Who hasn’t viewed an irate toddler in a store, yelling at the top of his tiny lungs, demanding the object of his heart’s desire? In the mind of that boy, he needs the candy, the toy, the bag, the box, or whatever.
In his mind, what he wants is what he needs.
Recently, I found myself in the grocery store at the end of a long day, needing to pick up milk on my way home from work. I was tired, distractd, and just wanted to be home. It turns out I wasn’t the only unhappy person in that store. A couple of aisles over, a little girl began keening loudly. I admit, grocery stores are incubators of human nature that I find irresistible, so — milk temporarily forgotten — I walked over to observe.
Usually I’m most interested in how the adult in the situation deals with the child. Believe me, over the years I’ve seen a variety of styles — some that have made me smile and some that have made me cringe. This time, however, I was focused on the child.
This 2-year-old was gesturing desperately, fingers extended, at some object just out of reach. The important thing to me wasn’t what she was looking at, but rather how she was seeing it. In her mind, the object wasn’t a mere want — it had become a need. When her mother denied it to her, she became absolutely bereft, carrying on in a way only a despondent, denied toddler can.
As I made my way to the dairy section, through the checkout line, and back into my car, I kept thinking about how this kind of behavior is typical of small children. But I had to ask myself — do we ever really get over that?
Fast-forward to adulthood, and you’ll find the same thing: wants masquerading as needs.
When we were 2, we cried out to a parent to fill our heartfelt desires; as adults we endeavor to fill them ourselves. Once a desire has been categorized as a need, we’re pretty resourceful at finding a way to fill it — even when our methods are addictive, damaging, or hurtful. In our current credit-card-toting, get-it-now-but-pay-for-it-later society, we’re about as happy with the words no and not now as that bawling 2-year-old.
Add to that our concept of “rights.” Once we’ve identified a desire as a need, we tend to demand the right to fill that need. Deep down, we seem to acknowledge that a desire doesn’t quite meet the level of a basic need. Desires can be selfish, but a need is always a moral necessity. Once our desire gets translated into a need, it becomes a necessity in our lives; we’re pretty militant about getting that newly defined need met.
This leads me to a question: Are you ready to take a deep, hard look at your own self-identified needs?
I’ve found generally people haven’t really done any sort of intentional, directed work in this area. Mainly, they have a vaguely articulated sense of what they consider needs in their lives. Sometimes the only true way to determine how you really look at a particular aspect of your life — as a desire or as a need — is through your behaviors and your willingness or unwillingness to change. We’re willing to change, postpone, modify, or even relinquish a desire; we tend to take an over-my-dead-body approach to anything we think is a need.
Lest you think that that in this blog series I am only going to talk about what you think or I think, I want to establish the overriding them we’ll be using, which doesn’t come from you or me. The theme of this book comes from Jesus, sepaking to a crowd of people very much like us, with desires and needs and a difficult time differentiating between the two. They were just as apt to run after desires masquerading as needs.
In Matthew 6:31-33, Jesus said, “So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”
Even if we don’t have a good handle on what our needs are, God does. And not only is He God; He’s also our Father. And as a father, He’s generous. He knows our needs, and He has a plan to supply them — and much more as well.
SOURCE: Chapter 1, “The Power of Want,” in Gotta Have It! by Gregory L. Jantz, PhD., founder of The Center for Counseling and Health Resources Inc.