In sacrament meeting recently, we heard a talk on gratitude that quoted from the inspiring story of Corrie Ten Boom in her book, The Hiding Place. The story involves Christian women learning to find gratitude in their hearts in the midst of great trials. Corrie and her sister Betsie were suffering in a Nazi prison camp for the crime of saving the lives of Jews by hiding them in their home in Holland. For help in shortening the story, I’ll quote a handy summary from KHouse.org:
“Barracks 8 was in the quarantine compound. Next to us–perhaps as a deliberate warning to newcomers–were located the punishment barracks. From there, all day long and often into the night, came the sounds of hell itself. They were not the sounds of anger, or of any human emotion, but of a cruelty altogether detached: blows landing in regular rhythm, screams keeping pace. We would stand in our ten-deep ranks with our hands trembling at our sides, longing to jam them against our ears, to make the sounds stop.
“It grew harder and harder. Even within these four walls there was too much misery, too much seemingly pointless suffering. Every day something else failed to make sense, something else grew too heavy.”
Yet, in the midst of the suffering, the women prisoners around Corrie and Betsie found comfort in the little Bible studies they held in the barracks. Corrie writes they gathered around the Bible “like waifs clustered around a blazing fire…The blacker the night around us grew, the brighter and truer and more beautiful burned the Word of God.”
When they were moved to Barracks 28, Corrie was horrified by the fact that their reeking, straw-bed platforms swarmed with fleas. How could they live in such a place?
It was Betsie who discovered God’s answer:
“‘”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…”
They thanked God for the fact they were together. They thanked God they had a Bible. They even thanked God for the horrible crowds of prisoners, that more people would be able to hear God’s Word. And then, Betsie thanked God for the fleas.
“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.”
It turned out that Betsie was not wrong; the fleas were a nuisance, but a blessing after all. The women were able to have Bible studies in the barracks with a great deal of freedom, never bothered by supervisors coming in and harassing them. They finally discovered that it was the fleas that kept those supervisors out.
Through those fleas, God protected the women from abuse and harassment. Dozens of desperate women were free to hear the comforting, hope-giving Word of God. Through those fleas, God protected the women from much worse things and made sure they had their deepest, truest needs met.
This life is a journey in which God wishes to refine us and transform us through that which we experience, even that which we must suffer. If we recognize that God’s love can be found even in the darkest trials and that there is a purpose in enduring whatever trials we have, we can find hope and even gratitude in the darkest moments. That is easy for me to say, but thank God for those Christian women who showed us with their lives what it means to love God and follow Him in faith to the end, no matter what, in gratitude and strength.