When the idea of “neediness” comes to mind it is a bitter reminder for me of an unwholesome season in my life that lasted far too long – reminiscent of winter in Northeast Ohio. The inner parts of my being longed for love, understanding, affirmation and acceptance. Reflecting back I feel shame as I recognize that I subconsciously – and sometimes purposely - sought out others to fill gaping holes of need deep within my broken spirit. Whether these poor souls could feel it or not (and I am certain several did) I was binding an invisible rope to their waist, fearfully clinging to the relationship and ultimately expecting things from them that they couldn't deliver. My actions were never intended for harm – they manifested from a place inside that was in pain and disarray; a place yet to be healed and ordained by the love of Christ. I wore neediness like an invisible armor; it was there, but rather than protecting me, it served more to prevent a spirit of authenticity. My quest for wholeness within became dependent on what others could give; a powerful hindrance to spiritual and emotional growth and maturity.
The interesting thing I came to learn about my phase of neediness was even though I was walking through life with countless loving and well-meaning people by my side, ultimately I was alone. I was alone because my neediness was most substantial in the areas of my life no human being could penetrate. Looking back, I recognize my attempts to cultivate wholeness and purpose through others only added to my solitude, leaving me emotionally naked and vulnerable at best. The good news for all of us is that Christ sees right through our pretenses. He looks beyond and beneath the fraudulent layers of our demeanor and behaviors into the true heart and soul of what He divinely crafted. And when we dare to utter the words from Psalm 139:23-24, “Search me, Oh God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way of everlasting life” we can be certain He will offer some insight. And His answers will always be for our good and His glory. For me, my neediness was only one of many unhealthy pitfalls that were preventing me from becoming a true woman of God and a genuine wife, mother, daughter, sister and friend.
During this lengthy season I had lived life by my own accord with stubbornness and pride leading the way. Christ shares in John 12:49, “For I did not speak on My own accord, but the Father who sent Me commanded Me what to say and how to say it”. If the Son of God didn’t try to live life on His own authority, why on earth had I? That, of course, is a rhetorical question. I couldn’t see that I was idolizing certain relationships and didn’t understand the magnitude of the power I allowed their presence or non-presence to have over me. What I did feel was a strong belief that I couldn’t function without these people because of what I thought they were providing me or hoped they would fulfill in me eventually. My neediness had me in complete bondage. By the Grace of God, I eventually found the will to relinquish control of my life and surrender my needs and failures to Christ. I began to see that I needed to remove the ropes from the waists of those I love dearly so they could experience a relationship with me unhindered by expectation.
This submission to God’s guidance allowed Him raw access to the hollow places in my soul. He was able to point out with profound clarity how I had spent years defiantly yoked to others in hopeless attempts to find closure from past grievances. In the Biblical sense, to be yoked is to “join together” so as to work together as one. In farming, a yoke, or wooden bar, rests on the necks of two cattle or oxen connecting them so that together they can pull the field plough as one, thus sharing the load. God taught me that my aura of neediness only precipitated additional struggle and angst in my life. When I “needed” another person to provide affirmation, unconditional love, healing or happiness for me I was in essence expecting them to pull all the weight of the load – my emptiness - for me while I passively waited for them to fill the voids. All the while I thought this arrangement was accomplishing the task of making me whole - but in reality being unequally yoked with others only intensified the vast emptiness within me. Sadly, several loved ones most definitely felt the burden of pulling my dead weight but they were never able to fill the needs I longed for because people cannot provide the means to fill the recesses of our hearts –they can only share in our journey to find the One person who can.
When we study Christ’s instruction to, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” found in Matthew 11:29, we can begin to see the significant value of being “yoked to Christ”. He desires us to team up with Him and His divinity rather than looking for innocent people to play divine superheroes in our life. Taking the yoke of Christ upon us is to identify ourselves with Him. It is to Trust in His providence and ability to lighten our burdens and share in our joys. It is to know that we are not pulling the weight of our journey alone and under our own power. It is to understand that we cannot ask others to unfairly pull the weight for us. It is to desire working through the trials and tribulations of life “in tandem” with Christ who is always our strength and resolve.
