In the book The Hiding Place, one of the most weirdly Christian moments is when Betsie Ten Boom, in the midst of the horror of a work camp during World War II, starving, weak, suffering daily abuse and torment and being eaten alive by fleas in their barracks says, essentially, “thank you, God, for the fleas.”* Her sister, Corey, who is telling the story is incredulous. I am pretty sure, under those circumstances, I would have figured Betsie has finally succumbed to the trauma and lost her mind.
Have you ever had fleas at home? Let me tell you, having fought them myself, if is a life-altering, hard core battle against a tiny, tenacious army of ankle biters – and there were times when I despaired of winning the war. I assume it might have been a bit less so had we called in some professional help.
When we first moved into our new mobile home, before the manufacturer came out to put the “skirt” on, a poor, old, literally flea-infested mutt wandered into our yard and took shelter from the hot summer sun under our home. He shared his infestation with us via the pant legs of the workers who went in and out of our home as part of the setup process.
One never gets “a” flea. They travel in legions and we went from no fleas to infestation in less than a couple of hours. Luckily, we weren’t fully into the home so didn’t have all our furniture there. We bought flea-specific foggers. I think they thought it a spa treatment and invited more friends to the party.
Next we ordered professional grade spray online, and sprayed all the floors and furniture. I believe their reaction to this was much like what happened to the Israelite slaves in Egypt – when persecuted, they multiplied.
Having researched the process online, we were also vacuuming everything every night. We were consumed with the fight!
Finally, my younger sister, Donna, told us to try salt. Seemed odd that salt would have a greater effect than all the professional grade stuff, but we were battle weary enough to try anything. It worked - at least as a final effort, on top of the vacuuming daily and all the other chemicals. A couple of weeks after the battle had begun, the war was finally over.
Corey and Betsie later learned that the fleas kept the guards out of their barracks, allowing them to continue with their nightly Bible study without persecution.
I have yet to find a specific God-engineered purpose for our fleas and I probably never will. It seems to have been just time and chance. We have to face the fact that sometimes suffering has no specific, God-ordained purpose. Sometimes suffering is just a by-product of living in Satan’s world.
Even when the purpose is not made clear, we can still learn from trials. So, here are my lessons from the Flea Infestation of 2010:
- Troubles come. We were never we never promised a life of ease, safety, perfect health and eternity in this body. What we are promised is a life that is abundant because of our relationship with God. [John 10:10] We are promised a life of great peace because we love God’s law. [Psalm 119:165] We are promised a life LESS burdensome because we bring our labors and cares to Jesus. [Matthew 11:28]
- Give thanks. Even when we don’t understand the purpose of a trial, we can practice “flea thankfulness” and be thankful to God that He is in control, loves us and uses all things “together for the good.” [Romans 8:28] I don’t think we actually have to say “thank you for the fleas” – just be thankful that God sees our suffering, hears our cries and helps us through it. [Ephesians 4:20; Luke 12:6-7]
- Tenacity is required. Like fleas, sin is tenacious. To fight it, we have to be tenacious too. Sometimes we despair of winning the battle. We have to call on everything in our arsenals – prayer, Bible study, fasting, faith, hope, trust – applied and repeated until the battle is won. [2 Timothy 2:15; 1 Peter 3:15; 1 Thes. 5:17; Matthew 17:21] Even though we ultimately won the war by fighting the battle directly ourselves, I did learn that it is much better to call in professional help. In all my spiritual battles, I am definitely going to follow that advice! [Hebrews 4:16]
- Salt works. The world is full of fleas, metaphorically speaking – things that pester us and make our lives difficult. Life is full of trials, trauma, pain, sadness, and troubles that bite at our ankles every day. But we are to be the salt of the earth. Matthew 5:13 [NIV] "You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.” We, as the salt of the earth, are to be about the business of making the lives of others better. We can do that by preaching the Gospel. We can lift the burdens of the poor by donating time, money and things to them. We won’t get rid of their trials of life, but we can help them get rid of the suffering that is added to those who suffer trials without the knowledge of the love of God and the good news of salvation through Jesus.
I still am not thankful for the fleas. I’m not sure I need to be, as long as I am thankful to God for all He has done, even during the circumstance of doing battle with fleas. 1 Thes. 5:16-18 [NIV] Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus.
My wish for you is that you will be the salt that is the cure for someone else’s flea infestation.
I welcome your thoughts, comments and questions. You can write to me at Nancy@DynamicChristianMinistries.org.