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Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart. Psalm 37:4
What are the seven desires? In this chapter we will describe each of them. But first, remember that the seven desires are universal. All of us have all of them. Whatever your age, gender, culture, or religious background, your desires are the same as everyone else's. As you read through this chapter, try to think about times in your life when you felt your desires were being fulfilled and times when they weren't. Ultimate fulfillment in life is the result of having these desires met as well as having the opportunity to serve the desires of others.
THE FIRST DESIRE: To Be Heard and Understood
Think back for a minute to a time when you felt someone was truly listening to you. Maybe it was your mother, listening to you when you were seven as you described being teased on the playground. Maybe it was your new girlfriend, hanging in rapt attention as you talked about your family. Maybe it was your best friend, listening as you shared your fears about having a baby. Whoever it was, didn't you feel that he or she truly cared about you?
We have so many things to say. We are born to communicate. And yet so often we feel that we are not being truly heard. You know the feeling—you're trying for the umpteenth time to tell your husband about some frustration or need or desire, and he just doesn't seem to be listening. He just doesn't get it.
For many of us, our assumptions about being heard or being ignored are rooted in childhood. Think back to kindergarten, or fifth grade, or your junior year of high school. What was your experience of being heard—or of not being heard? Your parents may have been the greatest and most loving of people, yet perhaps they were often stressed or busy and didn't seem to have time to listen. Did you hear words like "Later" or "Don't bother me"? Maybe you heard, "That's a stupid thing to think" or "It's not Christian to talk like that." Many children have adults in their lives who talk to them —give advice, admonish them, teach them. But they don't have adults that want to listen to their feelings, needs, struggles, or opinions.
If you had a childhood in which people talked to you—or worse, at you—but never really listened, you may have given up on talking. Now, as an adult, you find that you can talk about superficial matters, but you may be unpracticed at talking about what is really going on inside of you. When your sibling or spouse says, "You never talk to me," you have no clue what they mean. You have no practice in talking, much less in being heard.
Yet we all desire to be heard. Sometimes our desire to be heard literally causes us to speak differently! When we want to communicate something important and feel we are not being heard, we might raise our voice, thinking that if we talk louder, maybe we will finally be heard. Often, people who yell and scream are really people who are desperate to be heard.
Alternately, if we want to be heard, sometimes we might say something more slowly. We might assume that the person we're talking to is just too dumb to get it. So we repeat ourselves, slowly. We say things like, "Let me spell it out for you."
And sometimes when we don't feel heard, we talk quickly—we've got a whole lot to say and we need to get it in! We hate to give up control of the conversation and we never finish a sentence, stringing together phrase after phrase with "but, and, ah, you know, so ..." We often don't want to give up control of the floor until we feel we have been heard.
Then there are those of us who simply repeat what we're saying over and over and over. When we do this, we talk a lot. One of our friends often says, "He likes to talk a whole lot more than I like to listen."
At times we can also get overly rational and argumentative. We say things like "you always" or "you never" and then cite examples and every historical evidence of why we're right. We call this "case building" because we are building our case to prove our point. Since we want to be heard and understood, we feel that we need to justify what we are saying. The problem with case building is that it forces whoever we're talking to into defending their case or interpretation. In the face of our lawyer-like arguing, they either shut down, or they too build a case using examples and justifications. The result? We get an argument, usually a very reasonable one, in which no one is really listening to the other. Both sides come out frustrated and not feeling like they've been heard or understood.
Sometimes, in our efforts to be heard we regress—resorting to strategies that we learned early in our lives. What do children do when they want to be heard? They don't have the ability to reason yet—they may not even have language skills. So they cry or scream, plead, stomp, hit, pound, bargain, or use any other dramatic behavior to get attention. Believe us, we've worked with couples who act like three- or four-year-old children! Adults are capable of having tantrums just like children. Those tantrums are simply attempts to be heard and understood. The problem is, of course, that tantrums don't work. Instead, they alienate others, who wind up simply wanting to get away from this immature behavior.
How can we be heard by others? Ironically, one of the first steps in being heard is to listen. In order for us to connect, we must first be willing to listen. Over the years we have been to numerous seminars about how to be better communicators—which when simplified, really means being better listeners. We have been taught to be active listeners, to not interrupt, and to repeat back what we heard so that we can be sure we got it right. We have been taught to mirror each other, to look into each other's eyes, and to truly know each other.
Sometimes, the people we care about the most are often the ones who seem to have the hardest time hearing us. (Conversely, sometimes we have a difficult time listening to those we love the most.) When we are invested in a relationship, our own emotions often distract us from truly listening, even if we have the best of intentions of doing so. Great listening skills get trumped by our desire to be heard ourselves! And so we interrupt, or interject our own opinion, or figure out a way to get the focus back to our feeling, need, or opinion. It is a difficult cycle to change, for we all selfishly need to be heard and understood.
