which accommodated 1400 crammed onto straw-filled, flea-infested mattresses. Bestsie’s response was to thank God, despite Corrie’s protests. Corrie grudgingly began thanking God for various things but interrupted Betsie when Betsie thanked God for the fleas. Betsie’s response was that God instructed them to give thanks in all circumstances, which included the fleas.
Corrie and Betsie continued to pray in that room, which was not only filled with fleas but with despair and anger. They started a Bible study and worship time with their fellow prisoners using a small Bible they had smuggled into the camp, and the atmosphere among those 1400 prisoners began to change dramatically. The wardens were particularly strict and violent at that camp, but for some reason the nightly worship was never interrupted because the wardens mysteriously never entered the dormitory.
Some time later Betsie announced to Corrie that she had discovered why the wardens never entered that room…because of the fleas! There was reason to be thankful for the fleas after all!
I was reminded of this story on Thursday morning when we read the passage from 1 Thessalonians about giving thanks: “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” If Betsie Ten Boom could give thanks while she was living in hell on earth, how much more should I be giving thanks. Even if I can’t go back to Mozambique. Even if I’m not earning an income. Even if I don’t have health insurance. Even if I sometimes feel completely lost. We love the call and response: “God is good…” , “All the time!”, “All the time…”, “God is good!” But we tend to say this when things are good, forgetting the “all the time” part. All the time. In all circumstances.
Everyone is very sympathetic when they hear that I can’t go back to Mozambique. “What a huge disappointment,” they say. Yes, it is. But in the midst of the disappointment, or maybe because of the disappointment, I am thankful for many, many things. (Believe me, this only comes from practice of being in previous situations of big disappointment.) Here are the top ten things I’m thankful for (in no particular order):
1. Friends who willingly let me stay with them and make me feel part of the family
2. Family who make me feel part of the family 🙂
3. A car to use until Christmas
4. “Support surplus” so that I’m financially okay during this time of transition
5. A job interview on Tuesday and other opportunities to pursue
6. Caring friends around the country and world
7. Good health
8. Good food
9. A comfortable bed
10. Even if I lost any or all of the above, my God would still be with me.
I don’t think I would ever be able to give thanks in the Ten Booms’ circumstances. In fact, I probably wouldn’t be able to give thanks in even less dire circumstances. But I’d like to be able to. I’d like to begin putting into practice giving thanks in all circumstances.