I am a restless person. You might even call me “Restless by Nature.” That is not quite as cool as “Naughty By Nature” but I am anything but cool. This restlessness is all too big a part of being human. We struggle from the moment we emerge from the womb. If you believe Maslow’s hierarchy (or pyramid) to a be an accurate depiction of that struggle we start by struggling for basic needs. We cry out for air, shelter, food and the security of having our basic physical needs met. Then we yearn to be safe. We want to know we have enough. “Mom are we going to be able to pay the electric bill, or do I need to pawn my Atari?” Right after that, we want our belongingness needs to be met. We want to know we have a friend, we want to feel we are loved and that we belong. When all these needs are met we start to stress and strain for recognition and for our self-esteem to be bolstered. Finally, if we can make it past all of those hurdles and climb the pyramid, we struggle with being all we were created to be. We strive to be our full and complete self.
In a perfect and unbroken world, we climb the pyramid, stumbling along the way and look down from the top and admire the lessons learned along the journey. We don’t live int hat world, do we? What happens if we get stuck? A few people probably come within reach of achieving this lofty objective. For most of us, this may look very different. It may be less of a linear climb up the pyramid and more of a slipping and sliding, up and down journey. Many of us bounce through these stages and slip and strive our way through life. The key to this kind of climb is that your eyes stay set on moving up.
What happens when someone is less focused on moving up and out of these levels and more addicted to the back and forth struggle of moving between them? Do you know someone or are you one of those people who seem overly attached to the strain and pain of falling down and the joy of going back up? Do you or your friend seem to “self-destruct” every time it feels like your making progress up the pyramid? I used to really resonate with this. Not only did I know many people who seemed to relish in staying in the struggle, but I was one of them. I would create drama when there was no drama needed. I would manufacture discord out of peace. I was addicted to the pain and the struggle and my story of overcoming the struggle. The truth is, I still slip into this mode occasionally, but overall, I live a much different life now.
The irony of this is that the whole time I was addicted to that pain, I would cast dispersions on those who did not seem to be struggling or who appeared to have peace. These people who I felt were looking down on me from somewhere higher up on the pyramid all had it too easy in my mind. Their lives were not the painful struggle mine was. They did not have to pawn their Atari. They had everything given to them in a soft, cushy life I could never imagine. They did not know my pain. What I later learned was…
I was full of a big ole pyramid size pile of crap!
Everyone struggles. Everyone hurts and everyone looks for these needs to be met. There is not one person who has the market cornered on pain, we just all process it and show it in different ways. Sometimes people don’t even realize how empty their lives are and may appear cocky or appear to have all the material and superficial things you don’t, but they are still hurting and broken on some level. But this post is not about them. This post is about you and me and the people we know who are addicted to the struggle and in love with our own story of struggle.
I am not convinced that this whole process was discovered first by Maslow. I actually believe Jesus had this figured out way before him. You can agree or disagree, but he seemed to know that people wanted to be fed, loved and achieve a peace beyond their own understanding way before the first psychologist’s couch ever got its cushions. What he taught people, people who knew much greater struggles than we know in our first world, modern lives, was that they needed two things to achieve the top of the pyramid- God and each other. Just two things.
Whether or not you follow Jesus, you may agree that the reason this is so profound is that the reality of our existence is that we are never satisfied and we are never done struggling. The key is how we orient ourselves during that struggle. If we orient ourselves to serve something greater than ourselves and live for each other, something magical happens to our addiction to struggle. All of a sudden, our story doesn’t take center stage. Our struggle no longer has the spotlight on it. Instead, how we fit into the bigger story and how we can help other people tell their part of the story more successfully takes center stage. When we let go of our addiction to struggle and pain and the drama that comes with that, the remarkable thing is we receive a gift. The gift of peace. The gift of freedom from the chains of endless struggle. That is what the top of the pyramid looks like. We can sit there, on top, still broken, a bit tired, but full of love and unchained…at last free of the need to struggle-endlessly.