Sunday, August 14, 2011

Is your need my obligation?

August 14, 2011

Dear Friends,

While sorting old material on my desk (rare event), I came across the note I had written myself several weeks ago about the Bob Merrill’s lyrics in the song “People.” As you know, it required more than Streisand’s great voice to convince me that the need for ‘people’ (i.e., relationships) makes us “lucky." I think this need makes us human and, consequently, makes the discipline of forming mutually productive relationships with others a life-long task.

Part of this task is, of course, identifying what it is that we need, and learning to know how much is enough.

Neither task is easy. Unaware, we are often confused by ideas the culture teaches that at best are extraordinarily silly, and at their worst propose a sure formula for relational disaster.

In “People” Streisand sings a hatful of such ideas with power and passion and artistry. In 2011, archival dust from the culture of the 60’s has begun to settle over Streisand’s work. What is astonishing, however, is the way in which some of these bad ideas are alive and circulating still.

For example, Styne and Merrill’s lyrics deftly define the role we may expect the “other” to play in relationships. Lovers, they insist, are the luckiest people in the world because they have found that very special person who evokes a “feeling deep in your soul [that] says you were half, now you’re whole. . . .”

Really? We’re sure about that?

Now a decade into the 21st century we may assume that we have outgrown that “better half” or “other half” idea, but I’m not so sure.

It is true that the idea is rarely phrased in this form anymore. Nevertheless, there is evidence that we continue to believe that our needs form an obligation for others with whom we enter into relationship to “fill the hole.” We believe further that their failure to do so signals the failure of the relationship, and certainly the right, perhaps even the necessity, for us to leave the relationship.

Last week in my office a young thirty-something reported an impending divorce initiated because the partner “no longer meets my needs.” Last week at a luncheon, a fifty-something individual described a family choice to alter church affiliation because the church they were attending “no longer meets our needs.”

And in a sobering parallel, in a session focused on spiritual growth and maturity, a client said angrily, “How can God expect me to want a relationship with Him when He doesn’t meet my needs?”

Is the measure of a life-nurturing relationship the degree to which it decreases my sense of need? Is becoming “not needing” the purpose for which we form relationships?

Thinking with you of still another paradox: is my willingness and capacity to live with unmet needs one of the skills required for the intimacy in which my deepest needs are met?

See you next week.


1 comment:

  1. Gay,

    I'm so glad Alec and I were able to have dinner with you when we were in Colorado. I found your website as soon as we got home and am eagerly looking forward to your weekly thoughts and provocations!

    As God created us to be in relationship with one another, God, and as God Himself is in a relationship of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, it would be silly to say that we don't need each other. However, as you pointed out, the problem lies in what motivates the relationship.

    I see the "fulfilling MY need" everywhere in relationships, and regretfully, in my own life all too often. As much as I would claim that I build relationships out of an obedient response to loving others as God does purely because they are God's creation, it is often about how I can benefit. The idea of relationship gets turned on its head and becomes selfish and me focused. "My needs are met, therefore it is a good, healthy relationship."

    I don't think this is how God intended relationships, however.

    The question, then, becomes, "How do we enter into a healthy, true relationship?" I think your last paradoxical statement touched on my interpretation of where to start; it is only in the abandonment of having our own needs met that we are truly able to find deep peace and fulfillment in relationships. Not that I am any good at practicing that...

    All that being said, I know it is impossible to do any of that without being in relationship with God and God's strength and guidance. I pray that I can be as the Son who, in the hour he felt abandoned and out of relationship with the Father, cried, "My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will." Not as I need, but as those I am in relationship with need.

    I hope this makes some sense! Can't wait to read next week's post. :)