What’s Your Prison Bag?
Lately I have been reading The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom. I’m a bit disappointed with myself that I haven’t read this Christian classic earlier on. It is a fantastic read, captivating and painful and inspiring all at the same time. If you are not familiar, Corrie Ten Boom was the leader of an underground movement in Holland during Nazi occupation that sought to save as many Jews as possible. Using her home as the base of operations, a “hiding place” was built into her bedroom where several people could be placed in the event of a Nazi raid. It was a brick wall built 30 inches out from the actual wall, covered with an aged bookcase, with the only access point being a sliding wood panel on the bottom shelf of the bookcase.
Knowing that it was only a matter of time before she was found out, Corrie packed a prison bag with some precious belongings—a Bible, changes of warm clothes, paper, pen, needle and thread, soap, medications, and a toothbrush. Though it wasn’t much, in the case of imprisonment those items would prove very valuable, providing at least some measure of comfort during the impending hardship.
After managing to keep their operations a secret for a few years, the day finally came when the Ten Boom house was raided by German soldiers. Several Jews were able to make it into the hiding place, including an elderly woman who was wheezing so loudly you could hear her on the other side of the wall! Corrie, who was sick in bed with the flu, prayed that God would somehow keep the hidden Jews safe during the raid and waited until the soldiers made their way into her bedroom.
Only moments later, a Nazi came bursting in, demanding that Corrie come with him at once. Corrie got out of bed and instinctively was about to turn and grab her prison bag, until she realized she had shoved it up against the sliding panel of the hiding place. Would she dare risk the lives of people in order to take the bag she had so carefully packed for herself? She recounts in her own words:
The man threw the papers back at me. “Hurry up!”
But he was not in half the hurry that I was to get away from that room. I buttoned my sweater all wrong in my haste and stuffed my feet into my shoes without bothering to tie them. Then I was about to reach for my prison bag.
It stood where I had shoved it in my panic: directly in front of the secret panel. If I were to reach down under the shelf to get it now, with this man watching my every move, might not his attention be attracted to the last place on earth I wanted him to look?
It was the hardest thing I have ever done to turn and walk out of that room, leaving the bag behind.
It might not seem like much to you and I living our comfortable lives, but for someone who was sure to be spending time in a harsh prison environment, having a bag full of life’s basic necessities and conveniences would have been a very precious thing. Yet it was God’s plan for Corrie to have to leave behind her prison bag—her safety blanket, so to speak—and face this trial alone. She would be walking into the unknown with nothing of worldly value at her side. It was just her and God. Would she have the faith to trust him to get her through?
While none of us are hiding Jews in our bedroom from Nazi’s, there is a parallel here for our lives. Each of us has our version of a “prison bag”, something that represents the plans we have made for our own lives that will get us through troubled times. We have carefully put together our school grades, or our resume, or our retirement fund, or our perfect family, or whatever else, that we hope will be the thing that makes us feel safe and secure. We are all trusting in something to get us through the unknown future that lies ahead.
For Corrie, that was the prison bag. It represented her plans to alleviate future pain and hardship. It, for her, was the thing that was going to make prison a bearable experience. Yet now here she was, stripped of her plans, facing what lay before her with nothing but God to rely on. Amazingly, this is exactly as God intended it to be. He didn’t want Corrie to have her faith placed in her prison bag. He wanted her faith to be placed in him. The only way he could accomplish that was to take away the very thing she cherished the most.
As she said herself, “It was the hardest thing I have ever done to turn and walk out of that room, leaving the bag behind.”
Let me ask you this question: What’s your prison bag? What’s the thing you are trusting in to give you a comfortable life? What would cause you to have extreme anxiety if you were left without it? What, if you had to part with it, would cause you to say, “This is the hardest thing I have ever done?”
Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God. (Psalm 20:7)
God loves us enough to strip us of the false idols that give us security. He alone is the one who can provide for our every need, and sometimes we learn that lesson the hard way—by being forced to leave our “prison bags” behind. God’s plans are not our plans, and he will often mess them up so that we stop relying on our carefully scripted life course and instead walk by faith with him.
Faith. It is the most precious thing in the world, “more precious than gold” (1 Peter 1:7). In order for us to learn this, sometimes God takes away our gold. Sometimes he takes away our prison bag. He strips us of all that causes us to rely on ourselves so that we can instead rely on him. And this is a good thing, because he alone can be all that we need.
I’m not sure where you are today. Perhaps you are still carefully packing your prison bag. Perhaps your prison bag has been recently taken from you. Perhaps you are being asked by God to leave your prison bag behind. Regardless, the point is the same: will you trust God to take care of you no matter what, or will you put your faith in something that can only give you false hope? One way or another, because he loves you, God will make sure your prison bag isn’t there to save you when you need it. You’ll need to call upon him instead, and though it might be the hardest thing you will ever have to do, it will also be the nicest thing anyone has ever done for you.