This guest post was written by Cynthia Beaudry who lives with her husband Brian and her dog Penny in Portland, Oregon.
I used to feel sorry for myself.
Like all of time, in fact. And when I wasn’t feeling sorry for myself I was trying to manipulate those around me to do the same. Honestly, it was because it seemed that nothing ever came easy in my life.
And because of that I spent a lot of time in victim mode.
Somewhere along the line, I bought into the lie that God was depriving me of something or had it out to get me. It could have been because of the trauma in my life that communicated this to me, like my mom’s drug abuse, my dad’s murder, or my own abuse at 12. But even the trivial things of life seemed to reinforce this, like someone pulling the whiskers out of my Velveteen Rabbit or the lady at Holy Cross Catholic Church who had made fun of my big toe, the toe God made me with. So my life, marked with affliction and wounds and complaints and disappointments, furthered me in my heart away from the Lord. Surely, He had forgotten or thought less of me.
Obviously I was a burden on life and my job was to cower under who I imagined God to be.
Even though I became born again in 2000, it was only until I came to Portland Fellowship in 2008 that the Lord began to confront this belief system in my heart. I remember sitting in my very first teaching of Taking Back Ground as Drew taught “The Journey Begins”. I listened intently as he paralleled the story of the Children of Israel’s journey out of Egypt to our own journey out of sexual brokenness. It was very compelling, as I had never ascertained the similarities. Then I remember one point in the teaching, his leaning in toward us and relating, in a tender yet, sobering tone, the secret to his discipleship success. Ooooh. This is gonna be good, I thought. I could tell by the way he leaned in. “I’m gonna tell you what’s gonna get you through in this journey,” He announced. “….Gratitude.”
Gratitude? Gratefulness? Thanks… but no thanks. You mean to tell me that I came all across the US to hear that the secret to sexual wholeness is thanksgiving? Pffffft. But a part of me marveled, because I know that it was the Holy Spirit who had whispered to me a very important antidote to my “Woe Is Me” syndrome. Simple… yet profound.
In everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. 1 Thessalonians 5:1
But what if like I, you can’t really see much to be thankful for? What if your life, like mine, has been marred with neglect, abuse, and loss? What if it’s too hard to give thanks to God because the gratitude sensor on your heart has been calloused over with layers of pain? In The Hiding Place (buy it here), Corrie Ten Boon recounts her time in the Ravensbrück concentration camp. It was in Barracks 28, a compound designed for 400 but that actually housed 1400 women, that Corrie and her sister Betsie prayed and sought the Lord with their smuggled bible. The conditions were unbearable; overflowing toilets, rotting straw, unstable sleeping platforms, and a flea and lice infestation. In Barracks 28, Corrie and her sister recited 1 Thessalonians 5:1, and Corrie begrudgingly gave thanks to God.
“‘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 don’t know about you, but I would have reacted in the same way Corrie did. Give thanks for fleas? Doesn’t God see that I am already in a concentration camp? Truth is, we all have had “fleas” in our life. And in the midst of the infestation or affliction, we can question God’s character. Maybe your affliction is same sex attraction, or perhaps your heart is grieving deeply over the life choices of a loved one. Sometimes our affliction comes in the form of illness, or financial loss. Whatever the fleas in our life, it can cause us to doubt if God really does have our best interest in mind.
Psalm 119:71 My suffering was good for me, for it taught me to pay attention to your decrees. (NLT)
Pain certainly does get our attention.
The Holy Spirit used Taking Back Ground to disciple me through my pain and taught me the value in grieving. At the end of my internship, I took an isolated retreat to spend some time with Jesus. Quite honestly, most of my time in that cabin… alone… in the woods…. With no cell phone or computer…. Or anything to entertain me… was one big pity party. Waaah, I whined. My mom is a crack head. Waaah. Nobody loves or wants me… Waaah… I’m ugly. Waaah… I’m in the Internship… Waaah… It’s almost done…. At some point, I decided to read my bible. 1 Thessalonians in fact. I read it through and highlighted the verse about being thankful. After reading, I waited for the Lord to speak to my heart and give me the majestic oracles of life and the prophetic revelations for my future. Silence….. Waaaah.
As my time at the retreat was about to be up, I packed up my leftover Ramen and articles of clothing and slouched on the futon next to my knapsack. This is when the Holy Spirit spoke to my heart.
I am not withholding anything from you.
It honestly, was a shock. I was surprised. Not that He had spoken, but that His Character indeed was good.
Thank you, I replied.
I can let suffering cripple me as I did for many years, or I can let suffering compel me towards maturity. I am grateful for a God who can empathize in my sufferings, for even Christ was abused. I learned about this God here at Portland Fellowship, truly and authentically. I know that the holiday season is over now, but God is encouraging my heart to continue to be thankful and I hope to encourage you in that as well. It is in gratitude that we can start to see the God of Justice moving on our behalf and working all things together for our good. Being thankful for me has made the temporal stuff start to seem fuzzy, as if I have removed my worldly glasses.
When Corrie Ten Boom, and her sister were in Barracks 28, they thanked God for the fleas. Little did they know God’s intention. During their time there, they were able to meet with other women for worship services. At first, the book says they met with great timidity. Then, as night after night went by and no guard ever came in to stop them, they grew bolder, and increased the number of times they met. Despite the great surveillance, and the threat of execution, in their dormitory they had no supervision oddly enough, and were able to worship the Lord freely. Later they came to discover all of the Nazi personnel were afraid to enter into their dorm because of the tremendous infestation of fleas.
I pray that for you and me, over time and through the learning of God’s character. That we would accept His invitation to trust in Him despite the fleas in our life. May our hearts thank the Lord for His afflictions that do certainly teach us to trust in Him. May we come to a supernatural understanding that God uses our “fleas” to bring about His eternal purposes. I pray that God continues to open our eyes to bigger pictures of our afflictions and may our heart erupt with gratitude.
(Editors Note: As I was searching for pictures of Corrie, I couldn’t find a single one where she was not smiling! How can one find so much joy after such an unimaginable experience? Maybe our joy is not found in experiences at all.)