We all crave love. The need for love and acceptance leaves a gaping hole inside each of us. This hole within us can only be filled with true love. True love can only be received through and from God, because God is love. Yet we try to fill that hole with so many other things.
The desire to be loved defines us in so many ways. It is the root of so much that we do and feel, most times without us even realizing it.
There are various ways we express this desire for love. Imagine with me, if you would, a love-need scale that ranges from healthy at one end to dysfunctional at the other end. At the healthy end, people are seeking, realizing, and resting in God’s immeasurable love, knowing that He made each of us unique creations in His image and that He loves each of us unconditionally. At the dysfunctional end, people are seeking love in all the wrong places or denying that we even need it.
Many times our attempts to fill this need for love are learned — they may be familial (learned habits passed on from the previous generation) or societal (learned/taught through what is portrayed online, in magazines or on billboards, or via TV and movies). However, when our attempts to fill the hole are unsuccessful, it can manifest itself through such defense mechanisms as:
- unhealthy relationships (“I need you. I can’t live without you!”)
- pride (“I’m better than you. I don’t need you. I am all, and have all, that I need”),
- vanity (“See how good I look and how wonderful I am”)
- pleasure-seeking (“I’ll fill that hole with fun activities that make me feel good”),
- overwork (“If I just work a little harder, I’ll make it, and then I’ll be worthy”),
- materialism (“See how much stuff I have? See how important I am? See how worthy I am of your admiration and adoration?”),
- perfectionism (“If I do everything perfectly and have everything just right, then I’ll be lovable”),
- depression (“I’ll never measure up. I’m tired of trying. My condition/situation is hopeless”),
- addiction (“I just need to escape from or dull the pain enough, then it’ll be alright”)
- anger (“Who needs it anyway? Why should I care?”).
And that list is not all-inclusive, by any means. Lets take a more in-depth look at some of these:
Relationships: Probably the most common way we express our need for love is through direct relationships with others and even that can take different forms.
For some people desperate for love, being in a “love” relationship with another person is critical. Often those people can’t stand being alone and so they will latch on to the first person that shows the slightest bit of interest in them. Many times that leads to a sexual relationship not only because many people equate sex with love but also because it’s during times of intimacy that we feel most loved.
Sometimes the craving for love is so strong that it results in:
- a person staying in a relationship even when it’s abusive, or
- jumping from one relationship to the next when the high of being “in love” is no longer there or when they feel like the relationship is no longer satisfying them, or
- it can lead to an extra-marital affair because more attention is paid to them by someone other than their spouse and this new person “understands” them and is “there for them” when they need that affirmation and attention.
Popularity: People seek to be popular to feel more loved. I think the rationale is that if everyone likes us, then we can be reassured that we must not only be lovable but also worthy of love. Popularity seems so important when we’re growing up, especially during the teen and tween years. Unfortunately, it’s a very surface phenomenon and as fickle as people are, it’s almost easier to fall out of favor with people than it is to gain their approval. Since none of us is perfect, when an imperfection shows through or we mess up, it doesn’t take long before we’re no longer popular.
Success: People often equate success with being worthy of love. People measure success in different ways but, in today’s world, it’s usually related to attained status as measured by a person’s level of education (or their intelligence), their occupation or professional accomplishments, the amount of money they earn, or the material possessions they’ve accumulated. According to the world’s standards, the higher the status we obtain, the more successful we are, the more important we are, the more we feel loved and worthy of love.
Materialism: Success is commonly intertwined with materialism since the more stuff we have the more successful we’ll seem to those looking on and the more important we’ll feel (a form of pride). Our culture tends to honor those who have a lot of fancy possessions because they give the illusion of wealth and therefore success. A lot of people spend more money than they have on more things than they need and end up buried under mountains of debt in order to feel successful and impress people they may not even like.
