I Sing the Body Electric, The Inner Landscape

They Toil Not, Neither Do They Spin

When my back got better, but new symptoms began appearing, I began a round of seeing doctors that resulted in a trip to the Rheumatologist yesterday.

A few weeks ago I couldn't have told you what they did.

I sort of wish I still didn't know.

In the waiting room I filled out a form that asked what activities were a problem for me given my current condition. I listed:

  • Household tasks (which I did not enumerate, but including basically everything for which you hold anything or lift anything or raise your arms at all)
  • Holding a pen or pencil
  • Holding a book (which explains why I'm not speeding through books)
  • Typing (which I hope means you will forgive me if you're not seeing comments)
  • Knitting (there's the heartbreak)

These are all the things to do with my fingers and wrists and shoulders, but I have similar issues of swelling and pain in my toes, ankles and knees. Walking is limited. Mornings are painful and slow. Sleep is not refreshing.

I have some kind of inflammatory arthritis. The doctor is still sorting out which one.

I came home with a prescription for prednisone.

I can't say this is the worst thing that could happen to a person, but I can say that after working so hard for almost the last year to lose weight, being limited and having the treatment be, at least in the short term, steroids, distresses me. But things are getting worse, not better, and I will do as I am told.

What grieves me is the loss of my idea of what I might feel like this summer. I pictured myself a little further ahead in the weight loss journey, and I pictured that body hiking to the tops of mountains. Now a walk to the drug store, a low-intensity walk, is about all I have in me. Fatigue and pain limit me.

This week's gospel lesson is one of the first I remember reading for myself, from my little Bethlehem Mother of Pearl covered New Testament, with its red-letter King James version:

And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith? (Matthew 6:28-30, KJV)

I'll admit it, I'm worried. The doctor and P.A. were very reassuring. They tell me there are good drugs for this, whichever thing it turns out to be, though most likely Rheumatoid Arthritis. I'm worried less about the medical outcome than about the internal workings of my own heart and mind. Fretting doesn't help, but neither does a sort of mindless bliss. I guess I've always thought this passage in Matthew calls us not to a goofy "Don't worry, be happy" attitude or to an assurance that faith will make us prosperous and good-looking, but to a deeper place of recognizing that God is not rewarding us or punishing us, but is with us, come what may.

I'm fine with that, in theory, right up until I have to face my own limitations. Over the past few weeks I've heard myself saying over and over again, "I'm sure God will find someway to make me useful even if I have to live with limitations." Which is my way of saying, "If I'm not useful, what am I?"

I fear being the person who needs the help. I like being the person who gives it. I hear my grandmother's voice in my head, "Make yourself useful as well as decorative."

As I sit on my couch after a long day, with my hands in my lap, too sore to type or hold a book, with knitting beyond hope for the foreseeable future, I am living my bad dream: I toil not, neither do I spin. Can I find some usefulness in this period of forced inactivity? (Please, let it be just a period!) Or is the lesson a different one? Is it okay to be, to simply be, whether decorative or not? I'm wondering.

42 thoughts on “They Toil Not, Neither Do They Spin”

  1. This hurts my heart for you. It really does. Just take this as a rest period. I am lifting you up.
    I am so sorry about the knitting. That would be like if I could not craft.

  2. I’m so sorry. You are in my prayers. Not being able to do is awful.

  3. sending you love.
    also wondering about audiobooks, for now. ((((songbird))))

  4. I have several friends with RA. Take heart, you should be feeling a lot better in the not-to-distant future once the docs work out an effective drug treatment. Still, I’m so sorry you have to deal with this, I can imagine how frustrating and scary it must be. Praying for you, dear Songbird!

  5. (((((((Songbird))))))))
    Sending you love and prayers for healing–physically and spiritually. Hope you are feeling better soon!

  6. Would you like to talk to my mom? She had rheumatoid arthritis (has a permanently bent over finger as a reminder) and it is now healed. This is more than 25 years ago.
    She’d be delighted to talk to you.
    E-mail me if you’re interested.

  7. (((Songbird)))
    This issue of “who am I,” and worse, “what am I worth, if I’m not DOING something?” is one of the worst bugaboos we wrestle with. I pray for patience and peace for you, as well as (of course) freedom from pain.

  8. (((Songbird))) Inflammation = bad. I hope meds help. Also, maybe voice recognition on the computer could reduce strain from typing?

  9. Oh, Songbird. I’m so sorry that you have this pain. My daughter, 25, was born with rheumatoid arthritis, as was her father. She is active despite it, but she has days when she is frustrated with and angry at her body.

  10. Holding you in the light, hoping the medicine works quickly, appreciating your honest courage in sharing this!

  11. (((((Songbird))))) As another who is a poor receiver, but a robust giver, I can understand your anxiety about it all, but I know it will all be so much better once the prednisone does its job and they find out exactly what’s happening and get you on some treatment. For now, know that I am holding you in prayer.

  12. (((Songbird))), you are in my prayers as well. My husband and I both live with chronic pain, and it takes such an emotional toll on us. It is an opportunity as well to learn to be cared for and to recieve love, such a difficult lesson for clergy to learn, and one I resist far more often than I’d care to admit.
    Praying for you and for your docs, that the right treatment might be found soon!

