David C. Cook; New edition (July 1, 2010)
***Special thanks to Karen Davis of The B&B Media Groupfor sending me a review copy.***
Dr. Gregg Jantz is the founder of The CenterA Place of Hope and the best-selling author (with Ann McMurray) of 25 books including Hope, Help, and Healing for Eating Disorders. His center is a leading healthcare facility in the Seattle, Washington area and specializes in whole-person care serving clients internationally.
A Toddlers Tale
These are rebellious people, deceitful children, children unwilling to listen to the LORDs instruction. (Isa. 30:9)
Who hasnt viewed an irate toddler in a store, yelling at the top of his tiny lungs, demanding the object of his hearts desire? In the mind of that boy, he needs the candy, the toy, the bag, the box, or whatever. In
his mind, what he wants is what he needs.
Recently, I found myself in the grocery store at the end of a long day, needing to pick up milk on my way home from work. I was tired, distracted, and just wanted to be home. It turns out I wasnt the only unhappy person in that store. A couple of aisles over, a little girl began keening loudly. I admit, grocery stores are incubators of human nature that I find irresistible, somilk temporarily forgottenI walked over to observe.
Usually Im most interested in how the adult in the situation deals with the child. Believe me, over the years Ive seen a variety of stylessome that have made me smile and some that have made me cringe. This time, however, I was focused on the child. This two-year-old was gesturing desperately, fingers extended, at some object just out of reach. The important thing to me wasnt what she was looking at, but rather how she was seeing it. In her mind, the object wasnt a mere wantit had become a need. When her mother denied it to her, she became absolutely bereft, carrying on in a way only a despondent, denied toddler can.
As I made my way to the dairy section, through the checkout line, and back into my car, I kept thinking about how this kind of behavior is typical of small children. But I had to ask myselfdo we ever really get over that?
Fast-forward into adulthood and youll find the same thing: wants masquerading as needs. When we were two, we cried out to a parent to fill our heartfelt desires; as adults we endeavor to fill them ourselves. Once a desire has been categorized as a need, were pretty resourceful at finding a way to fill iteven when our methods are addictive, damaging, or hurtful. In our current credit-card-toting, get-it-now-but-pay-for-it-later society, were about as happy with the words no and not now as that bawling two-year-old.
Add to that our concept of rights. Once weve identified a desire as a need, we tend to demand the right to fill that need. Deep down, we seem to acknowledge that a desire doesnt quite meet the level of a basic need. Desires can be selfish, but a need is always a moral necessity. Once our desire gets translated into a need, it becomes a necessity in our lives; were pretty militant about getting that newly defined need met.
This leads me to a question: Are you ready to take a deep, hard look at your own self-identified needs? Ive found generally people havent really done any sort of intentional, directed work in this area. Mainly, they have a vaguely articulated sense of what they consider needs in their lives. Sometimes the only true way to determine how you really look at a particular aspect of your lifeas a desire or as a needis through your behaviors and your willingness or unwillingness to change. Were willing to change, postpone, modify, or even relinquish a desire; we tend to take an over-my-dead-body approach to anything we think is a need.
Lest you think this book is only going to be about what you think or I think, I want to establish the overriding theme well be using, which doesnt come from you or me. The theme of this book comes from Jesus, speaking to a crowd of people very much like us, with desires and needs and a difficult time differentiating between the two. They were just as apt to run after desires masquerading as needs. In Matthew 6:3133, Jesus said, So do not worry, saying What shall we eat? or What shall we drink? or What shall we wear? For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Even if we dont have a good handle on what our needs are, God does. And not only is He God, Hes also our Father. And as a father, Hes generous. He knows our needs, and He has a plan to supply themand much more as well.
Have you ever experienced the sheer relief that silence brings? There are days, with two rambunctious boys in my house, when the noise reaches an incredible decibel. Now dont get me wrong, I love to be
right there in the mix with them. But theres something about the calm and serenity silence brings. There are times silence is just what my jangled senses need to be still and hear God.
In some ways, all of the excessities of life come with their own noise. They fill up our lives but leave no room for silence and contemplation, for rest and relief. God, when He fills us up, does so through a whisper, through the breath of the Spirit. A little of God goes a lot further than a great deal of anything else. King David put it this way in Psalm 84:10: Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere. When we feed on God, we diminish our compulsion to binge on anything else. Just as a toddler must trust a parent to know how to supply true needs, we, as children of God, must look to our heavenly Father to do the same. Our challenge is to approach God, our Father, with the faith and trust of a child.
The Bottom Line from Job
There is a story in the Old Testament book of Job about a man who faced this question of what is a desire and what is a need. This man, Job, is literally stripped of all of the things that made up his life. It is not an easy book to read or understand, but its very instructive in determining desires verses needs.
At the beginning of the book God and Satan have a discussion about Job, and God agrees to allow Satan to test Jobs commitment to God. In the first test, God allows Satan to take away all of Jobs possessions, including his children, but doesnt allow him to harm Job physically. In the course of a single day, all of Jobs livestock, sheep, camels, servants, and children are killed or taken away from him. At the end of this single day, Job still praises God.
Not to be deterred, Satan comes again and this time asks to remove Jobs health from him. God agrees but says Satan may not take his life. Satan promptly strikes Job with painful boils from head to foot.
