By: Ginger Shields, Director of Family Ministry
The first time I remember focusing on the words in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 was in 2007, when doctors were trying to diagnose the issue with our 3-year-old son's arm. We didn't know whether the diagnosis would result in an amputation, chemotherapy, or surgery, but the uncertainty and the options left me little about which to rejoice and to be thankful. It was during this time that I heard Corrie Ten Boom's account of her time in a Nazi prison camp from her book, The Hiding Place. I pray that her story encourages you as much as it did me.
Corrie and her sister, Betsie, had been moved to Barracks 28 and were appalled by the living conditions: "Our noses told us, first, that the place was filthy: somewhere, plumbing had backed up, the bedding was soiled and rancid."
They reached their bunks, and Corrie continued, "We lay back, struggling against the nausea that swept over us from the reeking straw...Suddenly I sat up, striking my head on the cross-slats above. Something had pinched my leg. 'Fleas!' I cried. 'Betsie, the place is swarming with them!' . . .'Betsie, how can we live in such a place!'"
Betsie prayed for an answer and replied: "'Corrie!' she said excitedly. 'He's given us the answer! Before we asked, as He always does! In the Bible this morning. Where was it? Read that part again!'"
They read 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 and began to rejoice and thank God (Betsie enthusiastically and Corrie reluctantly) for everything about Barracks 28: for each other, for the Bible they snuck in, and for the crowding so that many people could hear God's Word. Finally, Betsie suggested that they thank God for the fleas: "'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.' And so we stood between tiers of bunks and gave thanks for fleas. But this time I was sure Betsie was wrong."
It turned out that Betsie wasn't wrong. The guards were pervasive around the camp, but avoided Barracks 28. As a result, Betsie and Corrie were able to lead 2 worship services each day, never really understanding why guards and supervisors were always absent.
One day, Betsie, seemingly very proud of herself, told Corrie that the women had asked a supervisor to come into Barracks 28 to settle a dispute. "'But she wouldn't. She wouldn't step through the door and neither would the guards. And you know why?' Betsie could not keep the triumph from her voice: 'Because of the fleas! That's what she said, 'That place is crawling with fleas!'' My mind rushed back to our first hour in this place. I remembered Betsie's bowed head, remembered her thanks to God for creatures I could see no use for."
Almighty God, sometimes it's extremely hard to rejoice and be thankful. Please give us the strength to keep gratitude at the forefront of our lives, especially during this season of waiting and preparation. In Jesus' name, Amen.