Meryl Feinstein grew up surrounded by expectations reinforced by her parents, her school, and others. The expectations were straightforward. Meryl was expected to go to college and get a job. So explaining to a Washington Post journalist how she managed to start her own business she called the Pasta Social Club was difficult. 2
Her decision was a total surprise to everyone, including herself. After all, she had a steady job that took care of her needs, plenty of support from friends and family, and had the respect of her colleagues. So why throw everything away and start over as a culinary entrepreneur. And whoever heard of an online, hybrid supper club and pasta-making school?
At least in part, the answer may lie in a theory proposed by a psychologist during the early years of World War II. Meryl’s story is more familiar than we might realize. With her basic needs taken care of along with security, friends, and self-esteem, coming to know more about herself took center stage. And she just had to figure it out.
Where is your attention focused most of the day? Do you spend a lot of your time figuring out where and how you’ll have dinner? Are you spending a lot of your day focused on whether your home or apartment is safe? Do you worry a lot about your relationship with the people around you? Do you worry about what people are saying about you behind your back?
These are all essential subjects. And if you answered yes to one or more of these questions, I’m impressed that you’re taking the time to read this article. At least, according to research by psychologists studying human behavior.
Abraham Maslow first proposed his ideas about what makes us tick in a paper titled “A Theory of Human Motivation.” In his thesis, Dr. Maslow described human motivation utilizing a five-tier model of human needs that catches our attention and drives our focus. 3
Dr. Saul Mcleod, in an article published on the website Simply Psychology, offers a layperson’s view of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. 4
Maslow’s assertions are represented as a pyramid with our physiological needs for food and clothing shown at the base. The idea is that our needs lower in the hierarchy must be satisfied before our focus turns to needs higher up.
For example, our need for safety comes into focus once we’ve had dinner after leaving our favorite clothing store with the latest fashion. This is when we pay closer attention to the poorly lighted parking lot where we left our ride.
Our physical hunger satisfied, sporting our new outfit, and feeling safe, most of us will think about visiting a friend or even going to church. And feeling loved after worship, we may check out how we look in the mirror. We want to know, “Which version of me are others seeing?”
Eventually, according to Maslow, a tiny percent of us can pursue a state that is labeled “self-actualization.”
Self-actualization is about reaching our full potential. Finally, we’ve reached a point where we feel satisfied with life and our role in it. Unfortunately, Dr. Maslow estimated that a mere two percent of us actually ever reach this point. While his research is arguably inconclusive, in terms of the scientific method and highly biased towards people like himself, psychologists, life coaches, consultants, and therapists continue to include Maslow’s hierarchy of needs in their dialogue.
So what does this have to do with scripture? The answer is everything. An important theme woven throughout scripture is that God does things on purpose. And this includes creating you and me. Each of us was made on purpose and has a role that God has in mind for us.
So why doesn’t God just tell me what to do instead of beating around the bush? I’m glad you asked. The short answer is “free will” means that we’re given a choice, but this doesn’t mean that God is silent and uninvolved. And scripture is full of stories about God’s interventions.
Wherever you go, I will go; wherever you live, I will live. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God.
Ruth is a relatively short book found in the Bible named after one of the main characters. Much of our interest as Christians in these ancient stories is that we learn about the human ancestry of Jesus Christ. Likewise, people of the Jewish faith know of Ruth as an ancestor of King David. Both connections are essential for our own self-actualization.
The book begins by explaining that Naomi, her husband, and two sons immigrated to the Kingdom of Moab from their home in the village of Bethlehem because there wasn’t enough food available. The storyline moves quickly at this point. Both sons marry Moabite women, Naomi loses her husband, and both sons die.
Within the first couple of paragraphs, we learn that Naomi packs a uHaul and moves back to Judah, where she has relatives. A catastrophe of pandemic proportions overwhelmed Naomi’s family, and the telling of her story glosses over the emotional devastation that was undoubtedly present.
But after living in Moab long enough for her sons to marry and leave widows behind, Naomi wasn’t alone in her grief. So as Naomi says her goodbyes to her daughters-in-law, Ruth and Orpah, both women offer to go with her to Judah.
Naomi doesn’t see the point in either of them tagging along since Moab is their home. They have relatives they can count on for help and possibly remarry and begin a new family. Naomi is too old to remarry, she argues, and it’s best if they go their separate ways. Anyway, Naomi adds, it’s clear that God turned against her, so it’s best not to be associated with someone like her.
Reviewing the women’s situation using Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, they’re clearly at the bottom levels of the pyramid. They’re worried about food, clothing, security, belonging, and self-esteem. Any ideas about God’s purpose, starting a new business, or celebrating accomplishments must wait.
Jesus said that if you focus your attention on food, clothing, and safety, then your focus is taken away from what really matters, which is not about you per se. What really matters is your relationship with God which brings us right to the top of the pyramid of needs.
In Matthew, Jesus says, “This is why I tell you: do not be worried about the food and drink you need to stay alive, or about clothes for your body” (Matthew 6:25).
Can you imagine yourself letting go of any worries that you have about lunch or dinner? This may be hard if you depend on the Eastside Mission or the South Flint Soup Kitchen for your meal. What if something happens and they aren’t open the day that you need food?
The point isn’t that God doesn’t expect you to get involved in making sure that you have food on the table. Go read the story, and you’ll learn that Ruth went to the fields herself and gathered the grain after the harvesters finished. She and Naomi likely baked bread even when their feet and back hurt from a hard day’s work.
Jesus reminds us in Luke that “Five sparrows are sold for two pennies, yet not one sparrow is forgotten by God. So do not be afraid; you are worth much more than many sparrows!” (Luke 12:6-7).
Jesus tells us that instead of focusing on those things at the bottom of the pyramid, we need to “Be concerned above everything else with the Kingdom of God and with what God requires of you (Matthew 6:33).
What is your next step? Last Sunday, we welcomed Lisa and John as new members of Asbury Church. They both saw their next step as getting directly involved in the leadership of our church. Discovering and realizing our purpose is seldom a one-time epiphany but more of a journey of next steps.
You can join us each Sunday online by going to the button on the homepage of our website – Click here to watch. This button takes you to a viewer to allow you to join live or watch later in the week. We’re also live on our YouTube channel. You can find these links along with more information about us on our website at FlintAsbury.org.
A reminder that we publish this newsletter that we call the Circuit Rider each week. You can request this publication by email. Send a request to connect@FlintAsbury.org or let us know when you send a message through our website. We post an archive of past editions on our website under the tab, Connect – choose Newsletters.
1 Much of the content of this series is based on the book: Danielle Bean. You are Enough: What Women of the Bible Teach You about Your Mission and Worth. West Chester, PA: Ascension Publishing, 2018.
2 “Finding her purpose through pasta,” © Washington Post, July, 2021.
3 Abraham H. Maslow. A Theory of Human Motivation. Mansfield Centre, CT: Martino Publishing, 2013. Originally published in the Psychological Review, 1943.
4 McLeod, S. A. (2020, March 20). Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. © Simply Psychology, March 20, 2020.