4 Things I Learned from Corrie Ten Boom
Five days ago (April 15) marked the 25th death anniversary of Dutch watchmaker and Christian Corrie ten Boom.
Though I have always been familiar with her story, I had not yet picked up her book until I heard a presentation on Corrie ten Boom’s life. I teach a church history class and had asked my students to choose a famous Christian to share about. One student chose Corrie Ten Boom, and the presentation sparked an interest; I knew it was time to turn my attention to her story.
The book, “Hiding Place” details Corrie’s family’s decision to hide Jews and help them escape during World War 2, as well as her and her sister’s eventual imprisonment in a concentration camp. I devoured the book in a few hours. Not only was her story of perseverance and faith in the midst of such evil riveting, but the wisdom she displayed also moved me.
Four lessons especially stuck with me, and I’d like to share them here.
“For now I was content to leave them in my father’s keeping.”
When Corrie was young, she was traveling one day with her father on the train. They were talking, and she asked him what a “sexsin” is—she had heard this word in a poem. At first, it seemed like her father was changing the subject when he asked her if she would carry his briefcase off the train for him. She replied that she couldn’t; it was too heavy.
Her father said he’d be happy to carry the briefcase for her, and went on to say that it was the same way with knowledge. Some knowledge was too heavy for her right now, and he added, “for now you must trust me to carry it for you”.
Young Corrie was perfectly happy and willing to let him do so. She recalled, “And I was satisfied. More than satisfied—wonderfully at peace. There were answers to this and all my hard questions—for now I was content to leave them in my father’s keeping.”
Later in the book, Corrie referred to this story again. She saw something difficult and tragic at a concentration camp, and her sweet simple trust in her father all those years ago translated into a sweet simple trust in her Heavenly Father; she allowed her Heavenly Father to carry the too-heavy reality for her.
This is not about running away from an issue, or being in denial. This is about noticing our weakness or a limitation—something that somehow is just too much for us—and being able to let our Father carry it for us. It’s about us not taking control of an issue or dwelling on something too dark, too much, but instead saying that we are “content to leave them in [our] father’s keeping.” And to be at peace about it.
“Lord Jesus, I offer myself for Your people. In any way. Any place. Any time.”
Corrie was delivering some work to a local doctor and his family, when in the middle of their conversation, the father had to run upstairs to put his children to bed. Somehow, in that rather run-of-the-mill moment, Corrie suddenly realizes the fragility of everything. In just a moment, a knock of the door could change everything and this sweet family could be taken away. The realization shook her, and her response was this prayer of abandonment: “Lord Jesus, I offer myself for Your people. In any way. Any place. Any time.”
Corrie was offering her life. This is faith. This is trust. This is utter dependence.
Are we willing to do this? Are we willing to respond to the frailty of our lives in surrender to God, in giving ourselves to Him and His purposes, with no agenda of our own? What amazes me is that Corrie’s surrender is unconditional. She says she will do it in any way, any place, and any time.
So many of us, myself included, want to offer ourselves to God, but we are tempted to put boundaries on it. We will say out loud: “I offer myself to You,” while in our heads we are pleading, “But please don’t send me there,” or “Please don’t ask me to give that up.” Corrie’s simple, frank prayer serves as an example to us all.
“Perhaps only when human effort had done its best and failed, would God’s power alone be free to work.“
One of Corrie’s fellow workers in the underground (where they are helping to hide away Jewish families) had been captured even though they had taken all the necessary precautions. Corrie then realized that all human effort, all the trying-to-make-it-work, sometimes just doesn’t work.
Corrie wasn’t saying that there’s no need to work at all. If you’re doing something you have been called to, then put yourself into it wholly. But know that it doesn’t rest only on you. Put yourself to your work; do your best. And then trust that God is in this work He has called you to.
This reminds me of one of my favorite parts of Scripture. The disciples are fishing, but to no avail. They’ve worked all night and nothing has come of it. Jesus comes alongside them and basically says, “Why don’t you try it this way?”
I can imagine the fisherman disciples almost laughing at their carpenter Friend, forgetting for a second that He is Creator of all, Orchestrator of the Deep. I can almost imagine them smiling a little, thinking something like, “Thanks carpenter-man for the advice about how to fish, but let the professionals work.” But when they do it His way, when He is present in their work, they get more fish than they can handle. When they try to work on their own, they get nothing (Luke 5:1-8).
I don’t want to work, and try, and try-to-do as if I could accomplish on my own. I want God present in my work. I don’t want to do anything unless He’s behind it.
“The real sin lay in thinking that any power to help and transform came from me.”
Corrie admitted she dealt with selfishness while living in the barracks among the other women at the camp. She hid the little bit of medicine they had. She wouldn’t give a blanket away; she would only lend it. She wanted her sister on the inside during roll-call.
She said these little things spread within her like a cancer. Corrie had kept hidden a copy of the Bible which she had used to teach regularly from to the ladies in her barracks, and realized that her selfishness was getting in the way of the efficacy of her teaching. “Was it coincidence that joy and power had imperceptibly drained from my ministry?” she asked. Where was her joy? Where was the power in her prayer and Bible teaching that she used to have?
She found comfort in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, about his thorn in the flesh, and how through our weakness, God’s strength is made perfect (2 Corinthians 12:7-9). That was where she exclaimed, “The real sin lay in thinking that any power to help and transform came from me.”
So finally, she gathered those ladies from her barracks together and confessed her selfishness. And that night, “real joy returned to my worship”. She admitted her weakness and humbled herself. And God got to work—bringing beauty and truth out of her repentance and honesty.
When we are weary in our ministry, when we are struggling through prayer and worship that is no longer real and authentic, we’ve got to get our head back on straight. We are not the ones who can cause transformation in people’s life. We are weak. And it is in that weakness, and in spite of that weakness, God is going to move and work and be glorified.
I recently led a group of teenage girls through a week of hurricane relief. There were many ways of helping, but our group was assigned to manual labor. Let’s just say that that isn’t strength of mine. I felt totally incapable, at a loss for what was expected of me. There was even one morning when I just wanted to stay in bed and call in sick because I was so paralyzed with fear about what I would face.
And then this thought came to my mind: When I am weak, He is strong. I got up out of bed, and I faced that day. It was tough at times, but in each moment, in each task I was scared to death of, I was provided for. And real work happened in that city and in our group among our girls. I saw with my own eyes what confessing your weakness can do. The power to transform doesn’t lie with me, no way. But I believe His name is powerful, and so He is the one I lift my eyes to.
Corrie’s story encourages me so much. She was a woman who stood courageously for her friends, her people, and her God. May her example embolden and energize us towards loving Jesus and others well.
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