24 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “All who want to come after me must say no to themselves, take up their cross, and follow me. 25 All who want to save their lives will lose them. But all who lose their lives because of me will find them. 26 Why would people gain the whole world but lose their lives? What will people give in exchange for their lives? 27 For the Human One is about to come with the majesty of his Father with his angels. And then he will repay each one for what that person has done. 28 I assure you that some standing here won’t die before they see the Human One coming in his kingdom.”
Matthew 16:24-28 CEB
-Rev. Melissa Fain-
Most of us have at least heard of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs:
I’m not going to spend a large amount of time explaining this. Just know, the needs at the bottom are more vital than the needs at the top. We only need creativity and spontaneity when our physiological needs, safety and security, social needs, and esteem needs are met. Like, one would concern themselves with getting food, before thinking about their safety or the friends they have. Maslow's chart is important, in that, it stopped us thinking about the negatives of the human existence, and start thinking about the positives.
However, there are people who push against this pyramid. I’m one of them. Growing up, I would tell my family what I wanted. They would reply, “Yes, but do you need it?” The answer was usually no.
I’ve had anything but a normal childhood. After my dad and mom divorced, I lived with my mom. She married an abusive alcoholic. Many, thank God, can’t understand that kind of situation. To simplify it, I lost weight when I should have been gaining. I had to sneak into the kitchen to get anything to eat. This was usually no more than a piece of bread with sugar on it. My sister and I had many sleepless nights, as we feared for our own safety. My stepdad and mom would scream and he would threaten all our lives. When my dad won custody my grandmother and aunt were my main female influences. Both, treated me poorly. My grandmother disowned me. She took that to her grave. She would get angry at me when I asked to get something to eat. She told me I could get anything I wanted from the fridge. (She never understood our situation with our mom, and never really tried.) Needless to say, my social needs and my esteem was shot. I engaged in a form of self-mutilation through hair pulling. No one tried to physiologically help me.
No one probably realized I needed help because my creativity flourished. When I lived with mom, I needed to decorate a big paper Christmas tree for a school project, I took flour and water to make a rudimentary paste, found string and cotton balls, and worked until I got those things on the tree. It wasn’t pretty, but it was decorated. This has been my go-to throughout my life. If something needs to get done, there is always a way to figure it out. It might be with paperclips and dental floss, but it can be done. It also made me second guess needs verses wants.
I am physical proof, there is something not quite right with Maslow's chart. I was hungry. I was in danger. Yet, I still found a way to be creative in areas outside of my physiological needs. Maybe there's another option...
I’m going to share something I haven’t heard from anyone else. This is something I’ve formulated over a lifetime of experience, and prayer.
We are used to believing needs go before wants. I blame Maslow for that. I want to suggest something completely different. Wants are more important than needs. By themselves, there is absolutely nothing in this world we need. In actuality, needs are only anchored to what we want. Let me give you an example. By itself, I don’t need to live. However, if I want to take care of my children, I need to live. If I want to make a positive impact on the world, I need to live. Our life is anchored by our greatest want, not our greatest need. Many choose life as their greatest want. If a person wants to live, they need to eat, find a safe place to live, keep themselves healthy. They need those things because they want to live. Maslow’s chart presupposes that any human would choose living as their greatest want. This is actually not the case. In reality, the triangle is upside down. We have more needs, the further we move away from our greatest want.
There are people who choose comfort as their greatest want. There are others who choose to care for others as their greatest want. There are those who choose fame as their greatest want. Everything is anchored to the greatest want… unless the person has an empty want.
Empty wants arise when something hooks us without context to why. It has no connection to our greatest want, and therefore, no lasting purpose in our life. This happens through empty needs. Many of these empty needs take the form of things, usually sold to us in commercials and found in the impulse isle. Sometimes, empty needs are hooked with a promise that it meets our greatest want, and just sticks around once it doesn’t fulfill what it promised. (This is the real reason many Christian’s cringe at the word “branding,” but more on that another week.) Sometimes, an empty need arises when it’s tied too often to our greatest want. For example, many American commercials today promise a quick and easy way to get what we want. Our greatest want is tied into what they are promising. Like, we want to live a long healthy life.
Therefore, maybe we need to lose 5-20 pounds. A new product is promising we can lose that weight quickly and easily. All of a sudden we have a secondary want sneak into our world view. We want things quickly and easily. We can all have what we want without even trying. This sounds great, and we buy into it. Only, often times our empty wants can cause us to act outside of our greatest want. Yeah, it might be quick and easy to take that diet pill, but it’s not in line with our greatest want. A diet pill is a quick fix that won’t give us a long and healthy life. It will only temporarily take the weight off.
Finally getting to that bible verse I started us all on. Jesus is asking something radical. Whatever our greatest want is, replace it with God. Think about how big that is. It’s uncomfortable. How are we going to protect our life, if it’s not our greatest want? Tell me if this phrase all of a sudden makes complete sense: “If you wish to save your life, you must first lose it.”? I believe Jesus is asking us to make God our greatest want. When we do that, everything falls into place. God wants us to relate, and work with one another. God wants us to care for our family. God wants us to care for our self. We want God, and what God wants becomes what we need.
I want you to work on a chart. Make life the greatest want, and work your way up. What are the essential needs if your greatest want is life? Build it up. Write down the needs to meet needs.