Thank God for Fleas
In honor of Thanksgiving Day tomorrow, we're publishing an excerpt from Corrie Ten Boom's autobiographical book "The Hiding Place." It's a spot-on illustration of what it's like to give thanks in everything (1 Thes. 5:18), even misery. It's kind of long but worth the read.
At this point in the narrative, which takes place during WWII, Corrie and her sister Betsie have arrived at the Ravensbruck concentration camp, where they are assigned to Barracks 28.
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!"
We scrambled across the intervening platforms, heads low to avoid another bump, dropped down to the aisle and hedged our way to a patch of light.
"Here! And here another one!" I wailed. "Betsie, how can we live in such a place!"
"Show us. Show us how." It was said so matter of factly it took me a second to realize she was praying. More and more the distinction between prayer and the rest of life seemed to be vanishing for Betsie.
"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!"
I glanced down the long dim aisle to make sure no guard was in sight, then drew the Bible from its pouch. "It was in First Thessalonians," I said. We were on our third complete reading of the New Testament since leaving Scheveningen.
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 Ravensbruck.
"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.
[...] Betsie and Corrie took it upon themselves to hold "worship services" at the end of each day in Barracks 28.
At first Betsie and I called these meetings with great timidity. But as night after night went by and no guard ever came near us, we grew bolder. So many now wanted to join us that we held a second service after evening roll call. 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. 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.
This article has undergone ministry review and approval.