Thankful for Fleas

When I think of giving thanks, my mind immediately goes to what I see as good things that I have: an overabundance of food, a warm house, a loving family and community, access to education, the ability to work. I don’t usually think to thank God for things I see as inconveniences or annoyances, like fleas—but one Torchlighter did!

You’ve probably seen our Torchlighters episode about Corrie ten Boom. Her story of faith amidst horrific circumstances is inspiring. For years during Nazi occupation, she helped hide Jews in her home and then smuggled them to safety. But then she and her family were arrested by the Gestapo, and Corrie and her sister Betsie were sent to a women’s labor concentration camp.

The barracks they stayed in were far from ideal. There was hardly space for them to move around, as so many women were tightly packed into the one room. To make matters worse, it was infested with fleas.

“How can we live in such a place?” Corrie wondered.

Together the sisters read 1 Thessalonians. Betsie took seriously the heeding to “give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thessalonians 5:18), and she began thanking God for everything in the room, prompting Corrie to repeat after her. But when Betsie thanked God for the fleas, Corrie responded, “There’s no way even God can make me thankful for a flea.”

In response Betsie told her, “Fleas are part of this place where God has put us.” So, still harboring doubt in her heart, Corrie thanked God for even the fleas.

Betsie was right. The women started to notice that the guards were staying away from their barracks, giving them hours of alone time after their workday. This gave the sisters the freedom to lead worship services for the other prisoners using a Bible they had smuggled into camp. They read Scripture together and prayed, and some of the prisoners even came to believe in Christ as a result. Then they realized why the guards were avoiding their room—they were wary of getting fleas!

When it seemed like everything was stripped from them, here was evidence that God cared about them—fleas! Fleas was God’s way of providing a means by which these suffering women could be near to him through his Word.

What has been challenging for you this year? When it seemed the whole world shut down at the start of the pandemic, the fear of illness and social isolation made daily life seem burdensome, uncertain, and difficult. And yet, the slow pace also reminded me that we were made not only for work but for rest, too. In this absence of people, places, and events, I was discovering the healing of a season of slower days—and an even greater appreciation for the people and places I so missed. I am thankful for these gifts and hope never to take them for granted, but I am even more thankful for the God who is faithful in seasons of health and illness, plenty and scarcity, work and rest.

In the year and a half since the pandemic first started, there seem to be many reasons to complain, rather than give thanks. But where have we seen God moving? Where have we seen his presence even when so many things seem to be falling apart? Where have we seen his provision in the midst of illness, loneliness, isolation, and fear? As a sick Betsie later told Corrie before she died, “There is no pit so deep that He [God] is not deeper still.”

With Corrie ten Boom, I give thanks because even in the midst of trials and pain, God has not and will never forsake his people. He has not left us alone or without hope. I give thanks because he is continually showing us his presence and care even in the most unexpected of places—like in a flea-infested room in a concentration camp!

Share Corrie ten Boom’s incredible story with children in the Torchlighters episode The Corrie ten Boom Story, available to purchase or to stream. We also have accompanying curriculum and activities to download for free.