The Role of Desire
All of the following questions have the same answer. What do you think it is?
Why did the teenager eat 2 whole Domino’s pizzas?
Why did the wife take her husband’s shotgun and shoot his motorcycle?
Why did the 4-year-old stand in the middle of Walmart and wet himself?
Why did the recovering alcoholic drink a pint of whiskey after 7 years of sobriety?
Why did the chicken cross the road?
The common answer: because they wanted to! Desire is a powerful motivator and influence on the will. Our choices are greatly affected by our desires. Hence, if our desires are in order, our choices will be better.
In 1943 Abraham Maslow, an American psychologist published a paper in which he proposed a hierarchy of human needs. Need creates desire so we tend to make choices to meet our needs. If we look at the hierarchy, it is presented as a pyramid with the most pressing desires at the base. It begins with physiological needs (food, water, air, warmth, shelter). We choose to get up and go to work each day to provide for these needs. The next level of need is safety. We need to feel protected and safe so we put alarms on our homes and cars, support police forces, elect government officials, save money, etc., to create a sense of safety and well being. The third level is love, affection and the sense of belonging. We enter into relationships, join organizations, have families and connect with causes that help us feel like we belong to someone or something. Moving up the hierarchy is esteem. We want to respect ourselves and feel respected by others so we seek affirmation, status, position or power. Finally Maslow reveals the highest level of need. He calls it self-actualization which is literally reaching one’s full potential. In a Biblical sense I call it living the life we were created to live.
Congratulations if you made it through that last paragraph . While some people shun human psychology, I find it helpful in understanding some of our behaviors. If you take the study of how human’s behave and you factor in God, you get some very practical truths. So if we factor God in to Maslow’s pyramid we discover that God created man completely fulfilled. All of his physiological needs were met in the garden with little effort. He was safe, he enjoyed the intimacy with Eve and with God, he we was respected enough for God to come and walk with him, he was given a place of significance in caring for the garden and he was certainly reaching his full potential and living the life he was created to live.
Of course, the fall caused the pyramid to collapse and every level of need was affected. Our desires are all out of order so our definition of self-actualization or LIFE is skewed. We often overindulge in our physiological needs (1/2 gallon of rocky road) to make up for the lack on the other levels. In order to feel safe we either isolate, try to control our world or become fixated on self-help (I can fix it). Our desire for love and intimacy turns to sex, pornography and co-dependent relationships. We try to find significance in “stuff” and “accomplishment” but it never seems to be enough and if we work hard enough and start to touch the need for LIFE, we are usually disappointed in the outcome.
The good news is that Jesus came to give us LIFE (John 10:10). He came to help us realize the life we were always meant to live (Maslow’s self-actualization). He teaches us to be content with what we have on a physiological level (Matthew 7). He promises a peace that passes understanding (Philippians 4:7). He loves us with an everlasting love (Jeremiah 31:3) and accepts us fully into His family (Romans 15:7). We are now called the children of God (John 1:12) and we are complete in Him (Colossians 2:10). Jesus sets Maslow’s pyramid back in order .
So…. why does it seem that many Christians are not living the LIFE they were created to live? The truth of the previous paragraph is not being lived out in our present reality. We live in the tension between what is and what will be. Our present reality (what is) includes two things that interfere with the ideal; flesh and lust.
How does our flesh interfere with life? When we live out of the spirit in us, we experience life and peace (Romans 8:6) but when we live out of our flesh we experience death or spiritual deadness (Romans 8:5). The flesh and spirit in us are contrary to one another (Galatians 5:17) and we must choose the way of the spirit. Our flesh will always desire to meet our needs apart from God (this was the sin of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, we can do it without God). These fleshly desires will focus on self-gratification of the lower levels of need. Since we are focused on the baser desires, we never feel fulfilled in the other areas.
How does lust interfere with life? Our lesser desires that are driven by brokenness and unbalanced need (food, sex, popularity, power, riches) always lead us to sin. Our tendency is to either give in to those desires or to shut down desire altogether to keep from sinning. The problem of shutting down desire is that it also keeps us from desiring God and His Kingdom with passion so we never really experience the LIFE He created us to live. We live, as Thoreau describes, lives of quiet desperation (the good church life).
This article is simply meant to stimulate your thinking. Here are some questions to ponder that will help you grapple with these thoughts:
1). How do I try to satisfy the 5 levels of needs?
2). Am I aware of God’s provision to meet all of these needs?
3). What is interfering with my ability to experience the life He created me to live?
I fully trust the Holy Spirit to guide you through these thoughts but if you want to process with someone, LifeNow does offer counseling sessions in person and through zoom.