My youngest child has long outgrown his crib, but it’s still in my room serving as a giant laundry basket. After the clothes come out of the dryer, I heap them by the armful into my son’s former bed. There, the clothes wait for days, occasionally weeks (OK, usually. Who am I kidding?), to be folded, hung, or picked up by the older kids to be put way in their rooms. One afternoon the pile was especially high, but right before a groan came to my lips, I resolved that I was not going to complain about having so many clothes to fold. SO MANY clean clothes, for my whole family, as well as clean towels and clean sheets. Isn’t that a nice problem to have? Realizing that it is indeed very nice, I turned on HGTV and set to folding.
Actually, I think that was kind of an easy test. Laundry is a chore, but it doesn’t hurt. It’s a little harder to be thankful for things that hurt, like marital problems, or not being able to pay your bills.
When my husband and I look back on the financial setbacks we faced early in our marriage, we are glad that those challenges knocked down our pride a few notches. Our lifestyle had centered largely on earning and consuming. But after our income shrunk dramatically, our mixed up priorities were rearranged, and we’re grateful for it. Now.
And it’s when our relationship has been the most strained that I’ve clung to Jesus as if my life—from moment to the very next moment—depended on Him. It always depends on him, but I tend to forget that when things are rosy and cozy. So, in retrospect, I’m thankful for those days that made me intensely aware of my need for God, and intimately aware of his mercy and faithfulness. But do I thank God for the heartache at the time?
James 1:2 exhorts us to count it all joy when we face all kinds of trials. The “when” catches my eye, because it doesn’t say “after.” It doesn’t say “five years later,” or “after the sting fades.” But while it’s happening! Why should we rejoice? Because the testing of our faith produces patience. And why did Paul delight in weakness and hardship? Because he had learned that Christ’s power was made perfect in his human weakness. “For when I am weak,” Paul confessed, “then I am strong.”
One woman who appeared to have mastered joy “while it’s happening” was Betsie ten Boom. Her sister Corrie wrote about it in The Hiding Place. I read this book in high school (Junior high maybe?? Both were a long time ago.), so I had to refresh myself on the details. But to this day I still remember, “Thank God for the fleas.”
In the feeble light I turned the pages. “Here it is: 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…” It seemed written expressly to Ravensbrük.
“Go on,” said Betsie. “That wasn’t all.”
“Oh yes: …Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus.”
“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.
Days later, the sisters learned how they had been blessed by the fleas.
There on the Lagerstrasse we were under rigid surveillance, guards in their warm wool capes marching constantly up and down. It was the same in the center room of the barracks: half a dozen guards or camp police always present. Yet in the large dormitory room there was almost no supervision at all. We did not understand it.
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,” said Betsie. “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.
Thank You for the fleas! It’s practically beyond my imagination how Betsie was so grateful in the midst of their hellish circumstances, or how Paul wrote letters from jail about rejoicing always and giving thanks at all times. But surely if God commands us, it’s possible. And I can start by thanking God for my own trials, however big or small.
Thanks for stopping by,