I’ve always had an aversion to feeling needy.
I remember in middle school and high school, there was a stigma against being “needy.” I dealt with my fair share of insecurity, and I know there were times I came across as needy around other girls, especially when I felt affirmed in a friendship. I was scared to lose it. But as I faced disappointments and rejection, my heart began to harden against the idea of “needing” anyone. And when it came to boys–I certainly wasn’t going to be clingy. In fact, I thought this is what boys wanted, a girl who could prove herself to be self-sufficient, an equal partner. I did want a knight on a white horse, and I wanted be right there next to him on my own horse, ready to race into the sunset. And I probably planned to win that race.
There’s a general assumption, especially in our individualistic culture, that something is wrong with being needy. No one wants to be seen as desperate or dependent. And, if I am being honest, I tend to criticize when others display these qualities. It’s a weakness I can grow to despise, when my heart is not in check and I am therefore prone to self-righteousness.
As it often does, my sinful perceptions in relationship with others impacts my relationship with God. I assume his posture toward me is comparable to my posture toward others. I so often think God expects me to be a big girl and figure things out on my own.
All of this to say, because I scorn neediness, I have developed wrong thinking about God’s attitude toward me in my need.
While I can quote several Bible verses talking about resting in God as our shelter in a time of trouble, or allowing to be our sufficiency, or hoping only in his strength and not our own, I don’t always function this way. In fact, I can easily delude myself into thinking that God is proud of me and impressed with how I am managing my life. I assume that he expects me to put some legwork into coming up with solutions and alternate plans before I come to him in prayer, like an employee showing up to a meeting well-prepared, having thoroughly researched. Or, when I am upset, I attempt to talk myself down into a rational state, thinking God will be pleased that I know how to manage myself without needing him to remind me of what’s true.
And yet, I still come up short. All of my attempts to impress God with independence crumble around me when something new comes up. I exhaust myself and end up ignoring that sweet invitation to “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). I hear whispers of, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9), and yet I keep pressing forward, thinking maybe if I try harder God will be pleased that I need a little less grace than the average person.
This reluctance to accept my own neediness is one of my main hindrances to living out of the fullness of the Christian life, because it doesn’t only affect my efforts, but it affects my relationship with God. I view him as expectant and demanding, perhaps not as bad as a tyrant but certainly a little disappointed and frustrated when I just can’t get it together.
If we spend time reading the Gospels and recognizing Jesus’ posture toward those around him–those who are in need, who can’t seem to get it together, who never quite track with what he’s saying–he actually displays patience with them. He is described as loving people in their ignorance and their need (Mark 10:21), as being moved with pity and compassion (Mark 1:41, Mark 6:34, Matthew 9:36). He even tells the Pharisees that his whole purpose was to come for those who are spiritually sick and in need of a physician’s care (Mark 2:17).
It’s not solely that Jesus is the Great Physician, though, and he is the one who knows how to heal our disease. It’s one thing to go to someone for help whom you know has the answers; it’s another to go to someone who has the answers because he himself has experienced the same thing.
Hebrews 4:15-16 tells us, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” Our confidence is on the basis that Jesus “gets it” and is therefore able to advocate for us and extend grace to us in a way that would not be possible if he had not humbled himself to become man.
In his book Gentle and Lowly, Dane Ortlund writes:
“The reason that Jesus is in such close solidarity with us is that the difficult path we are on is not unique to us. He has journeyed on it himself. It is not only that Jesus can relieve us from our troubles, like a doctor prescribing medicine; it is also that, before any relief comes, he is with us in our troubles, like a doctor who has endured the same disease.”
While it’s always been difficult for me to ask for help, I’ve found it’s much easier when I am asking someone who has been where I am. I feel known and safe to confess my sinful thoughts and feelings when I know the person I am talking to has probably had those same thoughts and feelings. When I find mentors with the same Myers-Briggs or Enneagram type, I get excited to hear the refrains of, “Me, too!” as I process my struggles and sins, because I know I can then be led in next steps for growth by someone else who has been there. When I share my experience with infertility and discover it’s a common path with a new acquaintance, my heart automatically swells with hope–the conversation looks different with that person than it does with someone who can’t quite identify.
How much more does Jesus understand our sorrow–he who carried his own share of rejection and of pain? How much more does Jesus understand the pressure of sin–he who was tempted by the devil himself, in his weakened state after fasting? How much more does Jesus understand our desire for comfort and assurance, after grieving the death of his cousin John, experiencing the distance of his disciples in his moment of need, and fearing his own approaching death?
If I really believed that my Savior did not look at me with disdain, wondering why I again need to be rescued, how would that change my prayer life? How much more quickly would I go to the “throne of grace,” knowing that God didn’t expect me to put myself together before showing up? How much more deeply would I experience God’s love for me in my messiness, in my sin and in my lack of endurance and in my discouragement?
In fact, in None Like Him, Jen Wilkin points out that our neediness is not a result of the fall; we were created to depend on God. Only he is all-sufficient; that is a mark of him being God (and us, not). Why do I presume that he wants me to grow more independent in my walk with him, needing him less as I become more spiritually mature?
I’m finding relief as I name my false assumptions about God’s attitude toward my neediness, because that in turn pushes me to cling to truth about who he is and how he views me in my discouragement and dependence. KJ Ramsey wrote in This Too Shall Last, “Grace is solidarity instead of scrutiny,” and I’ve been pondering the ways I assume God’s scrutiny over my life. If I think that God is constantly inspecting my motives and my thoughts, trying to decide whether or not I deserve for him to help me, I have begun looking to a god who is able to be manipulated or bribed. This god would not have saved people by grace, but by their works–and we know that this god is not in line with the God the Bible celebrates as “merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.”
As you think about the ways that you approach your sin, or maybe the sin of others, remember that God is not like us. Your response to others’ needs, or your frustration with your own shortcomings, is not reflective of God’s heart toward you. Because of Christ as our Advocate, we can go to someone who very much “gets it,” who experienced all that we do, and who longs to show grace to us at the Father’s throne.
“…When the fallenness of the world closes in on us and makes us want to throw in the towel—there, right there, we have a Friend who knows exactly what such testing feels like, and sits close to us, embraces us. With us. Solidarity. Our tendency is to feel intuitively that the more difficult life gets, the more alone we are. As we sink further into pain, we sink further into felt isolation. The Bible corrects us. Our pain never outstrips what he himself shares in. We are never alone. That sorrow that feels so isolating, so unique, was endured by him in the past and is now shouldered by him in the present.”Dane Ortlund, Gentle and Lowly