As I came through school, I had to take some courses in behavioral psychology. Let me begin by saying there was not much in the field of psychology which excited me - although mental health is important, it just wasn't the area of science or medicine I had the most interest in, so psychology classes didn't rank high on my list. That was the case until we got into the study of behavior. This one theory caught my attention and captivated my thought for a good deal of the semester. It was the work of Abraham Maslow. Those who are familiar with him know he is most famous for his "hierarchy of needs" theory. In it he outlines five "tiers" of needs, one building upon the other, until all are hopefully met. The thing which caught my attention was how truly difficult it is to have that "top tier" met when all the rest are not. His top tier? It was something he called "Self-Actualization needs - realizing personal potential, self-fulfillment, seeking personal growth and peak experiences." Self-Actualization is kind of a mystery to me because there isn't much in me that has been able to fulfill any of my dreams or aspirations in quite the same way as when my behavior is motivated by Christ, making those dreams and aspirations "Christ-Actualized".
Maslow postulated the basic of human needs must be met before we can move onto the next level. Those basic human needs include things like food to sustain our bodies, water to maintain the perfect fluid balance, enough rest to renew our bodies, and warmth (or if you live in the desert, I suppose you could say coolness). Maslow taught all human need begins with these four "motivating behaviors" - we must eat, sleep, drink, and feel warmth. There were other "basic" needs he added to this mix, but for sake of this discussion, we will not focus on all of them. When these needs are adequately met, the mind, body, and inner motives of a man turn to meeting the next level of need - that of safety. At this level, the motives of one's heart turn to feeling safe and protected, either because we have laws to keep us safe, or we enjoy a certain sense of "order" in our lives. Jesus told us that man cannot live by bread alone - Maslow used to say that if a man's need for bread was fulfilled, he would move onto ensuring the need for safety, lack of fear, and trust was being met. Jesus said we would find that in "every word of God that proceeded from his mouth".
To this, Maslow added a man's desire to feel loved and like he "belonged". Jesus said that God so loved the world he gave his only begotten son, so that whosoever believed in him would have this sense of belonging to the family of God. In a natural sense, Maslow said we need relationship with one another - we need to feel needed and wanted. In a spiritual sense, Jesus showed us just how much we are "wanted" - for God did the unthinkable to accomplish our restoration into his family! At this level, when these needs are met, Maslow proposed we move on to feeling like we have achieved something - we move into seeking those things he termed "esteem needs". In this stage of behavior, we are seeking prestige, mastery, status, etc. While achievements are good, nothing quite measures up to what God can and does do within us. It isn't what we do that "achieves" anything in terms of our salvation - it is all Christ in us that does that! While we might not "achieve" salvation, it is the gift of grace provided by Jesus' finished work on the cross, we can move into realms of "mastery" over sin through the power of Christ resident within us.
As stated above, the last stage is that of "self-actualization". While I don't think this is what God has in mind, the theory is one of saying we come to a place of ultimate fulfillment when all the other needs are met. In Christ, our needs are ever being met. There is a continual refilling of each of our "layers" of needs. Each level is met because of something Christ does in us, for us, with us, and along with us. As Maslow postulated, that fifth level was that of feeling one has reached "peak experiences" or "peak performance" in life. I don't think we "peak" alone or in our own power, my friends. It is Christ in us that gets us to the point of feeling like we are at our "peak performance". While Maslow was a great man of science and medicine, he missed Christ in the theory. Self is not able to "actualize" - self is meant to "actualize" to the degree self submits to Christ's influence and purpose within. Just sayin!