Can you thank God for the fleas?


Last week I suggested that we should be getting into the Thanksgiving mode by writing down three things for which we are thankful or writing a personal note to those people for whom we are thankful. Doing these things will indeed help us in the long run to mold our hearts and our attitudes into a thankful rather than critical mode.

In the follow-up to that article I discovered that my suggestions were not only not original, but were practices that have been followed for years by significant leaders in the international business community.

No matter what you may think otherwise of him, each year Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg gives himself a personal discipline challenge. In 2013, it was to meet a new person who doesn’t work at Facebook every day. In 2010, he set out to learn Mandarin. And in 2014, Zuckerberg revealed that he was challenging himself to write one thank you note each day.

In a “Bloomberg Businessweek” cover story he vowed to write “a well-considered thank you note every day, via email or handwritten letter.” His reasoning: “It’s important for me, because I’m a really critical person. I always kind of see how I want things to be better, and I’m generally not happy with how things are, or the level of service that we’re providing for people, or the quality of the teams that we built.”

Douglas Conant, the former Campbell’s Soup CEO, takes this practice to the next level. Conant says he wrote at least 30,000 thank you notes to employees over the course of his 10-year career. He committed about an hour each day to writing thank you notes, an eternity in a busy Fortune 500 CEO’s schedule. He usually made time for it during his commutes or while traveling.

Conant said, “[Most senior executives] develop this skill set that’s largely based around critical thinking. They get really good at it, and tend to really develop that muscle” of trying to critique things more than compliment them.

Tom Peters, a management expert, adds that the note should also be handwritten. When it comes to thank you notes, “barely readable scrawl is best. It really says you’re being personal.” Peters also says they’re particularly effective when sent to low-level employees who will be more impressed to hear from someone at the top. “But we’re all suckers for it,” he added.

Those personal thank you notes begin by our looking at our lives and determining those things for which we indeed are thankful. And sometimes, that can be a difficult task, especially for most people who naturally think critically and do not seem to notice so easily the positive things that occur in our lives.

I cannot help but think of Corrie ten Boom when the subject of thankfulness comes up. In “The Hiding Place,” she tells of how she and her sister were so very thankful during their time in a Nazi concentration camp at Ravensbruck. The barracks where Corrie and her sister, Betsy, were kept were terribly overcrowded and flea-infested. They had been able to miraculously smuggle a Bible into the camp, and in that Bible they had read that in all things they were to give thanks and that God can use anything for good.

Betsy decided that this meant thanking God for the fleas. This was too much for Corrie, who said she could do no such thing. Betsy insisted, so Corrie gave in and prayed to God, thanking him even for the fleas.

Over the next several months a wonderful, but curious, thing happened: They found that the guards never entered their barracks.

This meant that the women were not assaulted. It also meant that they were able to do the unthinkable, which was to hold open Bible studies and prayer meetings in the heart of a Nazi concentration camp. Through this, countless numbers of women came to faith in Christ.

Only at the end did they discover why the guards had left them alone and would not enter into their barracks: It was because of the fleas.

October was Pastor Appreciation Month. As a former pastor (Do you really ever stop being one?), I have always had mixed emotions about this month. On the one hand, it is a very nice and much-needed gesture on the part of church congregations. But on the other hand, it always seems rather awkward for the pastor. I truly hope that those of you who are reading this have taken the time and made the effort to show your pastor that you appreciate him, and have also made a commitment to do so for more than just one month a year.

This Thanksgiving, give thanks to God for every good and perfect gift (Jam. 1:17), but also thank him for how he will use all things for good in the lives of those who trust him (Rom. 8:28).

In this time of declining home values and rising unemployment, in a time when many are facing physical and emotional challenges, there can be little doubt that such a trusting prayer of gratitude will be challenging to consider.

But when you feel that challenge, take a moment to thank your pastor … and remember the fleas of Ravensbruck.

And thank God anyway.

God bless…

Chuck Tabor is a religion columnist for The Times-Gazette and a former pastor of Faith Community Church in Hillsboro.

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