Overwork: Being successful, many times, goes hand in hand with overwork, as is often required to obtain certain levels of perceived success. If we have only ever received praise or other positive reinforcement when we were working hard or when we did a good job at some task, it stands to reason that we will lean towards overwork as a means of feeling worthy of love. For some, though, overwork can also be an avoidance mechanism. When we can keep our mind and body busy, we don’t have to face the emptiness we feel inside.
Vanity: is the lengths we go to trying to make our bodies and appearance perfect, according to cultural or societal standards of perfection. Some people will go to great lengths to hide or correct their bodily flaws and make themselves feel better about themselves.
These can range from mild things such as over-application of make-up, excessive tanning sessions, and Botox injections, to an obsession with body image resulting in such things as eating disorders like anorexia and/or bulimia, to the more immediate and permanent changes associated with cosmetic surgery.
I’m not saying it’s wrong to want to look and feel our best but we’ve got to make sure the reasons for doing what we’re doing don’t go beyond staying healthy and being well-groomed. If looking “perfect” helps us gain attention and feel more loved and lovable, then it’s probably vanity driving our actions.
Pride: Also closely tied in with vanity is pride, especially when we feel like we’ve attained or been blessed with a societally-defined level of appearance or special talents that we feel make us better than others in a certain area, such as our height, weight, intelligence, aptitude in sports, or social status. It’s pride talking if you’ve ever thought or said out loud things like “I’m glad I’m not overweight like her”, or “I’m glad I don’t have a big nose like him!”, or “She is just a housekeeper.” All those are comparative statements that elevate ourselves over somebody else based on external, or visible, factors in order to make ourselves feel better or more important than the other person.
Perfectionism: Although it can include factors affecting our appearance (such as our teeth, our hair, our weight, etc), perfectionism is often associated with the way we do things or the high, performance-driven standards to which we hold ourselves and others. Most of us don’t even realize that the reasoning behind both the bodily and non-bodily obsessions with perfectionism is that we don’t feel good enough or worthy of love unless we have everything just right and do everything perfectly. Unfortunately, none of us is perfect nor can we ever be perfect, so we need to give up this unattainable ideal.
Jesus is the only truly perfect one. The rest of us fall short in a myriad of ways.
Depression: According to Forbes, Iceland leads as one of the world’s biggest consumers of antidepressants, but depression is common worldwide, with antidepressants being one of the top three most frequently prescribed medications in the U.S. according to CDC FastStats – Therapeutic Drug Use.
Depression is more than just a feeling of sadness — everyone has that every now and then — it is a feeling of despondency that lasts more than two or three months (sometimes it lasts for years) and affects the ability to carry out normal daily activities. Although there are many causes of depression, from major life stressors to a physiological imbalance in brain chemicals, a common thought that pervades the depressed mind is “What’s the use?” leading to a feeling of hopelessness.
Keeping with the theme of our need for love, a feeling of hopelessness can result when we’ve tried everything we know to do yet we still don’t measure up in our own eyes or the eyes of other people. When we keep failing no matter what we try, it can leave us wondering if this is all there is in life, and if we think it is, what’s the point? But that’s where the problem lies — we’re trying to gain the approval and affection of other people.
That’s not all there is to life. There is a God who loves us so much that He created each of us special in our own unique way with a one-of-a-kind amazing plan for each of our lives. He didn’t create us perfect but He did give us free will, and in this fallen world, it is so easy to be misled and make the wrong choices. Because God loves us unconditionally, He provided a way to enter into relationship with Him by sacrificing His Son, Jesus, to pay for our sins (past, present, and future). It is in this relationship that we get to experience true love and true life. The gaping hole within us can finally be filled, and filled to overflowing! There’s really no other feeling like it.
I’m not saying that once we accept this saving grace (the free and unmerited favor of God) that we will never experience depression or any other hardship again. That’s not the way it works because, if everything were perfect after being forgiven for our sins, then we wouldn’t need God any more. People would be asking for forgiveness and salvation just to have an easy life, not because they loved God.
