Monday, January 11, 2010


In a now-classic psychological experiment, Walter Mischel sat down preschoolers and gave them a marshmallow. Then the children were told they could immediately eat the marshmallow, or they could wait. If they waited fifteen minutes while the adult was out of the room to eat the marshmallow, they would receive another marshmallow when the adult returned. The majority of the children could not wait, but a few did (Mischel et al, 1972).

Years later, it was found that those particular children who waited were significantly more successful in life than the others. They retained the ability to delay their own gratification in favor of future rewards (Mischel et al, 1990). A more recent study also found that self-discipline is much better at predicting academic performance than IQ (Duckworth & Seligman, 2005).

Delaying gratification may be very important to success, but it can also be incredibly difficult sometimes. One needs to look no further than our society’s problems with addiction, obesity, and overspending. I want it now, I can have it now; do not give me any delays.

Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 15 that there is a delay between when we work and when we get rewarded. We work in the physical body, our reward may come in the future spiritual body. Paul also wrote that God has given us victory over sin and death through Christ. So it seems that through Christ, I should have the power to delay gratification indefinitely.

Sometimes this is just a hard pill to swallow. There are some things I have been waiting for my entire life. The longer I wait, the more immediate rewards become more appealing. The rewards that lay beyond the grave seem so distant and intangible that it is hard to imagine how they could be better than more immediate rewards.

I definitely have not figured this out, but I reconcile it in three ways:
(1) I believe the Bible says God does reward us in our present reality when we do good things with good motives. Therefore, our rewards may not be immediate, but they are not all beyond the grave (Matthew 6 & 7).
(2) I believe that living according to the principles of the Bible may help one to be rewarded in this present reality. For example, loving other people does not always incur a reward, but very often it does. Doing otherwise also tends to incur punishment.
(3) Have faith. This one is the hardest. But just because those rewards seem intangible to me, that does not mean they do not exist. My perspective is limited.

So I pray that God will continue in teaching me and giving me the power to wait. Help me to love the delay, because it is in that delay that I can proclaim to my God and others that I trust him. I trust he has more for me than just a marshmallow.

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