After what had been some of the hardest months of my life, I had arrived home from the doctors surgery with a prescription and a 30 page print-out on ‘how to cope with anxiety’. I sat down to flick through the information and amongst the different coping techniques, was the Maslow diagram Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is a well known psychology theory that has had a big impact on our western culture.
The basic idea is that you start from the bottom and work your way to the top. When you have achieved all of your physiological needs (food, water, shelter etc) then you are able to move up to the next level of safety needs (employment, health etc). The ultimate goal is ‘self-actualisation’ or to put in more ‘millennial’ terms, to become ‘your best-self’. If and when you reach the top level of self-actualisation, you have indeed ‘found yourself’… You experience complete ease in the world and you know your place in it.
The problem with all this was, I had all these things, as much as anyone could. I had shelter, some money, friends, a husband who loved me and beautiful children. I had good medical care, freedom, membership in a good church. So why was I not at ease in the world? My anxiety was pushing me to new limits, and there was no mention in the print-out of what my heart really needed.
Maslow’s chart reminded me of the cult Scientology, and their Bridge to so called ‘Freedom’. If only you could just do all these things, and have all this stuff, spend all this money etc. Then you would have everything – total freedom. The irony is, that so many people have reached the top of both charts and feel worse off than when they started. If we believe we are what we make of ourselves, then we start to create our own value rather than believing in the value God has given us. When we fail and fall down the chart it hurts. We build up our little Kingdoms, only for them to crumble down again and again. It’s all in vain, and it’s exhausting. Is life just proving that we’ve got what it takes to reach the top? We all want to feel secure, certain about the future and some degree of self-worth. Trying really hard to achieve these things helps us feel in control of our lives. We forget, what Christ has already achieved for us is far far greater.
If we live as constant consumers of felt needs, there is also a danger we can start to use people instead of loving them. If my spouse, children, job or home become things that are here just to serve me, I am in dangerous territory. Going by this reasoning; if my husband is no longer fulfilling my needs then surely I should leave him and find someone who does help me up to the next level? Do we have children just to climb another rung of the ladder? Or course not! As Christians we should be aiming to love others more than we need to be loved ourselves. Jesus laid down his life for others and we need to do the same.
So what is our most profound need? According to the Bible it is to be reconciled to our creator God, through Christ’s death and resurrection. But because we have such a gracious and kind God he also does so much more than fulfil our one greatest need. He also promises to provide for us daily.
His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. (2 Peter 1:3)
“But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Matthew 6:33)
For me personally, in order to get well again, I had to stop thinking about what I thought I needed, and start growing in knowledge and trust in the one who has promised to look after me. I needed someone bigger and stronger outside of myself. Someone who I could count on to be there ALL the time. Someone who had lived perfectly, and who loved me even though He knew my heart was greedy and proud. We have a God-given need for relationship, which is fulfilled in our adoption through Christ. We can either look to the world to fulfil our needs, or we can look to our creator God who knows our every thought, and promises to provide exactly what we really need. The apostle Paul learnt what he truly needed for life:
I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength. (Philippians 4:11-14)
A few weeks later as I stood in church singing the words from a Sovereign Grace song, Hallelujah! All I have is Christ, I was overjoyed! Praise God that I do not need to work my way up this chart. Jesus is ALL I need. He is sufficient for me and always will be. I would swap ‘self-actualisation’ for the Bread of Life any day. Without it, I have nothing.
Lord, you alone are my portion and my cup;
you make my lot secure. (Psalm 16:5)