Thank God for the Fleas

Thank God for the Fleas:Remaining thankful in the midst of diversity

This article is a guest post from my brother, Jubal Terrell. I hope you get as much out of it as I did!


If you are reading this blog, chances are since you know Beth, you probably know me too.  If you don’t, I am about to reveal a little bit of my heart to a bunch of strangers, but that’s okay. 

My biggest struggle in life is being thankful for what I have.  That probably sounds cliché, but it is very true.  Especially by comparison to the majority of the world, I think I have a really incredible life.  God has seen fit to give me a wife, a daughter, a son (coming in May), a place of ministry at a wonderful church, a well-paying job, amazing friends, and I could probably literally fill the page with things for which I should be really grateful. 

But I am not.  There is a song by the band The Classic Crime called “You and Me Both,” and the song talks about yearning for adventure, “need[ing] a new story…where I take on the world.”  I relate.  I am surrounded by blessings from God, but I sit in ungratefulness on a weekly daily hourly minutely basis.

I feel like I need some more excitement in my life, but I actually have as much excitement as I should need, especially with a youth group to lead, a two-year-old ball of basically pure energy, and a pregnant wife at home.  But instead of focusing on those things that I should be thankful for; instead of enjoying what the Lord has seen fit to give me, I focus on the negative things.

I am taking three classes this semester, plus I work 40-45 hours a week at my day job, 15 more hours a week at the church, and I need to find time to do all of my reading and homework for my classes and spend time with my family?!  Where do I possibly find the time for that?  Not to mention the fact that my day job is constantly stressful, I have to be there at 6 am, then as soon as I leave there I have to go to the church to work on Sunday School lessons, plan activities, do homework, etc!  I am not getting home each night until 8 or 9, meaning it’s basically time for bed again! 

STOP!  Stop complaining!  Stop looking at all of these things as negative, and see how many amazing people and things there are in my life that I should be praising God for! 

But not just being thankful for the good things that God has placed in my life, I should be thanking God for the good AND the bad (or at least what I perceive as bad)!  1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 reads “Rejoice evermore.  Pray without ceasing.  In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you (KJV, emphasis mine).”

If you don’t know the story of Corrie Ten Boom, you need to.  She was a Christian in Holland during the Holocaust.  She and her family hid Jews in their home, and eventually were found out.  They were taken to concentration camps, and she lost much of her family during this time. 

At one point, Corrie and her sister Betsie were taken to Ravensbruck, a German work camp.  They were placed in a barracks that was crawling with fleas, and Corrie was completely repulsed, asking her sister how they were ever to make it in a place like that.  Betsie answered her by referring her to 1 Thessalonians 5, which they had read just that morning on a smuggled-in Bible. 

She told Corrie that God had given them the answer to how they were to live in such terrible conditions, how they were to sleep in such tight quarters with an infestation of fleas biting them all night long.  God had told them to give thanks in ALL circumstances; in EVERY thing!  And so, with Betsie’s urging, they did. 

““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 at the dark, foul-aired room.  “Such as?” I said.
“Such as being assigned her together…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 the 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…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.”

This was upon their arrival at Ravensbruck.  Over the days that passed, Corrie and Betsie were able to hold two services a night, reading from the Scriptures and sharing with their bunkmates.  The women of Barracks 28 heard from God’s Word every night, and in greater numbers than Corrie and Betsie could believe, never a guard in sight!  A while later, they learned why, though every other barracks was heavily patrolled and monitored, Barracks 28 never seemed to have any guards within its walls:

““You know we’ve never understood why we had so much freedom in the big room,” [Betsie] 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.”

              We never seem to understand the purpose behind our circumstances, the reasons for our pain.  We don’t have to.  Corrie and Betsie could have spent the rest of their lives unaware of the reason that the Barracks weren’t patrolled, unsure of why God had allowed them to spend every night covered in fleas.  But, in this case, the Lord showed them the reason, He showed them that they were suffering with the fleas because it meant that His Word was being shared with so many other women, many of whom probably needed the Lord desperately, but didn’t yet know Him. 

              I can’t see the reason that God allows the circumstances that He does.  I can’t know why He allows me to face struggles and hardships, none of us do.  But when I get to the point of griping and complaining about my difficult job, or my busy schedule, or my to-do list that never seems to get shorter (but actually seems to be growing), I must remember “in every thing give thanks.”  EVERY thing.  Maybe next time I decide that I want to start complaining, instead I will just turn to God and thank Him for the fleas.


[Not being paid to endorse anything, but if you haven’t read The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom, it is the story of Corrie’s life and is a really incredible display of God’s power in the life of someone who truly loved Him and sought to follow Him.  I have read it multiple times and I really love it.  Here is the information if you’re interested:

Ten Boom, Corrie. The Hiding Place.  Bantam: New York, 1971.  241 pp. $5.99]


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