As a clinician I work with patients from varying backgrounds. One thing that reigns true across the board, though, is the struggle to persuade my younger patient population of the value in delayed gratification. For example, dedication and hard work aimed at improving brushing techniques and flossing habits could mean the detection of less “sugar bugs” at future appointments and therefore less drilling that the doctor would need to do to heal teeth. Plus, a cavity-free check-up is worthy of a visit to the treasure box (admittedly, I let all the children pick out a prize!).
I cannot prove it, but I feel as if I mastered the art of delayed gratification at a very early age. When I was myself a child, I can remember the list of chores I would have to complete every week in order to earn my allowance. I invariably begged my parents to take me to the grocery store to buy a rather large bag of candy that contained Tootsie Rolls, suckers, and Sixlets each time I received my earnings. The funny thing is, I never ate the candy (let alone opened the bag!). I would simply stare at it, proud of what I had accomplished as a result of working hard. It is as if I had anticipated buying my candy bag for so long that it had lost all tangible benefits aside from the fact that it had been obtained.
The 1960 “Marshmallow Test” conducted by Walter Mischel and Ebbe B. Ebbesen at Stanford University tested young children’s abilities to adhere to the principles of delayed gratification. They were presented with the choice of an initial small marshmallow or two after a period of time. Granted, children’s perception of time is skewed, but they only had to wait fifteen minutes in order to double their marshmallow reward!
We have oft heard it said that “nothing worthwhile is ever easy.” When you think about it, the life of a Christian is all about delayed gratification, which is not always easy. It is what helps to set us apart from others who have turned their backs on their faith for the sake of immediate fulfillment. Being a Christian can involve a lot of sacrifice. Abstaining from earthly pleasures and delights, however, is just one of the ways in which we prepare ourselves for the ultimate reward, Jesus Christ’s second coming! It is at this point that we will be given the opportunity to experience eternal bliss, making all trials and tribulations seem insignificant in comparison to such a prize.
Nevertheless, we are human in nature. So, we do not always stay on the straight and narrow. God realizes this, and He knows we will fail at times. And in His omniscience, God knows even before we do. However, He will respect us that much more when we get back up and realign ourselves with the vision of Jesus’ second coming. In fact, it would seem even more meaningful to renounce earthly gratifications despite having a “taste” of their temptations.
The important thing to realize is that we are not in this alone. We have one another, which is representative of the power and communal spirit that is the church. Moreover, we have God on our side. He is willing to forgive our transgressions in the presence of a penitent heart. God also offers help when He bestows blessings and grace upon us.
So, the next time life seems too hard, and you feel like you are down on your luck, chalk it up to delayed gratification that is inherent in the journey of life. Prepare yourself for Jesus’s return! Choose to feel inspired in the toughest and happiest of times because they are directing you to the ultimate satisfaction: eternity in Christ!