Abraham Maslow was a famous psychologist who described human beings with a hierarchy of needs. At the bottom are a person’s physical needs, then safety needs, followed by the need to belong, then esteem needs. Finally, Maslow says the greatest and most fulfilling need in a human being is self-actualization. He believed a person reached their greatest state of maturity when they found their own happiness and fulfillment in life. A majority would agree with Maslow on most of his hierarchy. The disagreement comes over what self-actualization means. For some it means to seek your self-fulfillment—the pursuit of what you want and what brings your personal happiness. As a believer who takes my cues from the Word of God, I think this step of self-actualization is addressed by Jesus.
“Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”
Jesus’ take on self-actualization is to find a deeper purpose for your life than your own happiness. He said that if you made your happiness your primary purpose in life you would fail. It would be like searching for the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Viktor Frankl, a survivor of Auschwitz, said what helped him survive the brutalities of the Nazi concentration camp was finding a purpose outside of his own existence.
It appears to me that Maslow’s concept of self-actualization is far more popular than Jesus’ concept. The problem is that Jesus said Maslow’s concept is a dead-end. The person who seeks self-fulfillment will actually lose himself in the search.
Just before Jesus went to the cross, he went to the garden of Gethsemane where he prayed. Jesus gives us an example of what it means to lose your “self” and find your purpose in God’s will. His agonizing prayer is recorded for us:
“Then he said to them, ‘My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.’ 39 Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, ‘My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.’”
Jesus resisted his father’s will. He struggled to accept it, so much so that he was physically sick. However, Jesus’ final and concluding prayer that night was a rejection of his self-desires and an acceptance of God’s will. He left the garden and was led as a “lamb to the slaughter” because he was completely resolved to fulfill his father’s plan.
My worst enemy in life is not another human being—it is I myself, my selfishness, my pride and my stubbornness. If I have learned anything in life, it is that I am much happier when I am helping others and serving a higher calling than my own happiness. Though it is not easy, I have learned to pray “…not as I will, but as you will.”