Here is an interesting experiment, especially if you have preschool-aged kids, though it will work on anyone who likes marshmallows.
Offer the child one marshmallow, but also offer a second one if he or she can wait 15 minutes to eat the first. Do you think your children (or grandchildren) would wait for that second marshmallow? Or would they be like most, who are able to wait up to a minute before gobbling down the first marshmallow, devil may care?
The results will tell you whether your child is able to delay gratification, or simply indulges in the moment.
Now replace the marshmallow with money, and we have the adult version. Does the phrase, "It's my money, and I need it now" ring a bell? Whole companies profit off of our inability to wait for something that we desire. The most base advertisements are those that stir desire and drive us to immediately purchase what we see.
This can get us in trouble.
Instant gratification: fast food, fast checkout, fast information, fast relationships, 24/7 news, constant entertainment, easy career advancement, quick financial returns and short-term planning.
Delayed gratification: home-cooked meals, getting to know others at long checkouts, processing information, steady and strong relationships, news that we need, planning fun and entertainment with friends, wise career choices and paths, steady financial gains and long-term planning.
Which of these two lists seems more appealing to you? For me, it used to depend on how crazy my life was. Up in New England, I used to walk into a Starbucks and expect quick service. Usually, within five minutes I'd be in and out with a hot, frothy, sugary drink full of caffeine. When I moved to South Carolina, though, and stepped into the same chain, I found folks enjoying each other's company while in line. Cashiers exchanged pleasant conversations that lasted far beyond three-four seconds. So I had to recalibrate my schedule for a 10- to 15-minute coffee retrieval experience. At first I was annoyed, but then I realized it felt a bit better and I felt a bit more human in the slow down.
Sometimes purposefully slowing down and experiencing the journey becomes a prize in itself.
In the Scriptures, particularly the book of Genesis, Abraham had received a promise from God. Not for coffee, but a promise of a much greater reward. God was going to give him a son who would inherit his wealth but also the blessing that God has placed on Abraham's life. God had said, "I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great..." (Genesis 15:1a). But in his old age, Abe and his wife, Sarai, became impatient. They questioned God and came up with their own plan -- a messy plan. It was convenient for them to produce an heir through another woman. A son named Ishmael was born. This also caused great troubles in the household, and rightly so. Two women, one husband, one child and a whole lot of resentment resulted.
Many of us, myself included, sometimes seek out the immediate reward -- in little things, like quick tasty coffee, or in big things, like waiting on God's promises in our lives. We make messes for ourselves and shortchange God, and his faithfulness. Despite Abraham crying out, "I remain childless!" and attemptting to circumvent patience, God had enough blessing in him to bless Ishmael (the first son of Abe's mess), and in Genesis 21:1-5, a 100-year-old Abe gains a son by his actual wife. God is good.
What challenges are keeping you from the quiet promises of God? What is distracting you from seeing the world in God's timing? Take a moment to commune with God, much like we do with friends around a warm fire, and sync your desires to a God whose timing is absolutely perfect.
Columnist Daniel Griswold is the director of youth at St. Andrew By-the-Sea United Methodist Church. Follow him at twitter.com/dannonhill. Read his blog at www.danielgriswold.wordpress.com.