A while back I asked a friend, playfully, “If you were a word what would it be?” He thought for a bit, then said, “A word? Not a tree or animal? So many choices.” After a minute, he said, “I’d  be a verb because I need to be doing things. Maybe something like ‘Go.’”

He thought a bit longer, then added, “Or maybe ‘Who?’ since I’m into identity issues a lot these days.”

Both words seemed tailored to the person I knew him to be.

Then he asked, “What about you? What word would you be?”

Almost without thinking I said, “Caring,” and he said, “Oh, that fits.” But then I added, “Because I’m needy.”

My instant honesty surprised both of us.

He said, “You, needy? You gotta be kidding.”

I had to explain myself after saying, “Aren’t we all?”

I’ve learned over time that neediness is part of being human and normally nothing to be ashamed of.

I once thought I was capable of unconditional love and never questioned my mindset or my ability to give it. But the more I thought about it, the more I considered how I love, especially my wife and family, the clearer I became about my neediness.

In loving even those who live in my heart I was at least subconsciously needing their love in return. It’s not that I was “giving to get” but that my giving was as human as the rest of me.

Unconditional love is an ideal, like perfection. In my humanness I keep coming up short of both because they are beyond reach in the here and now. I’m not being cynical admitting that but simply being realistic.

Loving conditionally does not diminish my desire to love unconditionally. I have said many times, “I love you unconditionally” without lying but I now know I was merely speaking poetry. I meant my words to say something more than just “I love you,” to offer an assurance that my love is solid, non-judgmental (as much as possible), forgiving when necessary and forever.

But even in saying “I love you,” I realize I need something in return. Human love has to be conditional because it is human. Neediness is part of that. God’s love may be the binding force of all of creation and human love may be what connects us all. But no virtue is perfect in this life. 

Even while virtues are honestly practiced by us humans, we all practice them, consciously or unconsciously, because we are needy. We are hoping for a reward. whether it is God’s favor, or the love of others, or recognition, or security. That’s what makes us human. And that’s why I was being honest when I admitted, “Because I’m needy.”

Aren’t we all?

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