Needs

Posted on January 3, 2015

(Note: This is by far the most personal blog I have ever written. While it is still about thinking differently, it has been one of the most profound experiences of my recent history.)

It rose up inside me like some sort of occasionally hidden roadblock to the needful things inside my soul. I couldn’t explain it, but I certainly couldn’t deny it. And most significant, I couldn’t seem to overcome it. It should have been simple. All I had to do was buy myself something I have wanted for a long time. All I had to do was buy one of the most beautiful guitars I have ever played. But I felt frozen.
This year has been the year that I hosted a battle on my insides. The culmination of years of warfare, many of the battles came to a head in 2014. It sounds as simple as buying a guitar, but this season of war has come with many casualties.

The casualties of this season have been things like my definition of hope, and other such constructs of my mind. Trust is being redefined, and foundational things I once called realities are being leveled. As one whose freedom journey has always first been personal and then been shared in a variety of public venues, no other year has shaken more, revealed more, and ultimately torn down more than this year that just ended. It has been soul-rattling and as such it has taken me a few days to begin this writing. So there I was, unable to buy this thing I have desired. (please don’t buy it for me…it is important that I fight this fight for myself). My daughter Jillian, somewhat kindly, but somewhat perplexed at her dad’s paralysis, suggested that I ask God why I could not commit the simple act of buying myself something. So I asked. The answer shook loose a core lie that I have carried longer than I know.

“God,” I began, “ Why do I struggle so just to buy this guitar for myself? It is not money, or desire that is an obstacle…what is going on?”

The answer might as well have been thunder, or an avalanche, or both. “Bob,” He said kindly, “You have lived with a lie that if you express your feelings, or try to have your needs met, others will suffer” I stopped. My breathing grew shorter. What was heart-stopping about this had nothing to do with being unaware of that belief. What was heart stopping was hearing God call it a lie.

The most difficult lies to unearth, and place in the category of “untrue”, are the lies that have been validated by experience over long periods of time. As ridiculous as it may sound, I have had a variety of powerful, ongoing experiences where the expression of my needs and feelings was followed by others expressing pain, anger, loss, or rage. In some cases those expressions of anger became costly to other people I loved. This did not seem like a lie because it was a real experience. Two things you should know about me. First, my most recent job was gained in an interview process where I was asked, “how would you help thirty thousand people…”. Prior to that, I was a counselor for sixteen years. I am a father of four, and a husband, and as such I have been very successful at taking care of others. I am called to do it, and I do it well.

Second, I am an empath. I feel. I don’t just feel my feelings, I feel the feelings of the world around me. While I believe that to a degree this is an important part of incarnational love, I also know this is a potential set up for other less healthy responses. If you are near me, and you hurt, I feel it. Somewhere along the way, I decided (unconsciously, but nevertheless, an act of my will) it was easier to take care of people so they didn’t hurt, as a way of cushioning my own empathic response. Fast forward, I learned to take care of people but not myself.

It was this set up that thrust me into places where if I ceased to take care of others it became costly. Ironically, it is always true, that if you do not take care of yourself, it too, is costly. Try holding your breath, say…forever. You can build a whole life around this belief, until your own face starts to turn blue. I needed oxygen, but I just knew that if I stopped to inhale, people I loved would pay a price. But somewhere around the end of 2013 I could no longer live on the oxygen stored in my lungs since 1978. I needed to inhale. And the clash between the roadblock to my needs, and my need for oxygen reached a breaking point.

This year I learned that I have needs and they are appropriate and legitimate.

This year I learned that other people have the right to their choices and their pain.

This year I learned that I am not the answer to anyone’s question, and I am not the solution to anyone’s pain.

This year I learned that if I have done what I am responsible for, and others struggle, I did not cause that pain, nor am I responsible for what they do with their pain.

This year I learned that I cannot fix every broken thing, and solve every problem I see.

Did I say I learned that? This year I AM learning that.


  • Angela Roberts

    Now this… this is beautiful…

  • superbeck

    =)

  • Jeff Johnston

    powerful and freeing, bob. hard to admit, but freeing nonetheless.

  • Anthony Coppedge

    IF: “Hold your breath…say, forever.”

    THEN: “You think that’s air you’re breathing?”

  • RyAnne

    From deep within, thanks for sharing.

  • Kelley Workman

    Wow, so good and real. I, for most of my life, was unaware of that same lie. I thank you for sharing and pray that you and family have a great 2015! Off to a great start!! God bless you and thnks for being vulnerable and transparent!

  • Cyndi Bird

    Thank you for sharing your journey Bob.

  • I spent 5 months in rehab for alcoholism in 2013. I learned how to express needs there…and that we all have them, including me. It was a key lesson in my recovery. I learned not just that I have them, but that it’s important for me to express them. I had thought I was making my needs known. But it reminds me of an old Vlassic pickle commercial. A little girl is sitting at the table with her daddy, and he has a pickle. She asks simply, “When are you gonna eat that pickle?” Then, “Thanks, Daddy”, as he gives her the pickle.

