The Need to Feel Significant, Unique and Important
Jan 12, 2020 Baptism of the Lord Sunday
Rev. David J. Clark
Today we begin a new sermon series, Soul Hunger. We’ll be talking about some of the most basic human needs and how we get them met. It’s important to be aware of how these needs are always there, operating in the background and how they motivate so much our decision making and behavior. Sometimes if our needs are not getting met, we will wind up making decisions that do not align with our best interests or best values just so we can get those needs met. Our faith provides resources for these needs and helps us to set things in context, so we don’t sabotage ourselves or do something that derails someone we love.
Today we are talking about the need to feel significant, unique and important. We all have someone who is paying attention to us, we have a deep yearning to feel validated, like someone approves of us. We come out of the womb and learn how to cry for attention. If there are siblings around, we find a way to make our mark. One is the “smart one,” another the clown, another the loyal companion, the troublemaker.
When a person does not get the validation they need, they will turn to bad stuff. Kids get involved in gangs or cults or the wrong crowd because they crave that attention, the feeling like they matter to something. Adults get into all sorts of stuff, too when the need isn’t getting met
We learn to get validation—attention paid to us in lots of different ways. Some of us learn that being successful, accomplishing will get us what we are after. But sometimes it never feels like enough, so we pursue superstardom in whatever we tackle. Have to be the best at work or school, have to have a bigger house or more successful company. Some learn to be sick all the time to get attention or to have a drama or crisis of the moment. Any crisis will do as long as you can complain and get attention and sympathy.
So, we all have this need inside of us. There are healthy and unhealthy ways to get it. For some, the need is simply felt more strongly and constantly than for others. And we all do well to take stalk of the people who are around us and gauge how high their need for validation is. Some people just seem wired to need a lot more attention or strokes than other people. You do well to figure that out and help people along their way, just because they may need more of it than you or need it in a different way than you, doesn’t make them weak or pitiful, it just makes them different.
One person may assume from their boss that no news is good news—everything must be going okay. Another my get all worked up because the boss hasn’t said anything and assume that something must be wrong. It’s important to recognize where people are.
In the scripture, we have this beautiful moment as Jesus begins his ministry. John the Baptist submerges Jesus in the water and when he pops out of the water the heavens open up, the spirit descends like a dove and Jesus hears a voice from the heavens, “This is my son in whom I am well pleased.” One translation has it, “This is my son, in whom I delight.”
Imagine how that felt for Jesus, how affirming. See, even Jesus gets a moment of validation. A pat on the back. A word of encouragement. In the gospel, the moment sets an anchor as you read about everything Jesus did and how he went against the grain of what people were expecting. If you were a first-century reader you might have thought, “Really!? This is the messiah? Someone who breaks the sabbath, hangs out with tax collectors and prostitutes and sinners? A guy who gets himself betrayed and killed?”
But you have this moment in the beginning, this revelation the voice from heaven saying, “Yes, really. This is the one.”
There is not only this moment, there is also the transfiguration (which we will talk about for the final sermon in this series). Again, there is a heavenly declaration, “This is my son, listen to him.”
Listen to him. What did he have to say? This affirmation from God doesn’t just apply to Jesus, it applies to everyone, for all time, it applies to you. He made his life’s work going around to people on the fringes of society. They would have thought they were pushed away for being bad people, that they suffered in life because they or their ancestors had done something wrong and they were being punished. They felt they were not good enough for God’s favor and attention.
So Jesus comes along and embraces these people who thought God was against them, cursing them and he said. Dudes. You are not cursed. God’s not some angry, constantly disapproving curmudgeon in the sky. It’s not like that. No. You are the blessed of God. Blessed are you who are sick and persecuted and hungering and morning. God’s got you. The gospel of John says the purpose of the gospel is to know yourself as a child of God, the beloved of God, in whom God delights.
For many, it was a life-changing moment. They’d never considered it, but if they allowed themselves to feel it, to be impacted by that, they became followers of Jesus and discovered capacities and joy they had never imagined.
There is this affirmation we get from faith. We are looked after, cared for. We don’t have to attract God’s loving-kindness by being some super-saint. It’s already there for you. Relax, take comfort, reach out for spiritual resources for strength.
Jesus spent his life validating people. Maybe we can take our cue from him. Who in your sphere of influence can use some extra validation? Who is screaming out for it with their behavior? How can you change the dynamic?
There is a YouTube video of a guy in a parking garage who validates by giving positive affirmations. Soon you see people standing in line for his compliments. Just noticing things people are doing can go a long way for them.
Sometimes it becomes a driver of our behavior. A family member complained about a co-worker who always in crisis, everything is a drama. My family member wore herself out trying to smooth out the process and systems at work to make it as foolproof as possible but still, the other employee is always making everything seem like a huge crisis. I asked if maybe that is how the employee learned to get attention like some people in our family gets sick to get attention. The crisis might be that person’s way of getting some validation and you can smooth out all the things you want at work but it isn’t going to keep this person from fostering drama. Once you realize that the need is attention, not an overhaul of how things function at work, you can adjust to give attention for appropriate work behavior. Now that you know how do you adjust your management to validate her for things that are appropriate and positive?
If you grew up or ever found yourself in a situation where you didn’t get much validation, where no one made you feel like you really mattered it can be tough. There are hyper-critical people out there, bullies, unsupportive parents, insensitive bosses. Their negativity leaves a mark, makes an impact. You don’t know what they’ve been through. For some people, if you don’t hear anything you assume the worst, think that someone doesn’t like you or appreciate you. For other people silence gets interpreted as everything must be okay.
Insecurities metastasis if we don’t get the validation we need and it often motivates all sorts of emotions and behaviors. Some people learn to get the attention they have to act out or get it in negative ways. But there are more subtle ways that our need for validation can sabotage us–sometimes these things seem noble.
How do you fulfill your need for significance? Here is an exercise to help you find out:
Think back to your childhood and ask yourself what you did to get attention.
What do you think you excelled in?
What did others think you were good at?
Who do you count on now to give you validation and are they up to the job? If it is only one person, what happens when they are so busy with something that their focus cannot be on you? Where do you go?
Faith gives us some resources to help with our validation. We have a great community of support right here.
Baptism of the Lord Sunday reminds us that we participate in the baptism of Jesus. We are God’s children, in whom God delights. God is not against you, but for you. God sees you get up and go to church, the efforts you make. It is not lost or in vain. As you grow more in your spiritual maturity the more you realize that you are validated by the one who’s opinion matters the most. That makes you a very important person.
Remember your baptism and be thankful. You are significant because God loves you. The creator of the universe, the Spirit that flows through every breath is in you and values you. Your baptism marks you as a beloved Child of God.
It is not an impersonal God. Jesus as God with skin on shows us that God is interested in this world, real stuff. Your life. What you do, how you do it, the influence you have. Giving you everything you really need. Giving you the way to make good come out of any situation, the peace that passes all understanding. You have a contribution to make. People that only you can influence. Decisions you can make. Validations that can come from you that will mean more than coming from anybody else.
Remember your baptism and be thankful. Amen.