“We should thank God for these fleas,” said Betsie ten Boom to her sister Corrie, as they walked into the concentration camp barracks to which they’d been assigned and discovered the building was not only severely overcrowded, but also overrun with fleas. Corrie said no way.
I just finished re-reading The Hiding Place, the story of how Corrie and her family helped hide Jews during World War II. As she detailed their eventual capture and imprisonment, I appreciated very much her honesty. While her sainted sister Betsie thanked God for fleas and prayed for the guards and wept over the guilt a man who’d betrayed them must be feeling, Corrie battled anger and disappointment and at one point went after a guard with a shovel.
I like Corrie. I can relate to Corrie. Betsie, not so much.
How is it that we can be standing beside someone, in the same circumstances, and react in a totally different way? Is it that some of us are more spiritual, more holy, standing somehow a millimeter closer to God … or is it something else?
My husband and I recently experienced a crushing disappointment, and while we’re about as spiritual and holy as your average pet rock, this is not our first rodeo. After a time of shock and grief, we began to thank God for this thing we would not have chosen. Given the choice, in fact, I’m sure we would both have preferred fleas.
But the truth is, in the center of my frequently faithless heart, I think almost everything in life comes down to whether or not you believe in the goodness of God. And I do. I really do.
If you believe He is good, it doesn’t matter what comes. Not that it won’t be hard, or excruciating, or even maybe feel as if your very skin is melting off in the fire He’s stoked for you — but if He is good, then He is trustworthy, and if He is trustworthy, we can cling to Him, and if we cling to Him, we’ll find He is strong enough to help us survive anything.
That reminds me of a verse I should probably look up, but instead I’ll just badly quote it to you from memory — it’s something about suffering and perseverance and character and hope that does not disappoint. I think in modern parlance we might call it resilience.
God wants to create resilience in us so that we can not only survive the storms, but eventually thrive in them — maybe even singing praise songs at the top of our lungs while we’re being half-drowned by wind and waves — but that kind of
divine lunacy resilience requires training, sometimes brutal training.
When we know God is good, we can trust His plan, no matter how daunting it looks. He is the master architect, after all, and He’s building things in us, good things that grow upon one another. And the best thing about His training plan is that, even when our shaky muscles betray us and our hearts act faithlessly and we show ourselves to be pretty much unreliable in most circumstances, what He’s building is founded upon the Solid Rock, and that is something that does not crumble. He will never crumble.
Storms come and go, but I think the fleas are always with us. Fleas of disappointment that juke and jive around our ankles and generally annoy the crap out of us, always trying to drag our attention down. After all, we all know in our hearts that this world is not as it was meant to be. There is no escaping the cloud of fleas, the daily disappointments that pile up.
Except maybe to look beyond the fleas, which is I think what Betsie was always doing. In fact I’m sure that’s what she was doing because I just remembered another scene that Corrie related, when Betsie was whipped by a guard for working too slow. That was what inspired Corrie to pick up her shovel and charge the guard, but Betsie grabbed her and said look past this, past this sister you love and this blood and these awful circumstances, and see Jesus.
Look through me and see Jesus.
Only then can we survive the fleas. The pain. The blood. The sorrow. The compounding grief and impotence. When we focus our gaze not on the mist of today, but on the beauty of Jesus behind the mist. His goodness. His love. His grace. His mercy. His faithfulness. His strength. His creativity.
I’m telling you, once you start listing off His good attributes, it’s hard to stop.
After the ten Booms had been in the concentration camp for awhile, Betsie came running up to Corrie and explained that the guards weren’t coming into the barracks because of the fleas, and that’s why they’d had so much freedom to share with the other women the reason for the hope that they had. You see, she’d said, I told you we should thank God for those fleas!
What a kindness that God showed them the reason for their fleas. I don’t think He always does that. He shows us His mercy and gives us the strength to face the day, but He doesn’t always answer the why. We’re left with the daily choice to trust the goodness of the One who provided the fleas, or we can get angry all over again.
I don’t know what fleas of disappointment are buzzing around you today, but I hope you’re able to spend some time doing what I’m about to do — I’m going to sign off, go have a cup of coffee, and focus my gaze through the mist.