Kindred Spirits: Corrie Ten Boom

I first read Corrie Ten Boom’s autobiography The Hiding Place when I was 11 years old. I was really interested in Holocaust stories at that age and my parents gave me this book as a true-story counterpart to the many historical fiction books I was enjoying. And it became one of my favorite books of all time.

The Hiding Place (1971; 1996 edition)

Not only is The Hiding Place a wonderful story of courage, hope, and faith during one of the darkest times in recent history, but Corrie Ten Boom herself is a kindred spirit for me. She was a tempestuous person, struggled with many of the same emotions I have felt, but she grew up to be a pillar of wisdom and strength–which I greatly aspire to be when I am old, as well. So much of what she wrote would come to back to me in times of difficulty, and still comes back to me. Many of her pearls of wisdom came from her father, Casper Ten Boom, who gently and lovingly counseled Corrie through many painful times. Through Corrie’s words, I felt like he was a spiritual father to me too.

The following are the most prominent lessons I have taken from Corrie’s writing. It is by no means exhaustive. If you have never read her memoirs, I encourage you to do so–meet this incredible women and hear a testament to God’s providential love for us.

The Train Ticket of God’s Grace

I was an anxious child and am an anxious adult. It is genetic. It is learned. It does not define me, but it is a characteristic of my personality. Coupled with my analytical mind, it is recipe for a firestorm. Give me any scenario, and I can immediately come up with the worst-case outcome for it, and feel like it is happening right now.

I am afraid of death. Deathly afraid of death. I absolutely hate losing people I love. And I myself am afraid to leave everything I have ever known to die. I believe in heaven. But it is unknown. Death is final. No going back. No second chances. It fills me with terror.

When Corrie was a child and first encountered death–the death of a baby in a neighbor family–she was terrified too. That night when her father came to tuck her into bed, she burst into tears, crying, “I don’t want you to die!” Her sister told the father what they had seen that day at the baby’s visitation, and he sat down on Corrie’s bed and asked her, “When we go to Amsterdam, when do I give you your ticket?”

“Right before we get on the train,” she answered.

“Exactly. And our wise Father in heaven knows when we’re going to need things, too. Don’t run ahead of Him, Corrie. When the time comes that some of us will have to die, you will look into your heart and find the strength you need–just in time.”

God gives you grace to handle whatever hard thing it is at the very moment it happens. He gives you the courage to face it. Not before. Worrying about the dreadful event before it has happened means you are running ahead, without that ticket of God’s grace to handle the situation.

These words always give me peace. Nothing will break me. God will give me the strength to move forward in the future pain.

Corrie’s strength in the horrors of the concentration camp, and in losing her father and sister there, is a testament to this being true.

When Love Is Blocked

When Corrie was a teenager and young adult, she fell deeply in love with one of her brother’s university friends–a boy named Karel. They would go on walks together and talk about everything. As they grew closer, they talked about the house they would live in, and how many children they would have. When they were apart, Corrie would write him every day, and he wrote regularly, but not very often back. Corrie’s brother warned her that his parents had wanted him to marry someone wealthy, and that Karel was not serious about the things he said to her, but the ever-romantic Corrie scoffed at that. That is not the way romance works–wealth, pedigrees, all of that does not matter when love is there!

Then one day Karel came to visit the Ten Boom family, with his new fiancee in tow. Corrie was devastated. Somehow she made it through that awful visit and escaped to her bedroom, where she collapsed sobbing on to her bed. He was the one love of her life, and she knew there would never be anyone else.

Her father came up the stairs later that evening to talk with her.

“Corrie,” he began…, “do you know what hurts so very much? It’s love. Love is the strongest force in the world, and when it is blocked that means pain.

“There are two thing we can do when this happens. We can kill the love so that it stops hurting. But then of course part of us dies, too. Or, Corrie, we can ask God to open up another route for that love to travel.

“God loves Karel–even more than you do–and if you ask Him, He will give you His love for this man, a love nothing can prevent, nothing destroy. Whenever we cannot love in the old, human way, Corrie, God can give us the perfect way.”

The Hiding Place, p. 47

And when her father left, she knew she had to give up her feelings for Karel, without killing the joy and wonder she had experienced and grown in with his love. She prayed: “Lord, I give to You the way I feel about Karel, my thoughts about our future–oh, You know! Everything! Give me your way of seeing Karel instead. Help me to love him that way. That much.”

When I read this as a child, the heartbreak stuck with me. In college and in my 20s, this passage became lifeline for me. I had several unrequited loves over the years, and I did not know what to do with the deep feelings that would not go away. And I would follow Corrie, and pray my love over to Christ. The pain of not being able to love someone as I wanted never instantaneously dissolved–as I am sure it did not for Corrie, either. But knowing that God loved the boy I could not, and would care for him better than I ever could, gave me peace that my love was not wasted. Whenever the pain would rise up again, I would pray over this person, asking the Lord to bless him, as well, and thanking God for the fun and enjoyment I had for a brief time with him. And God used it to heal my heart, protect me from bitterness towards the person, and allow me to find a place where I could love without it being blocked.

