You might think that there was nothing to be grateful for in the horrifying conditions of a Nazi concentration camp. On the contrary, the lesson that Corrie ten Boom learned there and shares with us in her book The Hiding Place impacted me greatly when I first read it as a teenager, and it has stuck with me to this day.
Corrie and her sister Betsie were Christians living in the Netherlands and were arrested and sent to a camp when they were caught hiding Jews in a secret area in their home. At one point they were sent to a flea-infested barracks where the women were crowded uncomfortably close on the beds. But somehow they managed to smuggle in a Bible. This was no small feat, given that the guards usually confiscated all personal property upon a prisoner’s arrival. Somehow this was overlooked for them at this time.
Even stranger, they somehow managed to keep the Bible. They were able to hold regular Bible studies with the women in their barracks, and were undisturbed by the guards. Their ownership of a Bible and their Bible study meetings should have been a serious punishable offense under the Nazi system. But the guards never bothered them.
After this had gone on for some time, Corrie and Betsie read the counsel in the Bible that they should give thanks in all circumstances. They decided that they should try to give thanks for the blessings that they had, however meager they seemed.
Some of the blessings weren’t too hard to come up with. They were grateful that they had each other, and they were grateful that they had a Bible and were able to share the word of God with their bunkmates and bring them some hope. But beyond that, there weren’t many obvious blessings.
Betsie, usually the more pious of the two, encouraged Corrie to continue with their prayer and thank God for everything they had. Corrie, after a little thought, expressed gratitude for the crowded conditions in the barracks because that meant that more people would be able to hear the gospel. Then Betsie expressed her thanks 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 piers to bunks and gave thanks for fleas. But this time I was sure Betsie was wrong.
But sometimes it is those blessings that we understand the least that bring us the most. Corrie and Betsie later learned that their particular guards had decided that they would never enter the barracks that Corrie and Betsie lived in because there were too many fleas.
The Apostle Paul counseled us, “In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.” (1 Thessalonians 5:18)
A modern apostle today, Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, gives us some insight into this counsel: “When we give thanks in all things, we see hardships and adversities in the context of the purpose of life. We are sent here to be tested. There must be opposition in all things. We are meant to learn and grow through that opposition, through meeting our challenges, and through teaching others to do the same.” (“Give Thanks in All Things,” Ensign, May 2003, 95)
The Lord doesn’t always bless us with exactly what we want, or in ways that we would expect. But He does bless us with what He knows we need … even fleas.
May we all be grateful for all of our blessings, including the fleas in our lives.