    I’m the little girl in that commercial. I never actually asked for what I wanted. I thought I had. Or sometimes I just assumed they would know. I gave and didn’t receive, which felt good most of the time. I love to help, to solve problems, to be the hero; even when my role as hero had been intercessor, and God had done the real work. I could feel important and needed for awhile, as long as I’m doing something for God or for others. But I have needs too.

    For me, as an empath, it’s a trap thinking that others feel my spirit the way I feel theirs. I thought they knew and didn’t care. The lie I believed was that my needs didn’t matter. I was small, unimportant to people, and unnoticed, even by my Daddy sometimes. Those feelings left me looking for something to soothe the pain and somewhere I could be the center of my world…where I could be important. Alcohol was a false substitute. I trusted it to do for me things that it couldn’t.

    My Daddy knows my needs and my wants. Many times I don’t even have to ask before He answers the desires of my heart. But sometimes He waits for me to ask. It’s at those times He gets to amazingly exceed my expectations. Almost as good as that, I learned that many times other people love to meet my needs and exceed my expectations. They didn’t know how. I had never given them a chance.

    Now I try to make my needs known and try to leave it out there for them to do with it what they will. It’s HARD. But when I can, it’s freeing to know that when they don’t respond, it’s their problem, not mine. It must be their problem. I’m so well taken care of by God and so many around me. I AM WORTHY.

    I identify so much with your lesson, and your needs. I’m sorry that you hurt, and that you hurt so deeply. I can see how you might feel like you’ve let down those most important to you, or placed yourself above them. As a care-taker for so many, and the head of your house, it rocks your very identity. But you, my friend, are important, and deserving, and YOU ARE WORTHY.

  • BabsCoppedge

    Loralea, what a beautiful way to not only honor Bob’s heart in this blog, but also to share your own. “…it’s a trap thinking that others feel my spirit the way I feel theirs.” Who knew that when I came here to comment on Bob’s blog that I would end up reading through your response and be jostled by the above thought. “It’s a trap.” I’ve struggled for too long (meaning, I believe I should have understood this at a far younger age) with not understanding how people didn’t see things or feel things the way I did. Not that I expected them to BE me, because I wasn’t expecting myself to BE them, but I struggled with feeling misunderstood. If I can see it this way, can’t you? But alas, you put into words what my heart questioned for too long. “It’s a trap to think others feel” … or think, or discern, or see that way I do. Thanks for taking the time to share a part of your story. In doing so, you’ve allowed God to settle something in my heart for good.

  • BabsCoppedge

    It took over four months, but this was worth the wait. This. It’s like you played Superman, but instead of ripping open your shirt to reveal the big S on your costume underneath, your heart is here on full display.

    I read this and I thought “I wonder what emotions you felt as you were writing this? Was it difficult, or was it cathartic? Maybe both? Maybe something entirely different. Did you think twice about clicking the publish icon? Did you hold your breath just a little, wondering how it would be received? Or did it just feel good to come to the surface again with your writing here, even though your words were going to be more transparent than ever?” (I think a lot of questions. It’s just how my heart’s brain works.)

    “If you are near me, and you hurt, I feel it. Somewhere along the way, I decided (unconsciously, but nevertheless, an act of my will) it was easier to take care of people so they didn’t hurt, as a way of cushioning my own empathic response.”

    Those words. Raw and real, but also heartbreaking because the realization of the toll that decision takes over the years is overwhelming. And also because anyone who has lived this way for any period of time understands, even to a small degree, what this does to all involved–not just the person making the empathic decision. I may be helping you today, but I’m hurting us in the long run.

    Thank you for bearing your soul. It was both brave and courageous. Through a story so personal you’ve exampled what it means to embrace “Thinking Differently.” No sermon required.

  • MelaneeLIsa

    — Thank You, PAPA, for unearthing the lie and for Pouring Your Life-Blood-Light into Bob’s heart and life!!!
    HalleluYAH!!!!!!!
    I love you, Brother!!!!!!!

  • “The most difficult lies to unearth, and place in the category of “untrue”, are the lies that have been validated by experience over long periods of time.”

    YES.

  • Kari Lockrem

    I recently discovered a very deep, forgotten vow that brought light to my codependent tendencies. As a small child my father left and I am beginning to believe it shook me more than I can remember. My mother told me to tell him how much I loved him and ask him not to leave us. He did. I can rationalize this as an adult but it seems to have many tentacles of pain. Recently as I was searching my heart, God told me that I told myself I would never leave anyone that needs me. I
    have discovered that forgotten pain and vows have a profound effect on who you are and are the hardest to heal. The knowledge of this vow certainly hasn’t healed it, I’m in a process, but I am hoping it is the beginning of healing.