To complicate the issue further, really hearing someone always involves more than just understanding facts or issues. Listening involves hearing the heart of someone—hearing someone's feelings. In our counseling practice, we've found that very few people have the skill to identify, much less share, their emotions. Learning to listen to others' feelings and thoughts and to share our own will increase our intimacy with one another.
We also desire to be heard by our God. He wants us to talk to him, and we want him to listen. The Psalmist says, "I cried out to God for help; I cried out to God to hear me" (Psalm 77:1–2). In addition, God wants us to hear him: "Give ear and come to me; hear me, that your soul may live" (Isaiah 55:3). In order to connect with God and with each other, we must talk to God and to each other—and we want to know that both God and other people hear us, because being heard is a clue that we are fully known.
THE SECOND DESIRE: To Be Affirmed
How good it feels when someone says to us, "Nice job, good work, way to go, that was wonderful." How good it feels when someone says, "Thanks." We all desire to be affirmed and to believe that someone approves of who we are and what we do. Think back to the people in your life who have had the most positive influence. Were they the people who criticized and belittled you, or the people who affirmed and praised you? We suspect that the people who had the most positive influence affirmed you—and the people who belittled you actually had a quite negative influence.
We long to have parents, friends, teachers, and mentors in our lives who also notice what we do well. These are the people who, when we are young, represent God's love to us. If they are not affirming, we do not learn to feel confident in our talents and abilities. Tragically, many children not only lack affirmation, but are criticized and put down—an anti-affirmation, which is doubly destructive. People in our lives provide the feedback we need to develop our self-awareness about how we are doing in the world. Affirmation tells us that we are doing well and to keep it up. Criticism tells us we have messed up. Is it any wonder that we lose sight of God's real truth about who we are if we receive constant messages that we have failed?
Think about how many times you have asked yourself, "What do others think of me?" Some of our earliest memories are about what others' opinions of us are. We walk into kindergarten frightened and alone. We look around to see if the other children smile at us and want to play with us. That quest for welcome and affirmation continues throughout our lives, in school lunchrooms, in classrooms, on sports teams, at dances, and as adults, in neighborhoods, at work, and at church. What an experience it is when we find a church fellowship where people seem friendly, inviting, and accepting!
Our need for affirmation is so great that sometimes we refuse to try new things, because we are scared we will look foolish and be judged and criticized. Sometimes you may be afraid to talk in a group for fear that you won't say something right. Or maybe you don't get involved in learning something new for fear that you will look awkward. Or maybe you have given up on a dream you have because you can't do it perfectly. Isn't it refreshing when you take a risk to say something or do something, and despite the outcome, you are still accepted and affirmed for your effort?
And when we do make mistakes, it can be difficult to talk to people about those mistakes because, again, we fear that we will be judged. This can lead to isolation and loneliness—after all, we have all made mistakes, and part of the desire to be affirmed is the desire to be affirmed as struggling people in process, people who are loved despite our errors. Without the safety of knowing that we will be accepted and affirmed despite our mistakes, it can be difficult to ever confess our mistakes—to friends, or to God.
You may have grown up without much affirmation from your family, schools, friends, or churches. Or perhaps you grew up with lots of criticism from the same places. You wound up feeling that you just can't get anything right and that you will never amount to much of anything. You go through life feeling guilty and afraid. You may even take on responsibility for circumstances you didn't really cause. When you wind up with this kind of ongoing self-doubt and guilt, people might as well not give you affirmations, because you won't believe them anyway. Someone might say, "That was a good job," but you reply, "Yes, but ..."
When you are desperate for affirmations you may try anything to get them. Have you ever said to yourself, "If only I could do ..." or "If only I had ..." You might wish for musical talents, athletic ability, or a high-powered position at work. You might think that money, a beautiful house, a new car, fashionable clothes, or some other material possession would make you acceptable to other people —or would at least distract other people from your flaws. You always have something in mind that would make you "better" and more likeable. Then others would know you're a good person and give you lots of affirmations.
Because of your desire for affirmation, you may work hard to please others. If you can just figure out how to do more, do it better, or do it differently, then people will like you, or, at least, not dislike you. Anxiety can figure into this mix. One of the greatest anxieties any of us has is the anxiety that we will be all alone in the world. Others will simply not like us, think we're deficient somehow, and then leave us. When you're like this, you will go way out of your way and bend over backwards to please. You will say to yourself, "Please don't leave me. Think of all the wonderful things I do for you."
Excerpted from The Seven Desires of Every Heart by Mark R. Laaser Debra Laaser Copyright © 2008 by Mark and Debra Laaser. Excerpted by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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