The Intersection of Want and Need

I burst out of the door and erupted in tears to my mom. “I miss her so much!” My mom was taken aback by the sudden huge emotional display.

I had been sitting in my room for hours. A Broken Frame by Depeche Mode played on my record player while I looked out the window at the wind blowing through trees. Staring at the trees was a melancholy habit for me…it always felt like loneliness to me. The loneliness just exploded in my heart.

I couldn’t hold it in any longer.

“I miss her so much!”

“Who, Baby?”

“I miss Mafia so badly!” [uncontrollable sobbing]

The intersection of want and need was never so glaring and subtle, simultaneously. What I needed terribly was a hug and comfort. What I wanted was our 9-month-old kitten to come back home. I fell in love with this little black fluffball with white bow-tie spot and she had run away.

A junior in high school with the emotional acuity of exactly that age. I was overcome by loss. I don’t remember many times breaking down so furiously, but this was one. My mom gave me hugs and time to let it all out. Then I went back to my room for more “Depressed Mode.”

Hours later I heard the front door bang closed. I thought nothing much of it…perhaps my dad was home. But then I heard an urgent, “Micky! [pause] Micky!” I came out to see my mom with a smile on her face holding something in her arms.

“What? You found her. Where did you find her?” [uncontrollable smile]

So overcome by the excitement of finding of our precious kitty, I ran to grab Mafia out of her arms. I could not believe it. She had been gone three days and I thought we’d never see her again. Reunited! My downcast spirit lifted, my heart soared with joy.

The intersection of want and need. It’s a fine line to know the difference. We often don’t even know the difference ourselves. In the Mafia incident my want was obvious: I want my kitten back. My need, although passionately demonstrated, was more subtle and I was unable to verbalize. My crying and hurt voiced my need for my forlorn heart’s comfort.

My mom sensing both gave hugs and then went looking for Mafia. Good job mom!

A person of discernment can identify both and do something about both no matter how subtly voiced. The actions taken to meets both longings show love and care. The intersection response is love to both longings, but can’t usually be met with the same action.

An instance in the Gospel of Matthew illustrates Jesus being a person capable of discerning these two longings. “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”¹ The statement followed Jesus movements of going through dozens of towns “healing every disease and sickness.”²

People were sick. Most probably could voice what they wanted…to be well. Most would probably also say what they needed was the same thing. But it wasn’t. Jesus discerned what they needed as different from what they wanted.

He saw their heart longing as “helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” What does that look like? Just being healed doesn’t take away “harassed and helpless.” He wasn’t looking down on them as pathetic or incapable. No, he could see their spirits were downcast, overwhelmed, unable to lift themselves. He saw the pain in their soul.

Jesus, a man of action as well as discernment, spoke a solution but also demonstrated one. He said they needed a shepherd—a loving, caring, attentive leader who responds to unverbalized needs. Then he presented himself as a solution.

“Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”³ Jesus shared this with his friends on his last night, then laid down his life the next day. Showing not only his great love but his capability to be that attentive leader who responds to unspoken needs.

He challenges his friends to do the same in the previous sentence saying, “Love each other as I have loved you.” In essence, he stimulates a growth process of seeing people realistically in their entirety. People have wants (easy to see) and they have needs (not easy to see). His words told them to try to become people of discernment who observe the wants but also discern the needs. Hard to do. But shepherds do that. People need others around them that do that.

We need to grow in being people of discernment.

Until we learn to read people’s hearts (counseling degree not included) we need to ask questions to find out what our loved ones want and need. Let’s grow in becoming people who ask questions and learn to discern. Then we can love and care for people around us in a way they may unspokenly need.

My mom attended to my loudly displayed but unvoiced need first. Wisely done. Then went out to try and help the “want.”

“What? You found her. Where did you find her?”

“I went to the other end of the street, up against people’s houses and fences, calling her name over and over. I started to hear a mewing. I kept calling and calling, trying to find where the mewing was coming from. And finally along the top of a fence Mafia came toward me. She was very happy to see me.”

I was overjoyed to see her too.

¹ The Gospel of Matthew 9:36
² The Gospel of Matthew 9:35
³ The Gospel of John 15:12-14

An intersection of rocks in The Burren section of Western Ireland. Photo by Mick Haupt.

2 thoughts on “The Intersection of Want and Need

  1. I’m not certain where you are getting your info, however great topic. I needs to spend a while studying much more or working out more. Thank you for excellent info I was on the lookout for this info for my mission.


    1. Thanks for the response Alex. Most of this one is woven into the story of my mom doing something amazing. But all the thoughts on want vs. need are things I’ve thought through and pondered. I didn’t read any kind of book that gave thoughts on it. Just stuff I’ve been noodling on for a long time. Keep your eyes to the skies, our help comes from there.


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