Should We Be Thankful for Horrible Things?

It goes without saying ~ We have so much to be thankful for. If we took Thanksgiving Day to count our blessings, we’d still be counting on Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Christmas and long afterward.


We’re thankful for jobs and provision, for a little money in the bank and healthy bodies. We’re thankful for sunshine and rain, for freedom and answered prayers. We’re thankful for friends who stick by us regardless of our circumstances and lift us up when we need it most. We’re thankful for church family, who help shoulder our burdens and pray for us constantly. We’re thankful that God has brought us through difficult times and we’re thankful for family.

What are you thankful for?


I’m thankful for a Mother who lives out her marriage vows every day and night, taking care of my Father in his 15th year of Alzheimer’s. I’m thankful that my Father mostly knows his family, thankful that he knows he belongs with us. I’m thankful my Father can still attend Grace Arbor and that he loves to sit with Kevin and sing songs of yesterday. I’m thankful that twice this year when my Father wandered off, twice he was found unharmed.


This time last year, my Father was being diagnosed with prostate cancer and more testing loomed as we wondered if the cancer was anywhere else in his body or just confined to his prostate. In just a year, many prayers and hormone treatments have kept his PSA down and everything in check.

We have so much to be thankful for.


But what about the bad stuff? Are we supposed to be thankful for horrible things like disease, poverty, death and injustice? I’m not a masochist and neither are you. The mere idea of being thankful for horrible things seems ludicrous.


Perhaps that’s what Corrie ten Boom was thinking when she and her sister Betsie were arrested by the Gestapo in February 1944 for hiding Jews in their Dutch home during WWII and then taken to Ravensbruck concentration camp for women. Their dormitories were filthy with broken windows and backed up toilets. Great square piers stacked three high and wedged side by side served as their beds, filled with straw that reeked. The whole barracks was infested with fleas.

Betsie, 59 and Corrie, 52, both devout Christians, were determined to share the Gospel with as many women as they could and show them the love of Christ in the midst of such horrible suffering. They held a Bible study in their barracks and constantly prayed for their fellow prisoners and themselves.


Betsie was insistent that she would thank God no matter what. She was thankful that she and her sister had not been separated and sent to separate camps. She was thankful Corrie had smuggled a Bible into the camp and they were able to read the Word of God. She was thankful for the crowds of women they could share Jesus with. In her memoir, The Hiding Place, Corrie recounts their conversation:


“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 piers of bunks and gave thanks for fleas. But this time I was sure Betsie was wrong.”[i]

Betsie was reading from I Thessalonians 5:18 ~ Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. But like Corrie, we struggle to give thanks during the difficult times.


This verse doesn’t say to give thanks for all things but to give thanks in all things. There’s a difference.


When we become followers of Christ, our lives change. They do not become fairy tales. In fact, they often become harder because our Heavenly Father is developing our character to make us more like Christ. Once we’re adopted as sons and daughters of God, every single aspect of our lives is orchestrated from an eternal perspective. No matter what happens, no matter what catastrophe befalls us, we have the assurance that God will work everything out for our good and His glory.

I am not thankful for the Alzheimer’s that has plagued my Father for years. But I am thankful that this disease has changed my life and taught me so much about sacrifice and love. I am not thankful for my Father’s memory loss or his lack of understanding. But I am thankful that I am available to walk right beside him and help him each day.


When we follow Christ, everything can be turned into something for our good. Even fleas.


Because of Betsie’s poor health, she was spared from hard labor and put on knitting detail with other sickly prisoners to knit her daily quota of socks. One day when Corrie returned from gathering wood, she saw Betsie beaming. When she asked her sister the reason, Betsie told her that the knitting brigade had requested a supervisor to come into their barracks and answer a question.


“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!’”[ii]


Even those pesky insects had a divine purpose ~ to keep away the guards and staff so Betsie and Corrie could love their fellow prisoners and show them God’s love was stronger than man’s hate.


What difficult thing are you going through? Have you questioned ‘why?’ or wondered how any good could come out of this?


It’s not over. And your suffering is not lost on God. He sees everything and loves you without limit. We can’t see the end from the beginning. But we can choose what to focus on while we’re in the thick of it. Personally, I can relate more to Corrie, but I want to be more like Betsie. I want to be thankful in the good and the bad. And you know what? I can be. Because it’s my choice.


And it’s yours too.


[i] Ten Boom, Corrie. The Hiding Place. Grand Rapids: Chosen Books, 1971.

[ii] The Hiding Place.

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