Corrie ten Boom’s The Hiding Place has been on my reading list for several years now. Autobiographies and memoirs are some of my favorite books to read, and this one was no exception. I actually found it in an e-book format (not my preferred reading method, but it means I can read silently and one-handed, which is helpful with a baby to care for) and over the course of 48 hours and a lot of reading-while-nursing sessions, I flew through the entire thing.
Let me tell you straight away: There aren’t many books besides the Bible that honestly changed my life in a dramatic way, but this is one of the few. I had to keep reminding myself that this story is true and that the God who cared for Corrie and her family is the same God who cares for me, and each time this happened I felt bolstered in my faith and challenged to pray for the level of joy that the ten Boom family exhibited in such horrible circumstances. In fact, the whole experience was rather providential, considering that I started reading it as an experiment to see if I could spend my time doing something edifying while feeding Iva – as opposed to scrolling through Instagram, watching TV, comparing my life to others’, making stupid purchases, and feeling sorry for myself generally. That isn’t to say that we should make light of legitimate pain and problems we experience just because someone somewhere has it worse, but it does erase some of the margin for self-pity and bitterness that we easily take advantage of.
Anyway . . . if you don’t know the story, I won’t give too much away because I want everyone to read it for themselves. Basically, though, it gives the account of the ten Boom family’s “underground” efforts to help persecuted Jews during the Nazi occupation of Haarlem in World War II. The latter half of the story includes Corrie’s memories of life in the Ravensbruck concentration camp in Germany (and while she never traverses the line between explicit or gory, there are many unsettling details that may be scarring for a younger child to read; so use your parental wisdom when considering whether to read this with the kiddos).
What I found just as convicting to read, however, were the chapters about the ten Boom family’s life and home leading up to the German occupation. It was beautiful to read about how they used their home for extensive hospitality, operated an honest and industrious family business, and shared (or showed) the Gospel with everyone who entered their door. I was especially moved by Corrie’s testimony of her mother’s life and death well before the German occupation. Cornelia ten Boom was known not only for her diligence in the home and her fierce love for her neighbors – which is commendable in itself – but also for her joy-filled season of physical suffering leading up to her death. Corrie notes at one point that her mother would sit by her tiny window (facing a brick wall) unable to speak or walk, and she would use a system of yes-or-no questions to communicate whose birthday or anniversary it was in their town so that Corrie could send them a token of love and concern – a loaf of bread, a note, or something along those lines. Over and over in this book I was struck by this family’s commitment to forget their own suffering in their endeavors to alleviate the suffering of others.
This really hits home for me because while they were busy displaying Christ to their community, they were reluctant to believe that the Nazi persecution was something they themselves would truly face. Even as they heard news from extended family about the state of things in neighboring countries, it wasn’t until their literal neighbors were beginning to experience such hardships and one showed up on their doorstep that they sprang into action. I’m not criticizing them in this by any means (how can you plan and act before you know the need?) but it was striking to think that there are atrocities happening in the world now that would not surprise me if I saw them manifest on my doorstep before I die. Corrie writes in an early chapter describing a cheerful community party that as they went about their normal lives together, it didn’t cross their mind that they would experience something like Nazi occupation in only a handful of years. They didn’t have much to regret because they used their normal lives to the fullest in an eternal sense – which freed and trained them to also use their lives of suffering to the fullest later.
If something similar is ordained to happen to me in the years to come, would I have such a Gospel-saturated testimony? Would I be able to endure intense evils and abuses while worrying more for the souls of my persecutors than for my own wellbeing, like Corrie’s sister? Would I be able to rip my eyes off my own pain long enough to create further systems for neighborly service even as I lay in my deathbed, like Corrie’s mother? Would I have been known for my commitment to the truths in Scripture above all things, like Corrie’s father?
In reading The Hiding Place‘s endless testimonies of courage and selflessness, I found myself praying over and over that God would create such eternity-minded virtues in my own heart . . . because as Corrie attests in the final chapters of the book, it has nothing to do with one individual’s fortitude, but everything to do with the grace and strength that God supplies: “When He tells us to love our enemies He gives, along with the command, the love itself.”
May we all come to trust that Jesus is our hiding place.