My Needs Don’t Count   7 comments

Kimberly and I talked last night, trying to sort through my feelings.  As I discussed my sense of failure in India, I realized that wasn’t really the major issue.  I have focused for ten years to overcome the lie that my worth depends on what I do or don’t do, and I’ve found a large degree of freedom.  But if it was not about failure, what was troubling me so deeply?

New thoughts began swirling around in my brain.  Like a child trying to work out a puzzle, I kept shuffling the pieces to make sense of these vague notions.  At last I told Kimberly that I would have to let it marinate for now.

This morning I started stacking and restacking my blocks of feelings and speculations in conversation with Kimberly, trying to find the pattern that fit.  A center of concern began to take shape, an issue I have not focused on, but one that has deep roots from early childhood—the idea that my needs don’t matter.  Only one thing matters—doing more for God at whatever cost to myself.  And if my needs don’t matter, then I don’t matter.

This priority on service meant that everyone else’s needs were more important than my own, and therefore my needs must always be sacrificed.  In essence, self-care was selfishness unless it was clearly required to keep the machine functioning to do its job.  Caring for myself physically and spiritually was only legitimate as an intermediate goal, a means to the end of serving others (and emotional needs were merely desires, not true needs).

This became an inescapable trap.  When I met my own need, I felt ashamed for my selfishness.  When I rejected my own need to help others, I strengthened my belief that my need (and therefore I myself) was of little worth.  Either way, shame won.  I could not find a way to break free.  After India, I kept trying different ministries to see if I could find one in which I found fulfillment and peace, where there was less competition between my own needs and the needs of others.  But I crated the real issue around with me from place to place. I now realize I have a lot of work ahead to unravel the emotional knots.

This Catch-22 has played out, not only in my occupation, but in all my relationships.  When Kimberly and I moved into our new home, the “master bedroom” was a loft open to the living room below.  I promised Kimberly I would build a bedroom there, a foolish start to a marriage!  Unfortunately, I have very poor skills in estimating the time a job will take to complete.

As the work dragged on, keeping the house a mess, I began to lose enthusiasm and Kimberly began to lose heart.  I didn’t want her to suffer, so I prevailed on myself to keep working hour after hour.  Since I was now working out of obligation (the obligation of love, as I saw it) and not a creative pleasure, the job became more and more loathsome, and I had to whip myself harder.  I felt shame when I didn’t work on it, but my own needs were rejected when I did work on it, and that sharpened my sense of worthlessness at a deeper level.  I have always struggled with this belief that the task, especially the God-given task, is more important than I am.

We tried to talk it through many times.  Kimberly suggested that we pay someone to finish it, but I couldn’t bring myself to pay out that kind of money, especially for something I could do myself (another issue of mine).  We finally decided how much of the bedroom she needed complete before we could move in, and this gave us a foreseeable end.  But the work had long since broken down my sense of worth.  I couldn’t bring myself to do any wood work, which I love, for the next two years.  And the closet still does not have doors.

This same scenario has played out often in many situations, and I could find no way to resolve the problem—should I push through or not push through?  Neither worked.  Calcutta was the point when my determined willpower finally crushed my spirit.  I kept driving myself throughout four years of deep depression until it started to hurt others, and then I benched myself.  I did not resolve the dilemma, I just took myself out of the game.  And now it seems I am pulling my uniform back on and the feelings are all too familiar.

More personal reflections to follow.


Posted July 1, 2011 by janathangrace in Personal

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7 responses to “My Needs Don’t Count

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  1. Thank God for aunt Kimberly and the role she plays in your life. She has been an vital instrument , a chisel in bringing healing to your wounded soul…many a times i have asked the Lord why he din`t add aunt Kimberly early in your life..But Gods timings are the BEST..Thank you for sharing your life with us!!

    • Thank you, T.G. for your kindness. Kimberly and I would not have married one another earlier in life. We were both very different people then. It took decades for us to grow into those who could at last be a mutual blessing. So God’s timing was best.

  2. Although each person’s journey is unique, this particular “belief” is common among kids who grow up in ministry. Their needs obviously are not as important as the “hurting/needy” people of the ministry. And unfortunately, there is a small truth in that for example I would like five minutes of my dad’s time but he is trying to treat a snake bite victim…of course the victim needs my dad’s time. And of course the poor/needy will always be with us” so it is never ending. Many kids maybe feel this way about their parents’ jobs especially medical or military but with the ministry it is harder because the “boss” is God so who do you think you are to argue with Him? My needs then just become “collateral damage” in the war of the ages. Thank you for sharing your heart…and thanks for offering a safe place to share as well.

    • Elisabeth, I’m glad you find this a safe place to share. I agree with you that this is a common problem. I also agree with you that sometimes the needs of others’ take precedence, and learning this is part of growing as a person and a community member. Deciding whose need takes precedence in any moment takes discernment, and all of us make mistakes regularly. I think problems come when we assume that need alone (or primarily) determines responsibility. One factor left out in that perspective is the responsibility of relationship–who is in need (their relationship to me) is a determining element. In my opinion, if a couple feels the needs of others are more important than their own children’s needs, they probably should forgo having children, and the choice to have children brings with it the reordering of priorities. What do you think?

  3. Another “belief” that came out of growing up in my parents’ generation (I don’t know how it was for your parents) is that they got saved in the latter years of high school…they got saved out of the “world” and put away everything that the “world” meant to them. But I grew up in a Christian/Ministry home and got saved when I was 4 so things did not mean the same to me as it had to them… for example, my mom put away wearing lipstick as being “worldly” but to me wearing lipstick didn’t have the same conotation. So when I didn’t give up “everything” as they had, I felt guilty and less “consecrated”… and that fell right into the other belief I had talked about as we all sang “All to Jesus I surrender” that meant I was to give up everything…all my needs, desires, hopes, dreams, etc…for the incredible calling and honor of serving Him. Again there is truth in this…and it is the fine edge that doesn’t go to the extreme of saying “I don’t count in God’s big scheme of things” nor “I commit my life to Him but my dreams and hopes are mine/important”. Somehow Jesus knows how to marry the two…feeding the five thousand but using a little boy’s lunch…going to heal Jairus’ daughter but taking the time for the woman who touched His robe… I have probably commented too much and this may not even be where you are at, but your comments obviously (smile) touched a journey (several) in my heart….

    • I appreciate your comments. Don’t worry about commenting “too much.” I agree that God “marries” our needs and his plans. I think we do everyone a real disservice when we suggest that our desires and needs are in conflict with God’s desires. Although superficial or false desires can be in conflict with God’s intentions, I believe there is no conflict between God’s intentions and my true desires and needs. I think our true desires and needs are given us by God because he intends to fulfill them. What do you think?

  4. Isn’t it interesting that even in the pit of my depression I made all my decisions based on what others needed. I left India, not to take care of my own need, but because I felt no longer worthy to be a missionary.

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