Lassitude & Laziness

Lassitude-and-lazinessLassitude and laziness can often be confused with one another, though they are quite different in nature. I think we’re all quite familiar with the nature of laziness! But what is lassitude? The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines lassitude as:
1:  a condition of weariness or debility :  fatigue
2:  a condition of listlessness :  languor

For people with chronic fatigue, it can become very easy to confuse the two. Doing so can result in unfair blame and guilt. Or it can result in the use of chronic illness as an excuse for sin. On the one hand, lassitude means you are drained of all energy and unable to accomplish even the smallest task. On the other hand, there are times when even healthy people (and therefore, sick people as well) simply don’t feel like doing an undesirable task. All of us, whether healthy or ill have moments of laziness. It’s very much part of our fallen human nature. But when you already have lassitude (fatigue) it can become far too easy to use it as an excuse not to do certain tasks that you simply don’t like.

I have had fatigue to one degree or another for most of my life. I didn’t know that’s what it was called. I just assumed everyone felt like that all the time, but I was just really lazy for never feeling up to doing much (and yes, I’m sure some of that was actual laziness, but not all of it). Since my diagnosis in 2011, I’ve come to understand that there is  a real, physical reason why I can’t bring myself to do much without ending up with headaches, pain, and other MS symptoms flaring up. Prior to the diagnosis, I would emotionally beat myself up every single day for not doing more. “Why is it that other people can work a full time job, keep a clean house, do volunteer work, and be out socializing with friends most days of the week while all I can do is go home to bed after work and spend most weekends alone doing nothing when I actually wanted to be out having fun and socializing?“.

As the fatigue got worse, and after I got married, my husband could see that I was simply unable to work full time and have any energy left to do the simplest chore around the house (thankfully he does have lots of energy and is happy to help!). So he suggested that I seek part time work. That is how I ended up a as part time church secretary for nearly five years. Even that tired me out so much that I very often went straight to bed after my four hour morning shifts. Eventually all I did was work part time and go to bed. The fatigue won, and I had to retire and apply for disability support. Even now, after processing the news of my diagnosis for several years, I still regularly catch myself feeling very guilty for not being more functional and active, for not keeping the house clean enough, for not getting all the groceries when they are needed, for not being involved in ministry and fellowship opportunities at church, and for not working to bring in some kind of income when money is so tight. It’s a slow process coming to terms with this reality that my body simply does not work properly and does not allow me to function the way a healthy person’s does.

Just yesterday I felt like a fraud as I walked out of a grocery store with a few items in my buggy. The friendly cashier asked me if it was my day off, and so I explained I had MS and was unable to work. She told me about her friend who was suspected of having MS also and we talked about that for a while as she rang up my order. Seeing that I looked completely healthy (I didn’t even have my cane that day), she commented on how well I am doing, and I thanked her for her kind comment. As I was leaving, she asked if I needed any help to my car (again, very kind). I thanked her and told her that I was fine and didn’t need any help. As I walked away, I started imagining what the people in line must have been thinking. Probably something like: “Good grief! That woman is collecting disability payments, but look at her! She’s totally fine! What a lazy mooch!”. No one actually said that (to my knowledge), but I wouldn’t be surprised if that is what some were thinking. Of course, they don’t know all the invisible symptoms I battle daily, and they certainly don’t know how crippling my fatigue can be. The fact that I even got out to the store means that I was having a rare “good day” with enough energy to get out of the house for 20 or 30 minutes.
 
No, it doesn’t really matter what some strangers in a grocery store line up may think, especially when they don’t have the full picture. But there I was again, feeling awkward and apologetic for my chronic illness. I expect that will likely still be part of my daily battle for years to come. I suspect that part of me still doesn’t really believe that I am anything more than a lazy hypochondriac (which is what a number of doctors and family members assumed for years). I should probably pull out my MRI results whenever I feel that way. Yes, it really is “all in my head” – and my spine. I have the pictures to prove it!
 
Part of learning to explain our limitations is sharing with others who have similar struggles. There is something so affirming and reassuring about knowing that other people out there “get it”. It reminds us that we are not alone. So, there are thousands upon thousands of articles, blog posts and info graphics floating around the web that can provide a great source of comfort, and might even be informative for the handful of healthy people who read them too.
 
