Radical Gratitude

Holocaust survivor Corrie Ten Boom and her sister, Betsy, were imprisoned in a concentration camp, assigned to Barracks 28. The misery, cruelty, and suffering was beyond horrific and excruciating. But Corrie and her sister found comfort reading their smuggled Bible to their fellow prisoners in the dark of night. Their living conditions continued to get worse and worse, and one night Corrie realised their mattresses were infested with fleas.

“Betsy, how will we live like this?” Corrie cried.

Betsy immediately started praying. Then she said, “He has given us the answer! Before we asked, as He always does!” She turned to the Bible passage they had read the night before: 1 Thessalonians 5:14a–18, “Encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone. Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always strive to do what is good for each other and for everyone else. Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (NIV).

“Give thanks in all circumstances,” Betsy said. “We can start right now to thank God for every single thing about this new barracks.”

And they did.

They thanked God for being placed together in the same barracks, the Bible they smuggled passed the guards, that there was no inspection when they entered, and that they were so crammed in living space that more were able to hear their nightly Bible readings.

“And for the fleas,” Betsy said.

This was too much for Corrie. She could not give thanks for the fleas. But Betsy reminded her,“‘Give thanks in all circumstances.’ It doesn’t say, ‘in pleasant circumstances.’ Fleas are part of this place where God has put us.”

And so they thanked God for the fleas.

Much later, they realised why they had experienced such freedom to read the Bible in their barracks without any intervention from the guards. No guard would step foot into their barracks because of the fleas.

Corrie and Betsy had every reason to give up—to become bitter and resentful. They could have clung to their tragic circumstance, letting it shape their identities. But they intentionally looked for reasons to thank God, praise Him, and also encourage and pray for those those around them.

As leaders in prison ministry, we see grievous and heartbreaking situations all the time. We feel deeply for those affected, and try our hardest to bring relief and God’s love. If we’re not careful, being surrounded by such anguish can overshadow our gratitude. 

This is a good time of year to pause and reflect on my attitude. Am I giving thanks in allcircumstances, pleasant or not? Am I looking for reasons to be thankful as a daily habit instead of occasional moments throughout the year? Am I truly grateful to God, or merely reciting my thanks? Am I allowing my vision to be so clouded by difficulties and discontent that I’m not seeing all I can be thankful for?

Being grateful is a choice—and it takes practice. If you feel your thanks giving is out of balance, start by taking every thought captive (2 Corinthians 10:5). What we let our minds dwell on affects our attitudes and spiritual health. Then look—look around you at all God is doing and has done—in your life and the lives of others. Make a list if you need to. Finally, start saying it. Thank God in your prayers, thank your team for their efforts and jobs completed, thank your volunteers, thank your donors. Thank your family members, your church community, mentors, friends, the grocery store clerk. Create the habit.

“I will give thanks to you, Lord, with all my heart; I will tell of all your wonderful deeds. I will be glad and rejoice in you; I will sing the praises of your name, O Most High” (Psalm 9:1­–2, NIV).

Article originally published November 1, 2016, in Prison Fellowship International’s PFI Roundtable.

 

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