1. (of body tissue or an organ) waste away, especially as a result of the degeneration of cells, or injury "the calf muscles will atrophy"
synonyms: waste away, waste, become emaciated, wither, shrivel, shrivel up, shrink, become shrunken, dry up, decay, wilt;
2. gradual decline in effectiveness or vigor due to underuse or neglect.
synonyms: peter out, taper off, tail off, dwindle, deteriorate, decline, wane, fade, fade away, fade out, give in, give up, give way, crumble, disintegrate, collapse, slump, go downhill, draw to a close, subside
the process of atrophying or state of having atrophied.
synonyms: wasting, wasting away, emaciation, withering, shriveling, shriveling up, shrinking, drying up, wilting, decaying, decay;
I remember back to several years ago. I remember the fear that I had when my leg was not responding. I had a long-troubling back issue that became a major problem when I sneezed. Okay – no jokes here… it’s true, a sneeze caused me to rupture a disc in my back and sent me in to severe pain. It was a pain like no other, like fire was searing my whole body. In the emergency room, they gave me the maximum amount of morphine they could give me, and I continued to feel like I was on fire. The problem was a nerve that had been compromised in the injury. When I was seen by my doctor and referred for surgery, my leg was already not responding. The signals to the nerve in my leg had been blocked and I could not make my calf respond. I had surgery a couple of weeks later to deal with the disc, but the damage was already done to my calf. In such a short period of time, the muscle had begun to atrophy – lack of use and lack of nerve signals had already caused it to begin the process of decline, of shutting down and giving up.
It took time, many months, but once my back was repaired and I began to work on using the leg again, I slowly regained what was lost.
I was reminded of this scenario recently when I heard a Spanish pastor discussing atrophy with regard to our faith...
If we don’t use our faith, it too, begins to atrophy. It begins to shrivel and fade away. Not unlike my calf muscle, when we are not maintaining a communication with The Source, our faith can dry up and we lose our ability to function as a part of the Body.
Romans 12: 4-6 Each one of us has one body, and that body has many parts. These parts don’t all do the same thing. In the same way, we are many people, but in Christ we are all one body. We are the parts of that body, and each part belongs to all the others. We all have different gifts. Each gift came because of the grace God gave us.
We were studying this passage and the idea that Paul is using the double meaning of body and parts… obviously using the idea of our physical bodies and body parts, but referring to the Body of believers and our community of faith (the Church). The point was made by our friend, Oscar, “A body part only truly lives and exists when it is a part of the whole. When amputated or cut off, it ceases to truly live. When a hand is amputated, it cannot exist on its own. The same is true of the Body of the Church. We are only truly whole when we are a part of the Community. However, when we are cut off or when we isolate ourselves, we slowly atrophy and wither away.”
I think this is also true of people not using their gifts and talents in service. When our gifts are not used and our talents are not being placed into service, we slowly begin to shut down, to lose interest, to fade away, and to be unfruitful.
John 15:4-8 Jesus said, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch of mine that does not produce fruit. He also trims every branch that produces fruit to prepare it to produce even more. You have already been prepared to produce more fruit by the teaching I have given you. Stay joined to me and I will stay joined to you. No branch can produce fruit alone. It must stay connected to the vine. It is the same with you. You cannot produce fruit alone. You must stay joined to me. “I am the vine, and you are the branches. If you stay joined to me, and I to you, you will produce plenty of fruit. But separated from me you won’t be able to do anything. If you don’t stay joined to me, you will be like a branch that has been thrown out and has dried up. All the dead branches like that are gathered up, thrown into the fire and burned. Stay joined together with me, and follow my teachings. If you do this, you can ask for anything you want, and it will be given to you. Show that you are my followers by producing much fruit. This will bring honor to my Father.
Several years ago, I could not have imagined being able to spend 5 years walking the Andes mountain paths with Quechua women and children in Peru, or making the 791 kilometer pilgrimage on the Camino de Santiago as a missionary to other pilgrims. Honestly, just going upstairs to my bedroom was a huge feat. But God has been faithful and merciful to me and allowed me more opportunities to bear fruit in His name. When I begin to allow myself to be “too busy” and I slowly feel myself falling to the wayside, not staying fully focused and connected to Him – to The Vine – I also begin to lose my ability to produce any fruit. “No branch can produce fruit alone.” When I begin to feel those moments of atrophy in my life, I remember my leg. I remember how my calf was ‘cut off’ from my brain, and how quickly I lost my ability to function. The same is true with my spiritual life and my usefulness to the community of believers and to the Kingdom… as soon as I am not joined with Christ, I lose any usefulness I have for Him.
I am, by no means, the “perfect Christian”. Ha! I constantly struggle with staying focused. I continually fall into my default mode, allowing my schedule and my to-do list run my life. It is a daily battle to remember what is most important and to not permit the clamor of busyness to overrun my priorities. Many days, what seems ‘fruitful’ is really just achievement and accomplishment and success at dominating the meaningless items on my list… but, when I’m honest, none of it was truly fruit bearing for the Kingdom.
Daily, I have to reflect and remember to focus, to stay connected to what truly matters. Because I remember how scary it was to become disconnected and begin to lose feeling, to lose ability, to lose hope.
Stay connected. Stay active in service. Stay fruitful. Don’t atrophy and slowly fade away. Stay connected to The Body and to a community of others who are serving and learning and growing in Him.
Who am I? In my USA life, I was a teacher in Texas for 15 years. I was also a professional photographer, a Southern Living / Martha Stewart wannabe, a soccer mom, and a short term mission team coordinator / intern director for missions in Mexico... you name it, I probably tried it!
In 2006, my husband Billy and I became cross-cultural workers (CCWs) with TMS Global. For five years, we served in three rural Quechua Wanca villages in the Andes of Peru. And when I say rural, I mean RURAL - like no potty! We have three incredible children... two adult boys who live in Texas, and the Sarah (14) lives with us in whatever country we are serving. I'm still teaching, still taking photos, still leading teams and mentoring, I just do it all in full-time service now! And I'm working hard at giving Southern Living and Martha Stewart a run for their money! I spent my days in Peru learning to live a Quechua lifestyle in a rustic adobe house - cooking Peruvian foods, sewing with Quechua women, raising my chickens and goats and pigs, and planting my gardens. Now I live my life in small town Spain, serving other cross-cultural workers and immigrant peoples, writing, and trying to figure out what life looks like for a Texas girl serving Christ in Southern Europe. Life in His service is AWESOME! I'm happy to share it with you here... Enjoy!