I’m not sure how old I was when I started believing the only way to be like Jesus was to sacrifice myself on the altar of selflessness.
In fact, I can’t remember a time in my early years when that wasn’t my mindset–my theology, if you will.
If you’ve been around here for any amount of time, then you’re familiar with the fact that I grew up in an evangelical, borderline fundamental, church. While I’ve mentioned these experiences many times, I’ve still only scratched the surface of the theology–spoken and unspoken–that was man-made and incredibly destructive.
Selflessness is one of those man-made theological tenets that gets thrown around as biblical truth.
I get it.
I understand how the scriptures have been twisted, manipulated, and stuffed into this box. After all, the gospel writers do record Jesus saying that if anyone is to follow Him, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily (Luke 9:23, Mark 8:34, Matthew 10:38)
And, there’s that often misquoted and taken out of context scripture where Jesus says that if anyone comes after him and doesn’t hate his family members, he cannot be a disciple (Luke 14:26).
Like many scriptures, when we pull them out of their context and present them in isolation, the intended meaning can be completely lost.
When we couple this terrible practice with completely ignoring the character and example of Jesus, there are devastating results.
If you are sitting in or serving in a church right now that does this, that ignores the importance of self-care and mental health, that asks you to sacrifice yourself on the altar of selflessness, and that completely ignores the grace, mercy, and hope of Jesus, I hope this speaks to you.
You can love Jesus and rest–He did.
You can love Jesus and set boundaries–He did.
You can love Jesus and say No–He did.
You can love Jesus and advocate for your own needs–He did.
God Created you with Needs
One of my favorite stories from the Old Testament is in Genesis 3, right after God finds Adam and Eve hiding in the garden after they’ve eaten from the tree. First, they receive the consequences of their actions (not my favorite part), but then “God made leather clothing for Adam and his wife and dressed them.”
I’ve talked about this picture of grace before, but I want to revisit it here for a minute.
Adam and Eve had just broken their one rule, and, as a result, they discovered their nudity, and with that, they learned of shame.
God saw their needs and he met those needs.
He made their leather clothing, and he dressed them.
It would have been easy for God to punish Adam and Eve and leave them to wallow in their self-pity and their shame, but He didn’t do that.
He saw they had a need, and he met it.
It’s interesting too, if you really think about it.
In our judgment and humanity, we might look at this and ask if they really needed clothing. Did they really need to be covered? After all, didn’t they deserve the shame they had brought on themselves?
It’s easy for us to ask those questions and judge, but the reality is that they saw clothing as a need–they had already used leaves to cover themselves.
And, God recognized this need in their hearts as well, acknowledged it, and met it.
Our needs are no different.
That’s important to understand.
What other people think about your needs is not what’s important here.
- Just because someone else might not understand your needs, doesn’t make your need any less valid.
- Even if other people judge your needs, that doesn’t make your needs any less valid.
- During those times when people might think you don’t deserve to have your needs met, your needs are still valid.
Another interesting place where God meets an unexpected need is in I Kings 19. After Elijah fled from Jezebel to save his life, he cried out to God that he was ready to die. Then, exhausted, he lay down and slept.
Verses 5 and 6 tell us:
Suddenly an angel shook him awake and said, “Get up and eat!”
He looked around and, to his surprise, right by his head were a loaf of bread baked on some coals and a jug of water. He ate the meal and went back to sleep.
When he woke up again, the angel told him to eat some more!I Kings 19:5-6 (MSG)
It’s easy to look at these Old Testament stories and see them as God meeting physical needs, but if we peel back the layers of these, they are about so much more.
God clothed Adam and Eve to ease their shame, to show them He still loved them, to illustrate He was still a Provider and Protector, and to remind them that they hadn’t completely separated themselves from His presence or His Grace.
God sent an angel to Elijah to soothe his worry, fear, and anxiety, to show Elijah that his journey wasn’t done yet, and to give him the peace, faith, and courage he needed to continue his journey.
Because God created us as His handiwork, just like Paul tells us in Ephesians 2:10. He created us as unique individuals who have needs–physical, spiritual, and emotional needs.
It does not make us selfish to have our own needs met.
Identifying Your Needs:
It took me a solid 40 years to learn to advocate for my needs in a healthy manner, and if I’m being honest, it took me about that long to be able to admit I have needs and to be able to verbalize them.
Maybe that’s where you are today too.
Remember last week when we talked about your self-worth and the fact that your loved ones deserve to experience those amazing qualities you bring to the table? Your needs and those qualities go hand in hand. If your needs aren’t being met, you aren’t going to be able to bring your amazing qualities to the table.
