There are many books for sale these days on how to survive just about anything. It helps, of course, to be young, fit, intelligent, skilled in survival techniques, well-resourced, male (with a background in special ops) and unencumbered by sickness, poverty, youth or age, and/or the psychological and mental infirmities that impose invisible barriers to surviving whatever man-made or natural maelstrom ensues.
In short, the odds of most of us surviving bad weather or bad guys don’t look so good.
We gather what canned goods, water, medications and hope we may, but the odds of achieving some semblance of normalcy both during the situation and after the seventy-two-hour pack is emptied are slim, particularly as time goes on.
But the good news is: survive, we can. We may emerge from fire or flood bruised and battered—or perhaps secured “on the other side”—but the strength of the human spirit, when tapped, abounds.
And it is the spirit—attitude, motivation—that generates all else. Not just mankind’s “human spirit” but God’s spirit available to us as well.
In days fraught with tension and danger I am reminded of two “spiritual survival primers,” if you will: a testimony and a dream. I offer them here as reminders and encouragement for you and for me. And I offer three survival tips drawn from them:
- Look up
- Pray in specifics
- Remember: God knows our needs beforehand
SURVIVAL TIP #1: LOOK UP
Betsie ten Boom, sister of the famed Corrie ten Boom of The Hiding Place fame, lay dying a wretched death in the “hospital” of a concentration camp during World War II. She, Corrie, and other members of their family were incarcerated by the Nazis for sheltering Jews in their home in Holland. Here, Betsie relates another sort of hiding place, one that kept her spirit from corroding in the acid of anger and bitterness. A place that only those who have been there can acknowledge:
“Tell them,” she told her sister, “That there is no pit so deep that God’s love is not deeper still.” 
It would take Corrie some time to recover from her own anger and bitterness, as it takes all of us time to recover, especially after the initial blows; it would take Corrie some time to realize the truth of her sister’s words. But recover, she did, and then took her testimony of God’s provision and salvation to the world.
“God does not have problems, only plans,” Corrie famously said in reference to the “clerical error” that allowed her at age 55 to be released from Ravensbruck concentration camp just before women of her age were murdered. And that incident was just the beginning of her decades-long ministry.
Betsie’s words surface now. She reminds me of the single most important survival tip, the one that nurtures the spirit from which emanates all other “plans,” no matter one’s condition. The tip? “look up.” As the Psalmist put it, “I lift up my eyes to the hills– / where does my help come from? / My help comes from the Lord, / the Maker of heaven and earth” (Psalm 121:1, NIV).
SURVIVAL TIP #2: PRAY IN SPECIFICS
I am also reminded of a dream I had about thirty years ago. It was dense with drama but not fodder for a good plot line as there was no real conflict, or so said my writing mentor. However, it offers some instruction and hope here.
Three women, a mother and her young daughters, were gathered with a multitude of others in a “round up,” similar to the round ups of Jews and dissidents in Hitler’s Germany. (Had I been reading some Holocaust survival story? Probably). Most of those in the round-up seemed to think this was for their protection or for some other positive purpose, but the mother knew otherwise.
Before mother and daughters joined the others, she told her daughters to gather any food they could and dress in layers. The rest of the dream was a series of “escape” anecdotes, preceded by very specific prayers. The most memorable incidents go like this:
1. The mother prayed for strength to stay mentally focused. Just then, a neighbor, coming up alongside them, who also suspected some pending evil, began sobbing and screaming. The mother, knowing nothing else to do to stop the hysteria, slapped her neighbor across the face.
“You’ve got to stop this,” she said to her neighbor. “If you continue this behavior, it will render you helpless.” The neighbor, shocked, ceased the hysteria.
The truth of this also calmed the mother’s own thought-threatening terror.
2. At one point, after all were sheltered in a large, open-air, “warehouse,” the “guards” were looking in a certain way at the two young daughters. The mother, suspecting the worst, knew it was time to leave the group, but how? There were too many of “them” and, in the surrounding fields, too little “cover” for an escape. She prayed for good timing and for “invisibility,” if necessary, to be able to flee without notice.