But that is where the story usually ends, and that is where the danger to excuse sin potentially begins. You see, in the process of coping with the day-to-day reality of chronic illness, there is the strong potential to start blaming everything on the illness instead of seeing each individual situation objectively and taking responsibility when it is appropriate. “Was I always this clumsy, or is this a result of the numbness in my hands?“. “Was I always this forgetful or is this a result of the increased fatigue?“. Often times the truth is somewhere in the middle. I was never very coordinated, but now I lose my balance and drop things far more often because of the nerve damage in my brain. I’ve never had a great memory, but now all the words that I need to properly communicate a thought are much harder to find… Of course that’s an age issue as well! And often I simply don’t have the energy to accomplish a task. But sometimes too, I simply don’t feel like it.
 
This is what concerns me. What about my sin? Yes, I’m always very, very tired. But does that mean I shouldn’t put in that extra effort sometimes to help someone in need? Yes, my brain is barely functioning today, but does that mean I shouldn’t pay that bill or call that company about the mistaken charge on my account? Sure, my house is messy, but does that mean I should refuse to humble myself and be hospitable? These may seem like minor concerns, but when each and every task of the day must requires energy that isn’t there, it is vital to plan carefully, and with the right priorities in mind. Laziness is a sin, and a big one. This article explains it well: What Does the Bible Say About Laziness.
 
One very positive outcome of being mostly home-bound with chronic illness is that it has forced me to look at how I prioritize my tasks and how I can best plan them to the glory of God. It has also given me a greater hunger to serve the Lord, share the gospel, and fellowship with other believers. Even my little, boring life was created for His glory.
 
So I must start each day with that in mind. What small things can I do to honour Him? What tasks am I neglecting that need to be focused on? Being married, my most immediate priority must be to be a helper to my husband. That means many small tasks through the week to make his life easier, like making his coffee for the morning and bringing the cans in after the garbage has been collected. He works hard and has a lot on his plate. There are many, many things in our life and around the home that I cannot do for him, for a variety of reasons. So I need to be mindful of what his day looks like and how I can anticipate his needs – even the small ones. My husband’s love language happens to be “acts of service”, so when I can meet even small needs, he feels loved. The degree that I can help him changes from day to day. But I really need to keep trying every single day to do at least one thing to make his life easier so he can focus on the more important tasks.
 
In a recent discussion with other believers, I was reminded that when we are limited in our physical abilities, that opens up significantly more time for us to spend in prayer – to be “prayer warriors”. The reminder was meant to be a kind encouragement, but it felt more like an exhortation, which I very much needed. I need to pray more for our church, for our church leaders, elders, deacons, etc. I need to pray more for our missionaries, for those running the children’s programs, day camps, youth retreats, and many other ministries. I need to pray more for the direction of our church, that it would continue moving in a direction that honours the Lord. I need to pray more for my husband and for our extended family. I need to pray more for our friends and their children. I need to pray more for the Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons and other unbelievers I have been in contact with, that the Lord would open their eyes and bring them to salvation.
 
And I need to spend much more time in thanks and praise to my Lord for all the many ways He has blessed and continues to bless me: for the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit, for salvation from the just wrath that I deserve for all my sin, for the church family that He has provided, for the country He has placed me in, for the husband He has provided me, for the home we have, for the very little bit of persecution we have had to endure, for the freedom we have, for the food on our table, for the areas of health with which He has blessed us, for the friends He has provided, for the job He has blessed my husband with, and for dying for me on the cross so that I can know and praise Him for all of eternity. In light of all of this, and so much more, how could I not spend much of my day in prayer and praise?!
 
It takes a lot of time, effort, and mistakes to get a handle on the concept of living this “new normal” that is life with chronic illness. But I’m learning that I cannot let it be my excuse for so many things. If I feel overly upset about someone judging me for not doing enough, I need to honestly examine myself and see if that person hasn’t really simply shed light on my sin, confess that sin, and repent. Yes, whenever I can, I will continue to educate people about the surprising limitations of invisible illness, and particularly chronic fatigue. But I also need to continue taking responsibility for my sin, because it is first, and foremost rebellion against God. There is no excuse for that.
 
I hope this post is an encouragement and challenge to those of you who also suffer from chronic illness and disability. And I hope too that it has helped to inform those of you who are healthy and seeking to better understand what our struggles look like.
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