At Thanksgiving I meditated with you on the secret to joy that God revealed to Betsie and Corrie ten Boom when they were prisoners in a Nazi concentration camp. Now let us consider the opposite—a failure to have joy even in pleasant circumstances. This entry also comes to us from ten Boom’s The Hiding Place, and is lifted from a conversation between the younger Corrie and her mother regarding Corrie’s aunt:
“Mama … can’t we do something for Tante Bep? I mean, isn’t it sad that she has to spend her last days here where she hates it, instead of where she was so happy? The Wallers’ or someplace?”
Mama laid down her pen and looked at me. “Corrie,” she said at last, “Bep has been just as happy here with us—no more and no less—than she was anywhere else.”
I stared at her, not understanding.
“Do you know when she started praising the Wallers so highly?” Mama went on. “The day she left them. As long as she was there, she had nothing but complaints. The Wallers couldn’t compare with the van Hooks where she’d been before. But at the van Hooks she’d actually been miserable. Happiness isn’t something that depends on our surroundings, Corrie. It’s something we make inside ourselves.”
On the one hand we have women who are happy under conditions of cruelty, malnourishment, and a flea infestation; on the other, we have a woman who is unhappy in much better conditions. This observation is as old as the hills. Partly it has to do with romanticism of the past, as illustrated in a 3,000-year-old case of whining and lamenting:
“Oh that we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we ate in Egypt that cost nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic. But now our strength is dried up, and there is nothing at all but this manna to look at” (Numbers 11:4-6).
We know for a fact that these whiners were miserable in Egypt, too, until God was finally moved with pity to act on their behalf:
“Then the LORD said, ‘I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters” (Exodus 3:7).
Many of us have learned that there is no geographic cure to unhappiness. Moreover, though my younger son protests with gentle ribbing, “No, Mom, you’re wrong: Money would make me happy,” I know that Jesus is right when He says that “one’s life does not consist in the abundance of one’s possessions” (Luke 12:15).
The apostle Paul learned how to be content in any situation. He knew that we choose to rejoice (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18) as we allow ourselves to be transformed by the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:2). We are happier as we make up our minds to believe what God says about the passing of this present world and the incomparable delights beyond.