When reading “Points to Ponder” in a recent Reader’s Digest, I was particularly struck by the answer Dr. Thomas P. Malone, of the Atlantic Psychiatric clinic, gave to the question of what psychiatry is all about.
The root of the cause of almost every emotional problem, he says, is someone’s crying out for love. A person has an emotional illness when he is contriving in some way, hurtful to himself and others, to get others to love him. But a healthy person, instead of crying out for love, is looking for ways to love others, for he knows that this is the best way to be loved. This is what psychiatry is all about, declares Dr. Malone. It cures or prevents emotional illness as it gets this message across.
This message is surely worth pondering. We know what an awesome amount of emotional energy can be aroused by the self-pity that comes when we convince ourselves that we just have not been treated right. Our desire to be loved is strong enough; but when it is supported by our great capacity to condemn what is wrong, then an emotional storm arises which, if unchecked, can lead to an illness manifesting itself in one of the many bizarre ways by which people protest being treated unjustly.
Such protests, however, succeed only in hurting ourselves and those around us. How much pain and loss would be avoided if, instead of indulging in self-pity, people would channel their energies into seeking ways to help others!
But how do we replace self-pity with a love for others? By forgetting about ourselves and resolving henceforth simply to live for others? Hardly, wise psychiatrist that he is, Dr. Malone encourages people to love others by reminding them that this is the best way to get others to love you. He knows that people cannot be loving to others without first having at least the hope of eventually being loved themselves.
The problem, however, is that even if the people to whom we show love reciprocate by loving us, the best that any of them could ever do for us would fall short of answering our cry for love.
As human beings made in the image of God, our hearts find fulfillment and rest only as we experience fellowship with him. No diversion, no occupation, no station in life, no amount of approval from others, no acceptance in any special group, no particular giftedness, no skill or possession that we might acquire—nothing can satisfy people, made in the image of God, except God himself.
So we will be disappointed if we pin our hope on getting others to love us, for there is nothing that anyone could be to us, or do for us, that answers to the love after which our hearts crave. And disappointment will result in self-pity, with all its destructive effects.
How, then, do we become people who help others instead of hurt them? “It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to put confidence in man” (Psalm 118:8). Only fellowship with God will satisfy the hearts of those he has made in his image. Through Christ, God has loved men so much that he offers them the possibility of having the closest fellowship with him. And Jesus said that this fellowship is so satisfying and permanent that we will not thirst from now on for all eternity (see John 4:13).
It is through believing the many scriptural promises which tell of “the love God is having for us” (1 John 4:16) that we can replace self-pity with a heart of thanksgiving for what God already has done and will continue to do for us. The resulting joy frees us from being concerned with our own needs so that we can be alert for ways to help others.
Daniel P. Fuller