Updating Maslow…

Anybody who gets a liberal arts education gets at least an introductory level of philosophy and psychology sometime during their undergraduate years. Some ideas stick better than others.

Most people would recognize and be able to summarize (at least in the broad strokes) Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. It looks like this:


The premise is that people can’t worry about the top of the pyramid until the base is covered. For example, I’m not going to contemplate my place in the universe if I don’t know if I’ll have a next meal. This theory has been around since 1943. It has come under a more critical eye recently.

It turns out you can be the most self-actualized person in the world – at the top of the mountain, you could say – and still be and feel completely empty. It happens all the time.

It’s nothing new, either. Jesus told stories like that. Like the rich guy who had land that produced a bumper crop. So he tore down all his barns and built bigger ones. Then he kicked back in his lazy boy, ready to eat, drink and be merry. And then he died that night.

Not everybody dies that night. Some people reach the top of the pyramid and live there for decades, which might be worse. Because you’re at the top with nowhere to go but down, and it still all feels less fulfilling than you thought it would. Is this it?!

So, lately people have been updating Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, adding another level to the pyramid.

Here’s what one looks like:


See what’s on top now? Transcendence. Fancy, new age word, right? Here’s the way they describe it, though. Transcendence in this image is helping others self-actualize. In other words, the highest level of human existence isn’t self-serving at all. It’s living for others.

From a truly Biblical worldview, I can respond, “No kidding.” After all, we worship God who took on flesh (Jesus) in order to suffer and die for someone else’s sins, in order that they would receive eternal blessings, limitless grace, and the full rights of God’s children. We worship Jesus who should have been worshiped (and later was), who wrapped a towel around himself and washed disgusting feet. Who said of Himself, “I came to serve, not to be served.”

Here’s another updated image:

The revised version of Maslow's pyramid of needs.

Little different priorities there, right? Still fits with the self-actualization and transcendence (actualization of others) model, though. The highest thing you can do – your highest calling in life – is to…raise up the next generation of productive humans?!


I’ve shared this before, but I have a theory that our biggest fears also drive some of our biggest passions. My personal biggest fear is that somehow life would pass me by, and that I would waste large portions of it in meaningless pursuits.

It drives my passion: to live a meaningful life. It’s why I’m in ministry, which is another word for “service.” It’s why I have a wife and children. It’s why I care more about giving offerings than driving a nice car. It’s why I have different priorities and goals than a lot of other people (translation: I’m not normal).

Nor have I arrived. Those closest to me know how non-transcendent I am. But I know the direction I want to go.

(Lent 14/40)

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