  13. It is ok to be – that’s what Jesus taught Mary, and what Martha struggled to understand. Since we all have a touch of both of them in us – then we struggle too
    I fear being the person who needs the help. I like being the person who gives it.
    That is the difficulty for most in ministry – but you have other gifts and I believe that God will now pull them to the surface. But the biggest gift you have to him in BEing You.
    empty handed, tired and seeminly unproductive – those dont matter an iota to him- what matters is that YOU are there with Him – like mary – at His feet, listening and not doing.
    Praying too that the meds can help and that the diagnosis is as mild as it can be

  14. {{{{{Songbird}}}}}
    FT and my pastor both have rheumatoid arthritis, and have both gone through a lot of trial-and-error in finding meds that best meet their needs. If the prednisone isn’t working for you, or if the side effects outweigh the desired result, definitely work with your doctor(s) and explore other options.

  15. Whether doing or being you are a gift my friend…This is so hard for you, I know (and I have to say I’m seriously missing typed conversations with you and eagerly anticipating the day when the meds kick in properly and its no longer hugely painful for you) but there are treatments to turn to, and we’re all praying our socks off I promise. Love you so much, however you are feeling.xxxxxx

  16. I don’t have words for you, only prayers for this part of the journey. May you know God’s presence even more deeply in these days.

  17. (((Songbird))) You continue to be in my prayers. I’m sorry about the pain and the fear about the future of how it will be for you. Try to be in the NOW, which is hard, but this is also where God is.

  18. the fear of not knowing things can take it’s toll. but you know deep within that yes indeed God is with you and in the meantime motherhotcup who has battled uncle arthur all her life highly makes use of a hot-tub. and yes, i beleive some days she does sip a bit of something delish while soaking… but her quilting ability comes and goes. may you have more good days than not. prayers…

  19. Oh dear Songbird. My heart goes to you. I am hoping the prednisone gives you some relief until they can find out what the right course of treatment is.

  20. I wish I knew what to say that would be comforting. You have my prayers and my concern. I know that my brother has dealt with these same questions and emotions since being diagnosed with MS. While I can’t tell you exactly how he has come to terms with a changed life as well as he has, I do know that he would be willing to share his journey with you. I’d be glad to put you in touch.

  21. Dear Songbird, it is both your gift and your burden that even when you cry, it is such a beautiful song. Prayers and love surround you and as has been said to another revgalpal, there are lots of arms and hearts ready to row. We will row with you, friend. Peace and quiet rest be with you tonight…

  22. God bless you, Songbird. You will be in my prayers! Be encouraged and I’m sending you lots of sunshine from Florida!!!!

  23. You have so much spine (achy or otherwise) and spirit. I know you will be OK.
    Any use in trying water exercise? I’ve never tried it, but it seems like fun and is supposed to be easy on the joints.

  24. i’m so sorry, songbird. i know how even my own little wimpy, occasional pains can sideline me, so i can only imagine how incapacitating and frustrating chronic pain like yours must be!
    fwiw, miriam nelson, who works out of tufts university, has written the “strongwomen” series books, and she has one on arthritis. it was published in 2002, and amazon only seems to have used copies at the moment, but hers is a balance of both nutrition and strength training for combatting arthritis. she’s pretty cool.
    also, dr. christiane northrup wrote ‘women’s bodies, women’s wisdom,’ among other excellent books, and while none of them is specifically an arthritis book, she has a holistic approach to women’s health, and i admire her exceedingly.

  25. Oh, Songbird, I’m sorry. How frustrating. I’m in the middle of a weight-loss plan, too, and I get what you’re saying about this messing with your motivation.
    In response to your question, my partner and I (typically the helpers in any occasion) have spent the last couple of weeks on the receiving end since her injury. It’s been a gift, and a reminder that our value lies not in what we DO, but in who God made us to be.
    I get the grief part; just know that there’s a gift inside it, too. Praying for you, sending positive energy your way!

  26. ((songbird)) you are in my thoughts and prayers my friend.
    Peace and love,

  27. I’m just a random lurker reader you don’t know who’s currently going through the same thing you’re going through, with no clear diagnosis in sight yet. Your courage in the face of it gives me hope the day after a bad doctor’s visit. Thank you.

  28. My comment got eated?
    I said something like:
    You have more spine (achy or otherwise) and spirit than anyone I know. You’re going to be OK.
    I also may or may not have said something about water exercise, but maybe I just thought that. I dunno.
    Stupid comments thingy.

  29. OK, look. Now there it is. Cripes. D’you suppose it is me?

  30. I’m praying too, Songbird, for effective treatment, relief from pain, and peace that passes understanding every moment of every day!

  31. Hello — I do not have RA, but I’ve been doing a lot of research on health and nutrition for other issues. I wanted to encourage you to read Dr. Fuhrman’s books, particularly Eat to Live and Fasting and Eating for Health — he touches extensively on inflammatory disorders.
    You are in my prayers!

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