This beautiful lesson and example can be applied in other situations as well, not just for unrequited romantic love or a break up. When a friend or family member pushes you away, abandons you, or in some other way dissolves a relationship with you, you can ask the Lord to help you find a new way to love them–even if you cannot talk to them or live with them or interact with them anymore. He can, and He will, give you His great love for this person, regardless of circumstances.

Presence of God in Every Circumstance

Women prisoners working at Ravensbruck in Germany

If I had to choose an over-arching theme of The Hiding Place, it would be the presence of God in every circumstance. No matter how dire the situation, how bleak and hopeless, God always provides comfort, hope, and blessing.

The book is filled with examples of this especially during Corrie’s time in prison and the concentration camp. In the prison Scheveningen, there was a nurse who smuggled in a Bible and soap for her. When she had to be interrogated by a Lieutenant at the prison, she prayed, “Lord Jesus, You were called to a hearing too. Show me what to say.” And Jesus was there–helping her speak honestly and lovingly about her family’s faith and work with this man, and softening his heart toward Corrie.

When Corrie and her older sister Betsie were sent to the women’s concentration camp Ravensbruck, in Germany, Corrie was miraculously able to hide a sweater, a Bible, and a bottle of vitamins for her feeble sister under her prison dress after the showers. It created a huge bulge under Corrie’s dress, but God covered the eyes of the guards so that no one noticed. Corrie and Betsie used the Bible to minister to the other women at the camp–they both knew they were there to help others, and share the love and hope of Jesus with them.

The Lord gave them that strength to continue this ministry despite the depressing and hopeless atmosphere. One of the blessings He sent to help them was the fleas. At first Corrie could not be thankful for them, despite Betsie’s urging her to give thanks for everything in their circumstance. And then one day, they realized the reason that the guards never came into their barracks and never stopped their evening Bible studies and prayers. The German guards did not want to risk catching the fleas in that hut. God sent them blessing and protection even in the tiniest of ways–with fleas.

Towards the end of Corrie’s time in Ravensbruck, her dear sister Betsie grew sicker and sicker, and was taken away to the infirmary where she passed away. This was a devastating moment for Corrie. She cried out, “Lord Jesus–what have You done! Oh Lord, what are You saying! What are You giving me!” But when a nurse brought her to see her sister, she saw Betsie’s face–peacefully asleep, healthy, and young. God allowed her (and the nurses) the blessing of seeing Betsie as she was now in heaven, fully free and joyful, beautiful and strong. It was that grace her father had once talked about. It was the grace from God that Corrie needed to handle the loss of her sister and face the concentration camp alone.

My favorite parts of The Hiding Place are these countless records of God’s presence and care for his children. It’s a powerful testimony. And a deep encouragement.

Forgiving When It Is Impossible

Years after Corrie’s release from Ravensbruck and the end of the war, she worked to help people reconcile after the war–particularly providing food and shelter for the Dutch who had collaborated with the Germans and were now ostracized and thrown out of their homes. She preached reconciliation and forgiveness. In addition to this, she traveled around speaking at churches–sharing the gospel and her unique testimony of God’s power in her life. At one church speaking event, a former SS guard from Ravensbruck came up to her. She immediately recognized him, but he had no idea who she was. He came up to her to say that he was so grateful for her message, and was amazed at the thought that Christ had washed away his sins. This man had been changed by the gospel she was preaching. But she was boiling over with hatred toward him in her heart. He had been one of the men who had forced her and Betsie to strip in front of them and parade into a shower. He had been one of the mockers in that nightmare.

This man reached out his hand to shake hers and she could not move. There was nothing in her that wanted to be kind to him and shake his hand. So she prayed. “Jesus, I cannot forgive him. Give me Your forgiveness.” Then, as she writes, a supernatural thing happened. She took as his hand, and as she did, she felt a current run from her shoulder to her arm and into her hand, and an overwhelming feeling of love for this man came into her heart.

She explains, “And so I discovered that it is not on our forgiveness any more than on our goodness that the world’s healing hinges, but on His. When He tells us to love our enemies, He gives, along with the command, the love itself.”

Corrie’s work after the war to help Dutch citizens and Nazi collaborators to reconcile is an amazing act of forgiveness and love in itself, but the story of her forgiveness of the former SS guard she actually knew and felt hate for is an even greater one. It was not her good heart that forgave him. It was literally Christ’s love passing through her to enable her to forgive and love this man.

There are many times in my own life where my small human heart does not have the capacity to forgive a betrayal or to love someone who deeply hurt me. But then I remember this story. If Corrie could pray for Jesus’s forgiveness to help her forgive an SS officer, I can pray for his forgiveness to enable me to forgive my offender. While I may have not yet experienced an instantaneous love like Corrie received, I too have received a change of heart over time.

Corrie Ten Boom’s testimony of complete dependence on the Lord–for peace and grace in suffering, for love to find another way to travel, for every provision and comfort and blessing in the darkest days and places of the Holocaust, for forgiveness when no forgiveness is possible–is one that inspired me as a child, and continues to encourage me today.

Though I have never met her, I count her as one of my friends, a true kindred spirit.

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