God establishes the bottom line with Satan where Job is concerned. Throughout the book of Job, no matter what else happens to him, Job has his physical needs met enough for him to continue to live. Jobs desires for understanding, vindication, relief, and restoration have to wait. With nearly everything taken away from him, it becomes clearer to see what constitutes a true need. In our own lives, we need that kind of clarity.
Unraveling Needs and Wants
It can be very difficult to determine what you consider a desire and a need in your life. When asked, you may give what you think should be the right answer instead of the truth. You may admit, reluctantly, that you dont really need your morning coffee. However, when faced with the choice of being late to work because the line at the Starbucks is eight cars deep or going without your morning beverage
Its just work. You may concede that your late-night snack of cookies and ice cream is not really a need, but youll leave your house at 9:47 at night with a coat over your pajamas to drive to the store in
order to replenish your Ben & Jerrys.
Desires are things you want; you can do without them, but you still want them. Life goes on in their absence, but having them would certainly enhance it. Needs, however, have a greater sense of urgency.
A desire deferred is inconvenient, even uncomfortable, but a need denied is depravation. So, how can we trust that what we define as a need is really a need? And how can we be honest about what category our perceived needs actually fall into?
Its difficult for us to put ourselves in Jobs position because of the extreme devastation of what Job initially experiences. So lets go for something a little bit easier. Id like you to take a moment and think about life on a desert island. Im not really thinking of the Swiss Family Robinson type of island. If youve seen the movie Castaway with Tom Hanks, this is the picture Im working toward. I want you to picture yourself stranded on a desert island, in the middle of nowhere, with very few resources. You need to surviveyes, survival is a bona fide need. So, what do you need to survive? (Because youre on the planet, assume youve got something to breathe so you can move past that most primal need of life, oxygen.) Write down your top three needs:
What I would need in order to survive
If I were to answer this question myself, Id say water, food, and shelter are my primary needs. Actually, these are pretty much what Jesus mentioned in the Matthew 6 passage. He put it as what to eat, what to drink, and what to wear. (Clothing is really a form of shelter, so Im going to accept the similarity.) Those are pretty basic. In fact, outside of this prosperous nation of ours, a good deal of the human population spends a large portion of their time and energy searching after these basic needs. Go too long without water and you die of thirst. Go too long without food and you die of hunger. Go too long without shelter and you die of exposure. Needs can be determined by how essential they are to sustaining life.
Ahhhh, theres the dilemma, isnt it? When we consider what is essential to life, we arent always talking about physical life, are we? We have an emotional, relational, and spiritual life to go with this physical one. So, go back and relabel your needs list as My Physical Needs.
Now, I want you to come up with at least three needs under each of the other categories.
My Emotional Needs:
My Relational Needs:
My Spiritual Needs:
Under emotional needs, you might have such things as optimism, hope, joy. Relational needs might include things like acceptance, affirmation, forgiveness. And for spiritual needs, perhaps you listed things like faith, trust, praise. I share these with you not to say that these are definitive answers, but to give you an idea of the types of things you could choose. Again, I find that many people have never done this type of inventory, let alone put intentional thought into dealing with these types of questions.
Going back to our desert-island exercise, weve already established what our physical needs are, but, as Jesus said in Luke 4:4, referencing Deuteronomy 8:3, Man does not live on bread alone. So, lets say youve got your physical needs taken care of. Youve got food to eat, water to drink, and shelter from the elements. What other three things would you personally want (or desire) to survive on that island?
What I would want in order to survive:
After thinking about it myself, heres what Id want: a Bible, a purpose, and a chance of escape. Even though weve categorized these as wants (or desires), theyre still pretty important. I doubt any of you
would seriously put lattes and ice cream on this list. When reduced to choices of these kinds, those behaviors are pretty easy to label.
Short of being stranded on a desert island or experiencing a Jobtype catastrophe, it can be difficult to stop long enough to make sense of our busy lives. Thats what this book is designed to help you do. In the next chapter, were going to start by looking at the most common ways Ive seen over my twenty-five years in counseling that people try to fill themselves up. These ways all have a similar if some is good, more is better deception, leading to compulsive, impulsive behavior.
Next, were going to begin to identify our real needs because every person who engages in excessive behavior has a true need at the core of that behavior. By discovering what those core needs are, we can detach the power of the need from the excess of the behavior and begin meeting the need in a positive, healing way. Finally, well look at the gifts God gives us to meet our true needs. Well bring the words of Jesus from Matthew 6 full circle and learn how to live with our needs fulfilled as we seek His kingdom and His righteousness.
I don’t know what I was expecting from this book but I have a mixture of emotions – indignation and relief – but I can see where it’s a book that America and most of the rest of the world needs today. We have too much stuff, the author calls it excessity, this can be electronics, coffee, anything that gets in our way. I found myself mostly agreeing with the author but there were times that I was disagreeing – I’m not one who has to have several cups of coffee a day to get through, one is just fine.
Maybe I was having my conscious aware of what was going on in my life, I don’t know but this is a book I’ll be suggesting as either a group study for my church or for the Ladies Bible study. Anything that can help us clear our lives so that we can gain better communion with the Lord is good, even if you think “oh, that’s not me”, almost all of us have something in our life that is an excessity – eating beyond being full to fill an empty spot? If you just want to work through some issues I suggest this book, and going through it as a group may give you more support if you think you’ll need it.