However, if depression continues and/or recurs, try refocusing your thoughts on God and the promises in His Word rather than your problems. If you’re not able to, or you do but it still does no good, get checked out by a medical doctor to find out if there’s an imbalance in brain chemicals that can only be rectified with medication. You may have heard the saying “laughter is the best medicine” so try watching a comedy movie or show, or funny videos on youtube, to help release endorphins and dopamine to change the brain’s chemical balance naturally.
Whatever you do, do not let the devil deceive you into taking your own life! You are special. You are loved. You are needed. In fact, the reason the devil’s working so hard to deceive you is because you have a special purpose that he doesn’t want you to carry out. The more you believe him, the more he’s able to fool you into thinking there’s no hope and that nothing’s ever going to get better, the less likely you are to believe you have a God-ordained purpose and therefore, and the less likely you are to fulfill it. That’s just what he wants! Fight back! Get stubborn! Don’t let the devil win!
Addiction: I’m sure no one ever starts out thinking “I want to get addicted to…” a particular substance or activity, but depending on the person and/or the substance, just one try may be all it takes to start a physiological or psychological addiction. Many people will do whatever their friends are doing to feel like they belong (as a result of peer pressure or a dare) and some try certain substances (drugs or alcohol) or activities (porn, for example) to escape the painful realities of life. Often, one of the painful realities, although unrealized, is an unfulfilled need for unconditional love and acceptance. Only God can provide those.
Anger: is a secondary emotion that manifests as a result of, or in response to, another emotion (often more than one). For instance, anger may flare up as a defense mechanism after being embarrassed, in response to being hurt, or when feeling out of control.
When our need for love has gone unmet for so long, we tend to feel rejected and inadequate, and anger can surface from that pain. We may go into denial and claim we don’t need anyone or anything, but that only exacerbates the situation, often making it a vicious cycle. We feel unloved and not valued, so we get angry, which drives people away even further.
Have you ever asked yourself: “What’s wrong with me?”
Unfortunately, most people are not even aware that it’s their need for love that is driving them to act or react in the ways described above and so they often live unfulfilled or disillusioned lives, wondering what’s wrong — with them, the other person, their lives, the world. They have a need they are striving to fill yet they’re not really even aware of what it is.
So many people go through life not realizing that the need they have can only be filled with the love of God, sent in the bodily form of His Son Jesus, and that no matter how many other people or other things they try to fill that hole with, there’s always going to be gaping spaces that nothing or no one is capable of filling.
The hole we all feel inside, whether we’re ready to admit it or not, is Jesus-shaped and therefore, only He can fill it.
God’s love is always available and it is just a matter of coming to the realization of that truth and accepting it as the gift that it is, not able to be earned or bought. We can’t earn it by being “successful” or be worthy of it by being “perfect”. Nothing we do or say is going to make Him love us any more or any less than He already does, which is way more than most of us are even capable of fathoming.
The reason it’s so hard for us to fathom such unconditional, extreme love is because we often compare things to the way we, as people, do it. People are very conditional lovers. It is so easy for our feelings to change based on our circumstances or the behavior of other people.
Unconditional love doesn’t focus on a person’s outward appearance, their actions, their moods, or their faults. It sees beyond those things to the heart of a person, seeing them as another human being, flawed and imperfect, but still worthy of love. It is not self-seeking but puts the other person first. It overlooks offenses, forgives, and endures. It is a decision, not a feeling.
1 Corinthians 13:4-7 puts it best:
Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of wrongs. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance. (NLT)
This is the kind of love God offers us through belief in His Son, Jesus. We just have to believe that he died for our sins and rose again and accept His offer of eternal life. Romans 10:9-10 (NLT) says: If you openly declare that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God, and it is by openly declaring your faith that you are saved.
And Ephesians 2:8-9 (NLT): God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it.
Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6, NLT)
Jesus is waiting with open arms. Go to him. Just as you are. Don’t wait, because no one knows what tomorrow holds and you may not get another chance.