A friend of mine, who also struggles with chronic illness, recently shared this post with me. It was published three years ago. How could I possibly have been sick for so long and missed reading this?? If you have chronic illness, or live with or love someone who does, I highly recommend clicking above to read the whole post. But for the sake of making the rest of this post understandable, I’ll summarize it here, too.
The Spoon Theory, as the author calls it, is a way to explain what it’s like to be sick. Basically, that we all have a certain number of “spoons” allotted to us in a day. These are the resources that help us get through the day. Every time you choose to do something, you are spending a spoon. And if you run out of spoons before you run out of the things to which you’ve committed spoons, then you’re in trouble.
I’m so thankful for this analogy. It’s so helpful to have some tangible representation of intangible resources when communicating with my family about how I’m feeling. It’s especially useful for the kiddos, who have taken to asking me “How many spoons do you have today, Mom?” so that they can set their expectations for the day.
However, I disagree with the author’s assumption that it’s only sick people who have to deal with a limited amount of spoons. It’s true that sick people start the day with fewer spoons and spend them more quickly. It might take a healthy person 1 spoon out of a daily allotment of 50 to cook breakfast, but it will cost a sick person 2 spoons out of 20. But even though a sick person’s spoons have a higher value because there are fewer of them, we are all dealing with a limited amount of spoons, and we are all making choices about how to spend them.
If you’ve been relatively healthy for most of your life, then maybe you have not had to be intentional or even aware of how you’re spending your spoons. It’s likely that you’ve always had enough to get you through the day, and so you don’t feel a need to ration them.
But people with chronic illness are very aware of how they are spending spoons. Spending a spoon here, means not spending one there. And you must always have at least one in reserve, because you never know when symptoms will flare, when fever will rage, or when pain will overpower. In order to keep a spoon in their back pocket, sick people learn to stop before they’ve reached the end.
So, sick or healthy, how do you choose where to spend your spoons? How do we do that with intention, so as to maximize our return? How do we squeeze the most joy out of the fewest spoons?
I’ve begun to think of my choices as “choosing the better part”, like Mary choosing to sit at Jesus’s feet instead of helping Martha in the kitchen. Because I used to think that story meant that Martha’s choice was Bad, and therefore Mary’s choice was Good. It was very black and white, and if I could uncover the correct platitude to be applied, then I could always make the Good decision. But I don’t think that’s Jesus’s message at all. What Mary chose was “better”. Martha and Mary can both have Good choices, and Mary’s can still be better.
I’m beginning to understand that the choices we have to make are not between something Good and something Bad, but between something Good and something Better. The trick is learning to recognize which is Better. Where are Jesus’s feet, in this circumstance and at this moment? Because sometimes Jesus’s feet might be found in the laundry room, sometimes in the garden, and sometimes at the weaving loom. Sometimes they are surprisingly found in a toddler’s poopie underwear, sometimes in a book, and sometimes in a bin of Lego’s shared with a growing son. Jesus’s feet keep moving. They don’t stay in one place. Which is both beautiful and agonizing.
If only His feet were always found in the laundry room, then I’d know that whenever I have 20 minutes between lunchtime and lesson-time, I should do some towels. Or if they were always in the garden, then I should be pulling weeds. But I think the reason He keeps moving His feet is so that we will be constantly seeking them. He wants us to be present, to be intentional. Because every spoon that is left at His feet, brings the sweetest joy in return.