Felt Needs and “Real” Needs

Even when we don’t acknowledge it, human beings long for God.  I believe that we’re born with a desire for the divine.  St. Augustine’s well-known prayer voices this longing: “Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they find rest in thee.”  So do these words from the nineteenth-century Congregationalist Horace Bushnell: “We are made so as to want God, just as a child’s nature wants a mother and father . . . There is a hungering and a heaving in us.”   Twentieth century theologian Paul Tillich said: “God is present. . . as the unknown force in us that makes us restless.” We were made to thirst for wonder, crave mystery, and yearn for love, desires which draw us toward the Holy.

These desires are at the root of many of the needs we feel; but meeting those “felt needs” might or might not satisfy the deeper desires which give rise to them.  A feeling of need can make us aware that something is missing or incomplete or wounded in us.  But, the feeling of need doesn’t always contain enough wisdom to guide us to its real fulfillment.   

In other words, felt needs are not necessarily real needs.   Sometimes we need help determining what our truest and deepest needs actually are. We might think we need a balanced life, when what we need more urgently is to ask if the life we’re living is the life we’re meant to live.  We think we want better strategies and techniques for doing everything we have to do, when what we really need is to evaluate whether the things we’re trying to do are worth doing in the first place.  We feel that we need solutions—ways to cope—when what we need is salvation, a way to be changed. We want to rearrange life to make it more comfortable; what we need is a transformed life that is more meaningful.  We think we need answers to our questions, but what we really need is someone who knows and cares for us to question our questions.    As Thomas Merton said of the Bible, “If we ask it for information about the meaning of life, it answers by asking us when we intend to start living.”