I, with my eyes wide open, closed my eyes for years to the secret that I was looking to my children to give me more than either they had it in their power to give or could have given without somehow crippling themselves in the process. I thought that what I was afraid of more than anything else was that something awful would happen to them, but the secret I began to glimpse was that I was really less afraid for the children than I was afraid for myself. What dangerous and unknown new role might I fall into if the role of father were taken from me and suddenly the sky was the limit, if instead of trying to take care of my children’s needs, I started taking care of my own needs, some of which were so powerful and long neglected that I was afraid they might overwhelm me?
“Telling Secrets” by Frederick Buechner.
I confess that I have the same secret as Frederick Buechner.
I am afraid of my own legitimate needs.
I fear if I acknowledge that they are there that they will overwhelm me.
For so long I have taken care of everyone else’s needs, and I have neglected my own.
It seems so sacrificial, so loving, so kind.
On the surface…
But beneath all of this outward care and concern for others is a little kid who has not had her own legitimate needs met.
I have begun to realize this recently especially working at a residential treatment program where kids from all walks of life are hospitalized because of losses and unmet needs that manifest themselves in addiction, anger, or self-harm. For these kids, the wheels have run off. They have been caught in their desperation, and because of this they have the perfect opportunity to see what it is they really need and begin to heal. Some will take this opportunity. Others will not.
Recognizing the legitimate needs in our lives that have not been met can cause one to feel out of control and weak. Sometimes it feels safer to lock these needs away inside and pretend like we are fine. But we are not fine. Unmet needs can become like the dungeon Little Ease (pictured above) that Buechner describes hidden directly below a beautiful chapel (pictured below) in the Tower of London. It was an incredibly small 4 ft. square space where it was impossible to stand or even lie down. Like this dungeon, our unmet needs can feel like they will suffocate and crush us until we get them met. I know because I managed to make it until I was in my thirties carrying around an overwhelming amount of unmet needs. I had no idea that being given up for adoption caused me to desperately long for connection. My mind had also suppressed the sexual abuse I’d suffered at the hands of my adoptive father, and I had no understanding that my need for healthy love was like a ticking time bomb just waiting to explode. And one day it did explode, unleashing years of pent up anger and hurt that manifested itself in an abusive and addictive relationship with my former pastor, who I believed was the one person who could meet my unmet needs. But as addictions do, it only made things worse and I became just like one of the kids at work. The wheels ran off and I was caught. For the past four years, I’ve had the perfect opportunity to see what it is that I really need and get better. Sometimes I take the opportunity. Sometimes I do not. The hardest thing for me to do these days is recognize my legitimate needs, because I am afraid that they will be like a ticking time bomb that will explode again. A large part of my struggle is truly believing that there isn’t something wrong with me. As I look back on my life, I struggle to see the little kid who just needed to be held and loved. Sometimes all I see is a little kid who could never do anything right and who caused bad things to happen all around her.
It would seem to me after all the writing and processing I have done that I would not still struggle so much, but I do. Healing can be a long process. It’s hard being patient with myself. The other night driving home from a Bible study with my daughter, she began to talk about how difficult it was to trust others at this new church because of memories of the losses in her other church. I felt crushed under the weight of the reality that my choices had contributed to her present struggle. I realized how many times I hadn’t been there for her. These were years I could never get back. All because I was pursuing what I thought I had to have. My unmet legitimate needs had caused me to pursue things that brought me much shame.
I feel much compassion for my daughter. There isn’t much I wouldn’t do to bring her relief. To cause her to be able to feel that she is a part. To help her believe in the goodness of people again and recognize God working in their lives. I know that the lack of trust she struggles with comes from legitimate needs for connection she is afraid to have met. I know it also comes from having her own hope shattered by trusting in the wrong people and having her own innocence stolen. Betrayals that have been totally out of her control and that were never her fault. I have no problem at all loving her and reminding her that she is not alone. I can tell her over and over again that it is not her fault. However, showing myself the same compassion seems impossible at times. Frederick Buechner’s words strike a powerful chord in me:
To love our neighbors as we love ourselves means also to love ourselves as we love our neighbors. It means to treat ourselves with as much kindness and understanding as we would the person next door who is in trouble.
“Telling Secrets” by Frederick Buechner.
I confess I have not loved myself well. My default mode is self-contempt, and only the grace of God can save me from it.
But will I let Him?
Or maybe a better question is can I stop Him?
I have to believe that nothing can stop the truth that sets us free.
The crushing weight of our unmet needs that cause us to break are where the light of His love and truth get through.
The truth is there are no more fathers and mothers. There is no opportunity to live my life over and do it right the next time. The betrayals, the losses and the regret will always be a part of my story. It’s ok to be sad about these losses. To offer myself the same compassion I give my daughter. I can also thank God because of Jesus that these things don’t have to be the way our story ends.
He is a Father to the Fatherless.
He is the Resurrection and the Life.
There is no shame in our legitimate needs.
They are what drive us to Him.
Our hearts cry out to be loved and love in return and for all our fear to be gone.
He answers and this is what ultimately saves our souls.
“ALMIGHTY God, unto whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid; cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of thy Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love thee, and worthily magnify thy holy Name; through Christ our Lord. Amen.”
“Telling Secrets” by Frederick Buechner
I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God. Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think. Glory to him in the church and in Christ Jesus through all generations forever and ever! Amen.