NOTE: The audio of my reading of this post is at the bottom. Thanks for reading (or listening).
One day this past week I encountered a grumpy man at the dog park.
He didn’t say anything mean. He was just grumpy.
No big deal, really. In fact, I forgot about it the rest of that day.
But the next morning, it returned. And I couldn’t let it go. I grew frustrated with Grumpy man. Worse, I re-imagined the scene in my head—with a little more grumpiness on his part and some witty rejoinders on mine. It was ridiculous, and I grew even more frustrated with myself than with Grumpy Man. Why am I so caught up in this? I wondered. Why do I even care?
As I prayed about this, I remembered a scene I’d read the night before in The Hiding Place. My daughter is reading it for a class at school, and, though I’ve read it at least a couple times, it was lying around, so…
I was just going to read a few pages in the middle—but I finished it a little after midnight.
If you haven’t read The Hiding Place, you should. This true story is gripping: a quiet Dutch family becomes active in the underground movement during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands, assisting some Jews to flee the country and hiding others in the attic of their home. Eventually their work is discovered, and middle-aged daughters Betsie and Corrie Ten Boom, along with their elderly father and several other family members, are arrested. Their father dies after only a few days in prison; most of the other family members are eventually released; but Betsie and Corrie are sent together to Ravensbruck, the notorious concentration camp for women.
Betsie is a saint (I know Scripture calls all of us who believe in Christ “saints,” but I, at least, don’t generally act like one, and Betsie truly did.) For example, here’s how she acted in the scene I remembered this morning: Corrie and Betsie had just witnessed German guards mistreating some prisoners with intellectual disabilities. Corrie said, “Betsie, after the war, we must open a home so we can minister to them. They will have so many emotional wounds.” (I’m paraphrasing.)
Betsie responded, “Oh, yes, Corrie. They will need so much healing.”
It wasn’t until later Corrie realized Betsie had not been referring to the prisoners but to the guards. Even when she was personally mistreated by them, Betsie had compassion on them. She saw them as hurting souls.
Betsie was as free in prison as outside it because she harbored no bitterness. None! This allowed her not only to be an incredible blessing to those around her, but also made her own life—which could be accurately described as miserable, full of physical and emotional hardships 24 hours a day—joyous.
That is freedom, I thought as I reflected. How ironic that a woman in a hellish situation could be so mentally, emotionally, and spiritually free, while often we who are well-fed, well-clothed, and “free” to choose career/family/circumstances, live in bondage—to our own selves—and are therefore miserable and bitter.
Case in point: ME—fixated on Grumpy man.
Lord, I prayed, I want to be like Betsie!
It would be nice to end it there—as if the desire for change made it actuality.
But though I sure wanted it, it wasn’t the reality I lived in that day. In fact, my frustrations spread: one by one my kids got lumped in with the Grump. Finally, this afternoon, after another kid pushed another button (they were getting more and more easily pushed as the day went on), I escaped for a short run and listened to Tullian Tchividjian preach on the book of Romans. It was only the second sermon in the book series, so he was camping on chapter 1—with its strong emphasis on the complete sinfulness of all mankind.
Not exactly a “fun” listen! But it shut me up. All day I’d wanted to be more like Betsie and failed! And though I would never have said (or even “thought”) this “out loud,” I knew the fault had to be with the people rubbing me the wrong way—
Because it couldn’t be completely with ME!
But Romans 1 doesn’t allow for that shifting of blame, for blindness to personal fault, for portioning out wrong. So as Tchividjian broke down the second half of the chapter, peeling away the ways we lump “sinners” together and somehow remain outside that group ourselves, I had to sink into the truth.
I said it out loud in the quiet woods. “I am broken—to the core.” It suddenly didn’t matter that I figure out the specifics of each little set of frustrations. The ultimate reason I was frustrated was ME!
And then, finally, I was ready to receive.
It would be nice to think Betsie Ten Boom really was a “saint” in the way we think of the word: that she lived joyously and freely in her own power—out of some special personality she had (because then we might be able to achieve it on our own, too).
But Betsie arrived at freedom the same way I have to—through brokenness.
Her sweetness and joy was a result of her being willing, again and again, to admit her own inability, to be “ok” with her neediness, to say “NO” to self-sufficiency—and in that place of vulnerability and humility to drink in the great, ready grace of God.
In brokenness we receive—again and again and again.
It’s the only road to freedom.