Around the holidays we’re constantly being reminded how grateful, or thankful, we’re supposed to be. Perhaps right now your life IS full of blessings, your cup overflowing, and your heart full.
But perhaps not.
Perhaps you keep seeing friends and family receive things you’ve been waiting for – a husband, a job, a child – and while you want to be happy for them their blessing reminds you of what you lack.
Or perhaps you’re not even comparing yourself to others, but are walking through a difficult time in your life now and finding it hard to be grateful about anything.
Then when you then read in the Bible that we’re supposed to rejoice with those who are rejoicing it feels more like a sharp stab than verse of encouragement. You want to be happy for others, but right now it’s just hard.
What To Do When You Don’t Feel Grateful
Unfortunately I’ve felt like this more times than I’d like to admit but after reading a little book called The Hiding Place I learned an amazing secret to turn my life around when I’m not feeling very grateful: I thank God for fleas. Yes, fleas.
That’s exactly what two sisters did from their prison cell in a Berlin concentration camp during World War II after realizing their cell was crawling with them.
Corrie and Betsie ten Boom were thrown into prison for hiding Jews from the Nazis in their home in Holland. While in their cell one day Corrie gets bit by a flea and asks her sister how they will live in these conditions.
Betsie suddenly remembers 1 Thessalonians 5:18 which says to “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
Here’s an excerpt from where the story goes from there:
‘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.
“‘Such as?’ I said.
“‘Such as being assigned here together.’
“I bit my lip. ‘Oh yes, Lord Jesus!’
“‘Such as what you’re holding in your hands.’ I looked down at the Bible.
“‘Yes! Thank You, dear Lord, that there was no inspection when we entered here! Thank You for all these women, here in this room, who will meet You in these pages.’
“‘Yes,’ said Betsie, ‘Thank You for the very crowding here. Since we’re packed so close, that many more will hear!’
She looked at me expectantly. ‘Corrie!’ she prodded.
“‘Oh, all right. Thank You for the jammed, crammed, stuffed, packed suffocating crowds.’
“‘Thank You,’ Betsie went on serenely, ‘for the fleas and for–‘
“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.”
I’ll return to share the rest of the story but first, here are three steps to feeling more grateful when life gets hard:
STEP 1: RECOGNIZE LIES
Friends, there is no underground storage of eligible men, great-paying jobs, or sensitive husbands that once they’re gone, they’re gone. This is a lie Satan wants to feed you.
If the Lord is going to bless you, He is going to BLESS YOU – regardless of how much someone else has gotten. We must remember that there is always enough to go around. God controls all resources and has an infinite supply of them. And seeing God work in other people’s lives should remind us that He can do the same – or greater- in our lives too.
Also, everyone goes through hard times and it may just be that you’re in it now, while your friends or acquaintances are going through good times. Life is made up of good and bad times but the good news is, our hope is in our eternal life in Christ, and not our day-to-day struggles now.
And if you’re walking through a difficult path now, don’t believe the lie that you will be there forever.Don’t believe any lies that He has abandoned you. No matter how tragic, terrifying or heartbreaking, God is walking alongside you to carry you through it.
STEP 2: LEARN CONTENTMENT
If ever we are to think that the Christian life is easy, we just need to re-read about Paul’s life. In 2 Corinthians 11 he reminds us, “Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers.”
And yet, despite all that Paul learned to be content.
How? We must realize that happiness is not based on eternal factors. His eyes were so glued on Jesus that no matter how many times he was beaten with a rod, how many days or weeks he went without food, or how many times he was in prison – he still had hope.
Unfortunately we don’t always live the same way. I know if I have a bad day at work, or it’s raining, or my husband is short with me – it can ruin my whole day or week. But we must learn to not let it.
Or maybe we walk around like Eeyore unhappy with the way life has turned out. We think we will be happier if we are married, our husband was kinder, our job paid more or we had more friends. But until then we are going to dwell in what we lack.
The secret here is learning that true happiness doesn’t come from what we GET, it comes from drawing closer to God.
STEP 3: BE THANKFUL NO MATTER THE CIRCUMSTANCE
And now we get back to that verse 1 Thessalonians 5:18 16 Rejoice always, 17 pray continually, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
Returning to the story of Corrie and Betsie, it goes on to say that the two sisters began to hold worship services and Bible studies with the other prisoners, and each day grew more and more bold as they seemed to be given an unusual amount of freedom to do so. Although pleased with the outcome, they couldn’t understand why the guards didn’t stop them from worshipping, or even punish them.
That is until one day when Corrie continues with the story:
“One evening I got back to the barracks late from a wood-gathering foray outside the walls. A light snow lay on the ground and it was hard to find the sticks and twigs with which a small stove was kept going in each room. Betsie was waiting for me, as always, so that we could wait through the food line together. Her eyes were twinkling.
“‘You’re looking extraordinarily pleased with yourself,’ I told her.
“‘You know, we’ve never understood why we had so much freedom in the big room,’ she said. ‘Well–I’ve found out.’
“That afternoon, she said, there’d been confusion in her knitting group about sock sizes and they’d asked the supervisor to come and settle it.
“But she wouldn’t. She wouldn’t step through the door and neither would the guards. And you know why?”
“Betsie could not keep the triumph from her voice: ‘Because of the fleas! That’s what she said, “That place is crawling with fleas!’”
“My mind rushed back to our first hour in this place. I remembered Betsie’s bowed head, remembered her thanks to God for creatures I could see no use for.”
Today, let’s remember to thank God for all his blessings. Whether its our jobs, health, family, pets. But then let’s also not forget to thank him for the fleas – the less than pleasant parts of life where God may be using to bring us future blessings, or blessings we don’t understand now.
What fleas do you need to thank God for today?