As I was driving towards my church last Tuesday evening, I had a very uneasy feeling in my stomach. I had that knot in my stomach that you get when something makes you feel really really uncomfortable. I didn’t quite know what it was about yet, I just knew it was there (and getting worse the closer I got).
Of course what you may really be wondering is: “Why are you going to church on a Tuesday night?”
The leaders at Crosspointe church are incredibly wise and recognize that while the holidays can be a time of great joy and celebration, they can also be a time of great sadness, grief, and sense of loss. Maybe a loved one died and there is one less seat at the table now. Maybe a romantic relationship didn’t pan out the way you had hoped. Maybe you got laid off and holidays just remind you of that even more because you hear friends and relatives talking about their careers. Or maybe the holidays are a poignant reminder of the divorce that happened and how certain people aren’t speaking to each other anymore and you’ll be doing Christmas at two different houses. Since these kinds of things are a reality for many, Crosspointe was holding a service for people to come and share space with others who are grieving as a way to acknowledge those feelings.
If you read my last blog post, you know that I am experiencing grief, pain and a sense of loss around my biological family – hence why I was going to this service.
When I got there, the knot in my stomach was so heavy that I was very tempted to turn around and leave before I even went inside. I realized something in that moment: that I did not want to be seen by anyone at the service, especially not someone I know. And sure enough, when I walked in, who did I see? Several people I know.
I made the normal polite greetings required of a social setting but quickly moved on so as to not even give them a chance to ask me why I was there or what I was grieving about.
After the service was over, there were rooms available with people who would just sit with you while you cried, listen to you if you wanted to share anything, and pray with you if you wanted. The thought of doing any of those things felt like death to me, so I hurriedly left.
On the drive back, I found myself pondering why I didn’t want to be seen there, why I didn’t want to share with anyone, and why this whole experience made me so incredibly uncomfortable. Then it finally hit me what it was: I am so uncomfortable with my own sense of need.
See when you’re grieving the loss of something, it puts you in a place of need – because you need people to comfort you, just be with you, listen to you, or grieve with you. That’s why I didn’t want to be seen. That’s why I didn’t want anyone I know to engage me. That’s why the thought of sharing with someone felt like death to me; because even being seen there (much less talking to someone about my grief) is an acknowledgement of my own sense of need.
Now interestingly enough, there is a huge distinction around need for me. I am completely comfortable needing God and have been relying on him for years. He talks to me with great frequency and I have taken so many of my emotional needs, needs to be valued, needs to be loved, needs to be cared for, etc to him all to great effect. The reason I feel so comfortable doing that though is because God is perfect. He will never leave me, he is never too busy to listen to me, and he never loses sight of my value to him. In other words, God has never let me down.
However, people on the other hand, are a vastly different experience. I think we can all relate to experiences of having people let us down when we needed them. In addition, when growing up, I often found that my needs got played against me to control me. Acceptance was given when the right set of beliefs were espoused, love was conditional upon performance, phrases like “As long I’m paying for things and you’re living under my roof, you’ll do things my way” were commonplace. So what did I do? Everything I could to get independence and not need people. I worked hard in high school and got a full scholarship to go to UNC. I never asked my parents for a single dollar to pay for college (nor would I have even if I hadn’t gotten the scholarship – I would have taken out loans). That’s because I didn’t want the financial card played against me to control me anymore. All of this made me a very resourceful problem solver and self learner as I became very good at finding ways to get my needs met without relying on people.
As an adult, I by and large have not relied on people to meet needs for me either. However, the few times I have typically have not gone very well. Some of the most painful experiences I’ve had in recent years have been when I have needed someone only to have that person let me down. What I came to realize is that all of these experiences have shaped a very powerful belief in me: I don’t allow myself to need people.
Needing God is totally okay for me, but allowing myself to need people – that feels incredibly risky to me.
Now the irony of this is that I absolutely LOVE meeting needs for others. I love giving to people, supporting them, and helping them walk through the difficulties of their lives. In fact, I often try to identify what the needs of my friends are and if it’s something I can do for them, I’m delighted to do it. It brings me great joy to meet the needs of others. However, it also requires no vulnerability on my part to do so.
Then, last Thursday happened.
While I was already chewing on this idea of not allowing myself to need people, I got very sick very quickly. In fact, so sick, that I had to stay home from work that day. This, however, was a huge problem because for the past couple of months things have been a little overwhelming at work and I haven’t really been able to take much time off. In fact, so much so, that my manager repeatedly keeps telling me that I need to take time off. However, when she does, I just point to the various stacks of papers on my desk and give her a look that says “that sounds like wishful thinking”.
When I came in Friday, I expected to be even more behind. However, to my great surprise, I found that an entire month’s worth of scanning and tagging documents (one of the tasks I’m behind on) had been done for me by my manager. This is easily a 4 hour job and what’s more, my manager wasn’t trained on how to even do these type of documents. As it turns out, the day I was out, she got one of our coworkers to train her on how to do this and then did that entire stack for me. I was totally blown away by this and was so moved by it that I found myself crying.
It was then it landed on me what was actually happening; my manager had met a need for me.
Even though it was a need I had never asked her to meet, she met it for me anyway.
It was then that I started to wonder whether there might actually be some good in allowing myself to need others – though I was certainly still skeptical.
I was still chewing on this on Sunday when I went to church. During worship, I heard God tell me this:
“Jeremy, even I allowed myself to need people.”
“What?!! That’s utterly ridiculous! You’re GOD! You don’t need people, you’re the self sufficient one!” I silently ranted in my thoughts.
Then it hit me, we were standing there singing Christmas songs about Jesus being born as a baby. God as a baby. Is there any more vulnerable picture of needing people than a baby? Think about it, the baby Jesus needed to be fed, needed to be kept warm, needed to have his diaper changed, needed to be burped – all by people.
Even God had allowed himself to need people.
If there was any hope of holding onto the idea that not allowing myself to need people was good, it was pretty shot to shreds now. However, just to make the point even more clear, God brought to mind 1 Corinthians 12. In this passage, Paul uses the human body as a metaphor to describe how we believers should relate to each other. In verse 21 he says “The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.”” In other words, we believers are all one body and we all need each other.
As I continued to think about the implications of allowing myself to need people, another huge realization hit me. I recognize that most people don’t hear God the way I do as I have countless stories of him speaking to me, showing me visions, loving me profoundly, and meeting my needs directly. However, what if one of the primary ways God shows love for someone is through people? A kind word, a compassionate response, a caring hug, a thoughtful gift, a meal prepared for another – the avenues are endless.
Maybe you’re someone who would say you don’t “hear” from God frequently or that you’ve never experienced God loving you. But maybe he has already been loving you through the people he has placed in your life who have met your needs (or who would like to meet your needs if you would let them). Not that people do this perfectly (that I can certainly attest to), or that there isn’t a degree of discernment and wisdom to use in determining who you allow yourself to need and to what degree, but maybe God has been trying to speak through these experiences all to show you how great his love is for you.
The great irony of this is that I have long felt that my entire mission on this planet is to show God’s love for people through how I treat them, love them, and meet their needs. However, if I don’t allow myself to need others, then what if I’m inhibiting people from walking out their calling of showing God’s love through how they treat me?
That’s a pretty sobering thought.
I must confess this all feels very uncomfortable and very new to me. The thought of saying “I really need your help” to someone still makes me cringe on the inside. However, I’m glad that God in his kindness has started teaching me this new lesson – because I’m starting to see just how much it’s a lesson I need to learn.