Around the holidays we’re constantly being reminded how grateful, or thankful, we’re supposed to be. Perhaps right now your life IS full of blessings, your cup overflowing, and your heart full.
But perhaps not.
Perhaps you keep seeing friends and family receive things you’ve been waiting for – a husband, a job, a child – and while you want to be happy for them, their blessing reminds you of what you lack. Or perhaps you’re not even comparing yourself to others, but are walking through a difficult time in your life now and finding it hard to be grateful about anything.
Unfortunately I’ve felt like this more times than I’d like to admit but after reading a little book called The Hiding Place I learned an amazing secret to turn my life around when I’m not feeling very grateful: I thank God for fleas. Yes, fleas.
That’s exactly what two sisters did in a Berlin concentration camp during World War II after realizing their cell was crawling with them. Corrie and Betsie ten Boom were thrown into prison for hiding Jews from the Nazis in their home in Holland. While in their cell one day, Corrie got bit by a flea and asked her sister how they were to live in such conditions.
Betsie suddenly remembered 1 Thessalonians 5:18, which says to:
Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
Here’s an excerpt from where the story goes from there:
“That’s it, Corrie! That’s His answer. ‘Give thanks in all circumstances!’ That’s what we can do. We can start right now to thank God for every single thing about this new barracks!” I stared at her; then around me at the dark, foul-aired room.
“‘Such as?” I said.
“‘Such as being assigned here together.”
I bit my lip. “Oh yes, Lord Jesus!”
“‘Such as what you’re holding in your hands.” I looked down at the Bible.
“‘Yes! Thank You, dear Lord, that there was no inspection when we entered here! Thank You for all these women, here in this room, who will meet You in these pages.”
“‘Yes,” said Betsie, “Thank You for the very crowding here. Since we’re packed so close, that many more will hear!”
She looked at me expectantly. “Corrie!” she prodded.
“‘Oh, all right. Thank You for the jammed, crammed, stuffed, packed suffocating crowds.”
“‘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.”
And so we stood between tiers of bunks and gave thanks for fleas. But this time I was sure Betsie was wrong.
I’ll return to share the rest of the story but first, here are three steps to feeling more grateful when life gets hard.
STEP 1: RECOGNIZE LIES
Friends, there is no underground storage of eligible singles, great-paying jobs, or what have you that will run out. This is a lie Satan wants to feed you.
If the Lord is going to bless you, He is going to BLESS YOU – regardless of how much someone else has gotten. We must remember that there is always enough to go around. God controls all resources and has an infinite supply of them. And seeing God work in other people’s lives should remind us that He can do the same–or greater–in our lives too.
STEP 2: LEARN CONTENTMENT
If ever we are to think that the Christian life is easy, we just need to read about Paul’s life. In 2 Corinthians 11, he reminds us:
Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers.”
And yet, despite all that Paul learned to be content. How? By realizing that happiness is not based on earthly factors. His eyes were so glued on Jesus that no matter how many times he was beaten with a rod, how many days or weeks he went without food, or how many times he was in prison – he still had hope.
Unfortunately we don’t always live the same way. I know if I have a bad day at work, or it’s raining, or my husband is short with me – it can ruin my whole day or week. But we must learn to not let it. The secret here is learning that true happiness doesn’t come from what we GET, it comes from drawing closer to God.
STEP 3: BE THANKFUL NO MATTER THE CIRCUMSTANCE
And now we get back to that verse 1 Thessalonians 5:18:
Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
Returning to the story of Corrie and Betsie, it goes on to say that the two sisters began to hold worship services and Bible studies with the other prisoners, and each day grew more and more bold as they seemed to be given an unusual amount of freedom to do so. Although pleased with the outcome, they couldn’t understand why the guards didn’t stop them from worshiping, or even punish them. That is until one day when Corrie continues with the story:
One evening I got back to the barracks late from a wood-gathering foray outside the walls. A light snow lay on the ground and it was hard to find the sticks and twigs with which a small stove was kept going in each room. Betsie was waiting for me, as always, so that we could wait through the food line together. Her eyes were twinkling.
“‘You’re looking extraordinarily pleased with yourself,” I told her.
“‘You know, we’ve never understood why we had so much freedom in the big room,” she said. “Well–I’ve found out.”
That afternoon, she said, there’d been confusion in her knitting group about sock sizes and they’d asked the supervisor to come and settle it.
“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.
Today, let’s remember to thank God for all his blessings. And trust me – we are surrounded by them! But then let’s also not forget to thank him for the fleas – the less than pleasant parts of life God may be using to bring us future blessings, or blessings we don’t understand now.
What fleas do you need to thank God for today?