A sudden fog drenched the waning day, dimming even the little light left, and she knew. Now. The trio ran. At one point they passed near two or three guards who should have noticed the women, but didn’t.
3. After some time, the escapees were extremely thirsty and hungry. The mother prayed for food and water. Now in the sparsely populated country, they came to a house. The mother decided to take her chances. It turned out, help was there…
Whatever the origin of the dream (some leftover business of the day? Some Jungian theme bubbling up in my sub-conscious? “A bit of undigested potato,” as Dicken’s Scrooge, himself beset with an unusual dream or two, surmised?), I was reminded of another survival tip: pray in specifics to the Creator of His Own brand of special ops, Who neither slumbers nor sleeps (Psalm 121:4).
SURVIVAL TIP #3: HE KNOWS OUR NEEDS
But there’s even better news.
While we are yet entangled in the mental, emotional, and spiritual throes of evil, whether external or internal, God knows our needs (Matthew 6:8). And the Planner of planners often provides the perfect solution even as we yet wrestle to clear our minds and scrounge for our own resources.
The answer to our prayers might be an “unexpected clerical error,” as in Corrie ten Boom’s case. (How could she have even guessed that, or prayed for it specifically?).
It might be the appearance of one or two of those able-bodied, well-resourced, smart people coming to our rescue at just the right time.
It might be a change in the weather, the diagnosis, the treatment, or the government.
Or, as in Betsie ten Boom’s case, whose ultimate escape from the evil inflicted on her was deliverance to a better place altogether, survival may come in a completely different form, this, of a spiritual nature—and the ultimate victory.
VICTORY ON THE BATTLEFIELD OF GOOD AND EVIL
The ultimate battle of good and evil is on the field of faith. Evil conquers many there by thought-stopping, emotion-grinding, faith-sapping words, mechanisms and realities. This is where Betsie ten Boom’s words echo hope.
But, we wonder, how could she, while suffering tremendously under the boot of Nazi horrors, still talk of God’s love? How could she still speak to her sister of God’s presence in, as she put it, such a “deep pit”? On her death bed?
She, and countless before and after her, knew/know of something greater than evil, and chose faith in it.
As put in Psalm 91:
“He who dwells in the shelter of the
will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say of the Lord, ‘He is my refuge and my fortress,
My God, in whom I trust.’
Surely he will save you from the fowler’s snare
and from the deadly pestilence.
He will cover you with his feathers,
and under his wings you will find refuge;
His faithfulness will be your shield
You will not fear the terror of night,
nor the arrow that flies by day,
nor the pestilence that stalks in the
nor the plague that destroys at
A thousand may fall at your side,
ten thousand at your right hand,
but it will not come near you.
You will only observe with your eyes
and see the punishment of the
If you make the Most High your
even the Lord, who is my refuge—
then no harm will befall you,
no disaster will come near your
For he will command his angels
to guard you in all your ways;
they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot
against a stone.
You will tread upon the lion and the
you will trample the great lion and
‘Because he loves me,’ says the
Lord, ‘I will rescue him;
I will protect him, for he
acknowledges my name.
He will call upon me, and I will answer him;
I will be with him in trouble,
I will deliver him and honor him.
With long life will I satisfy him
and show him my salvation.’”
(Psalm 91, NIV).
Countless testify of the power of His provision and protection, despite the odds.
In these tumultuous days I pray these words will comfort you. Help has arrived, indeed, it has always been here.
And be of good cheer, for “The joy of the Lord is (remains) (our) strength” (Nehemiah 8:10).
Don’t let evil rob you of this.
 Corrie ten Boom, Elizabeth Sherrill, John Sherrill (1971). “The Hiding Place,” Guideposts Associates. ISBN 0-912376-01-05.
Photos from the public domain
This was tremendously moving to me! I have read the ten Boom’s book and remember Betsie’s words as well. “Look up for your Redemption draweth nigh…”