The Word: Discouragement: To believe a lie

Published 5:34 pm Friday, May 26, 2023

Jans’ proud face crumpled; she put her hands over her eyes and began to cry. “Empty, empty!” she choked at last through her tears. “How can we bring anything to God? Dear Jesus, I thank You that we must come with empty hands. I thank You that You have done all on the Cross.”

In her book The Hiding Place, Dutch author Corrie ten Boom shares her powerful story. She relates how her family protected Jews during WWII and found strength in Christ to face the horrifying consequences. One of the stories Corrie includes is from her childhood, showing how her family’s faith shaped her heart. 

Corrie’s Aunt Jans lived with her family. Jans had a great horror of death, so it was a particularly hard blow when she was diagnosed with diabetes, which in 1914 was considered a terminal disease. Wanting to make the most productive use of her remaining time, Jans sprang into action, writing, speaking, forming clubs, and launching a soldiers’ center to help her country’s young men. But she did all this driven by her fear of death. Later, when it became apparent that she had only weeks to live, Corrie’s father took the whole family upstairs to break the news to Jans. He began, “There is a journey which each of us sets out on. And, Jans, some must go to their Father empty-handed, but you will run to Him with hands full! All your clubs, your writings, the funds you’ve raised, your talks!”

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His kind words were received by Jan’s crushingly humble statement, “Empty, empty!” and then her resounding question, “How can we bring anything to God?”

“With empty hands….” Jans escaped a common pitfall: feeling like we bring something to God in order for Him to help us. We think that if we can bring Him our faithfulness to prayers, or our sacrifices for another, for example, then we can be more confident in His help. In response to this, we must remember, of course, that success comes not from our own efforts, but from His grace: “I can do all things in him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13).

But God wants us to go further, to realize that in order for Him to strengthen us, we must be empty of ourselves: empty of our own accomplishments, empty of any sense that we have earned His help because of our own efforts. It’s not about “stacking up chips” to impress God. It’s about letting Him carry a burden that is too heavy for us, one which we know by experience we can’t carry alone.

When we understand this, we begin to understand why to be discouraged is to believe a lie. We get discouraged when it feels like we “can’t do it.” This actually is true, but it is precisely when we realize that we are nothing – and accept it, and move our gaze to Christ – that God can begin to work.

Br. Maximilian Watner is on the the staff at St. Thomas Aquinas Seminary in Buckingham County. He can be reached at