I recently pondered whether our human neediness is actually part of God’s design. Looking at neediness through the lens of idolizing our relationshipswith others makes the answer seem obvious. But what if we look at neediness from a different angle? We are all figurative sheep in God’s kingdom. Sheep themselves are needy creatures – God designed them that way. What they lack in intelligence, they make up for in submission. They rely completely on their shepherd to guide them. Sometimes the “shepherd” is not the human figure that feeds, cares for and protects them, but rather one of their own - a fellow sheep that takes the lead in guiding the rest of the herd. My family lives across the street from a farm with a large flock of sheep. Directly out the pasture gate is a worn and trodden path that snakes its way across the field. Each day the sheep come out of the barn and process down this same path in a single-file line after the leader sheep. Not a single sheep takes a different path or goes off on its own. Each walks the same route and only begins to disperse into the field to graze after the leader sheep does so first. I asked author Margaret Feinberg why sheep behaved this way. She told me it was “instinct”. In doing research for her book, Scouting the Divine, she spent time with a real life shepherdess. The shepherdess told Margaret that a sheep will follow his leader wherever he goes, even off a cliff, without thinking twice about it.
We as humans are needy creatures as well; perhaps also part of God's design. The difference between us and sheep is that sheep instinctively know who to look for to fill their needs, be it shepherd or fellow sheep. God instilled this behavior purposely in sheep and they live accordingly. I believe God also purposely instilled in us a “neediness” to seek Him and Him alone for all that we need in life. He is the sole source of our comfort, healing, joy, strength, mercy, help, love, acceptance etc., and He desires to be the Shepherd that leads us. Because we are more intelligent than sheep, our minds are subject to many factors that may influence who we look to aside from God for need fulfillment. Our environments, surroundings, experiences, relationships, genetic make-up, etc. all play a role in forming our identity and how we fit in to the world around us. Unfortunately, many times these outside influences tend to shift our focus away from the only One who can fill our needs and we can begin to subtly look to others to be our savior, our joy, or be our source of comfort.
These sentiments may sound like desiring meaningful, deep and heartfelt relationships with others is not a good thing. That maybe we should keep others at an arm's length so as not to interfere with the genuine and abiding love that only Christ can seemingly give. Or that needing someone to love us, care for us, or support us is unhealthy or objectionable. This couldn’t be further from the truth because one of the greatest gifts God has given us is the beauty of companionship. We definitely need each other, and God knows that because He created us for this very reason. He provided Adam a companion in Eve. He wants us to need each other…but only in a way that draws us closer to Him.
Like sheep, there will be times in our life that we must rely on our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ in the herd of our faith to lead us. The key is to engage in healthy relationships with others that are bound in Christ and whose goal is to lead us to Him. God specifically places people in our path as lights of Christ in leading us to Christ; our job is to recognize them and be willing to follow. This requires trust and obedience that can only come from prayerful discernment with Christ. When I stopped looking to people to be Christ and instead sought only those able to reflect Christ I was finally able to see how the relationships God placed in my life fulfilled His purposes and not my own.
Needing Christ and needing His love is definitely part of God’s design. And God has blessed us with opportunities and the desire to experience His presence and love through our relationships with others. When we experience being yoked together in a Christ-centered relationship with our spouse, a family member, or a dear friend, it brings a peace that cannot be measured. Because when someone cares enough to help us carry the load in seeking wholeness in Christ we have been given a gift straight from Heaven. And we accept the gift by embracing it fully and then freely passing it along to someone else. As Paul says to the Corinthians in 2 Corinthians 1:3-7, “All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us. For the more we suffer for Christ, the more God will shower us with his comfort through Christ. Even when we are weighed down with troubles, it is for your comfort and salvation! For when we ourselves are comforted, we will certainly comfort you. Then you can patiently endure the same things we suffer. We are confident that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in the comfort God gives us.”
May God bless each of us needy sheep as we take the yoke of Christ on our backs and help carry the burdens and needs of our brothers and sisters straight to the feet of our Shepherd.
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