Think about it like this:
- If you try to talk to your partner about your feelings, and they constantly shrug them off, change the subject, talk you out of feeling that way, or gaslight you, you might stop sharing your feelings, feel crazy or inadequate, or stop trusting your partner with your feelings altogether.
- If you try to talk to a friend about a struggle, and they continually change the subject back to themselves, you might quit being vulnerable with that friend or stop communicating honestly with that friend altogether.
- If you put together beautiful, thoughtful birthday presents, but your family virtually forgets your birthday completely, you might grow resentful and angry and stop putting effort into your gifts for family and friends.
Before you can successfully advocate for your needs, you have to take the time to identify the needs you have that are non-negotiables.
While we all have basic physiological needs that are the same, our other needs might look different from our friends or family members. If we don’t identify them AND communicate them, those needs might never be met. As much as I would like my loved ones to be able to read my mind and meet my needs, that is just not realistic. I have to communicate those needs if I want them to be met.
I would encourage you to take a few minutes and sit down with your journal to identify what your core needs are in relationships.
They might look something like this:
- I need to communicate my feelings and have them validated.
- I need to discuss problems and work together toward a solution without shaming and blaming.
- I need a thoughtful gift for my birthday.
- I need my time respected.
- I need help with the house.
- I need alone time.
- I need time to exercise every day.
- I need a date night once a month.
- I need a clean house.
Or, your needs might look totally different.
Whatever they are, these are your non-negotiables–the things you have to have in your life to thrive.
And, they are important topics you should be able to communicate to your loved ones without negative repercussions.
Advocating for Your Needs:
This is where things can get tricky.
When you think about advocating for your needs or hearing someone who is advocating for their own needs, Colossians 3 is a great chapter to keep in the forefront of your mind. Verses 12-14 say:
You are always and dearly loved by God! So robe yourself with virtues of God, since you have been divinely chosen to be holy. Be merciful as you endeavor to understand others, and be compassionate, showing kindness toward all. Be gentle and humble, unoffendable in your patience with others.
Tolerate the weaknesses of those in the family of faith, forgiving one another in the same way you have been graciously forgiven by Jesus Christ. If you find fault with someone, release this same gift of forgiveness to them.
For love is supreme and must flow through each of these virtues. Love becomes the mark of true maturity.
Paul gives us a blueprint for relationships here, as he tells us to be merciful as we attempt to understand one another, to be compassionate–showing kindness to all, to be gentle and humble–unoffendable in our patience.Colossians 3:12-14 (TPT)
As you seek to discuss your needs with those you love, this is an approach that keeps love and compassion at the center, and isn’t that really the point of the conversation and the relationship as a whole?
The downfall and depressing news is that even when you approach these conversations in this way, they don’t always go the way you would like.
Just because we approach the topic with love and compassion doesn’t guarantee they will respond in kind, right?
One of the key approaches to these conversations is to ensure that you are discussing your needs and not attacking the other person.
- Instead of saying, “You never listen to me,” try saying “When you change the subject after I tell you my thoughts, it makes me feel like my opinion isn’t important.”
- Instead of saying, “You always go out with your friends, but I never get to go out with mine,” try saying, “It’s important to me to get out of the house and spend time with my friends once a month.”
- Instead of saying, “You never get me presents,” try saying, “When you don’t get me a birthday present, it makes me feel like you don’t care about me.”
- Instead of saying, “You never help around the house,” try saying, “When you sit on the couch while I make dinner and clean up, it makes me feel exhausted and used, and I need help.”
Again, there is no guarantee that your words won’t fall on deaf ears, but if you communicate and advocate for your needs in a way that is focusing on that need itself instead of attacking the behavior of your loved one, you are more likely to communicate with love and compassion as opposed to picking a fight.
When Your Needs Aren’t Met
Some of you might be reading this and thinking it sounds great in theory, but what happens when none of this works?
I’m glad you asked.
I’m no stranger to that situation.
I spent years in a marriage like that.
Next week, we’ll tackle the difficult topic of boundaries! For those of you who have tried identifying your needs and gone through the arduous work of attempting to advocate for your needs with no luck, that’s where boundaries come in.
- Take a few minutes to sit down and think about what your needs truly are in your relationships with your loved ones.
- How well do you communicate your needs with them?
- What are the conversations you need to have in order to truly advocate for your needs?
I agree, we need to take care of legit needs whether they are seen as so by other people. We cannot begin to take care of others or stay strong for the long haul if we don’t take care of ourselves. Thank you for this beautiful post … 🙏💕