Wednesday, February 24, 2016

The Marshmallow Test

I recently watched a video of an experiment administered to young children to test their ability to postpone gratification (watch the video below).  The child was seated at a table and set before them was a single  marshmallow.  They were given the option to eat the one marshmallow immediately or wait a while and be given an additional marshmallow.  It was entertaining watching them.  Some of the children immediately  gobbled the one marshmallow, others tantalizingly smelled the marshmallow, others would take little nibbles, many waited.  The experiment illustrates the choices each of us make to have it now or have more later.

Every day we face similar choices and we ask ourselves the questions, "Do I act on impulse or do I exhibit self control?"  "Do I indulge in the moment or do I delay some pleasure now so that I can enjoy a greater pleasure later?"

This matter has implications in all areas of our life, but certainly there is a spiritual component to this question as well.  Jesus and the other New Testament writers repeatedly taught that there is something beyond this world, some greater pleasure awaiting us. A second marshmallow, so to speak. They most often refer to this greater pleasure as heaven. Part of that teaching seems to be that in order to enjoy the greater pleasure, two marshmallows, we have to resist to some degree the lesser pleasure, one marshmallow.  The bottom line is whether we will live for now or live for later.

Many times we choose to live for now, and that makes a lot of sense.  Living for now is easy (it requires no discipline) and the reward is immediate (and we all are fond of immediate gratification).    Even though we often live for now, experience and wisdom teaches us that living for now is not always the best choice. In fact, I would say it is seldom the best choice.  It especially is not the best choice when it comes to life altering choices. How many people have you met that at the end of their life said something like, "I'm sure glad I acted impulsively all my life"?  

If living for now is not the best choice, then what are the merits for living for later?  If I have to exert self-control and delay gratification there has to be some good reason for doing that.   I believe that living for later has merit in so many areas of our life - from athletics, to education, to relationships, to just about anything we want to excel at.  Living for later is a prime contributor to success and satisfaction in almost every facet of life.  But I want us to focus on the spiritual merits.   

The biblical description of later (heaven) leaves no doubt that living for it is the far better option for at least these two reasons:  later is longer and later is better.  Any pleasure now has an expiration date. The pleasure of later will never expire.  Any pleasure now, regardless of how pleasurable it is, cannot compare to pleasure of later.  I know that's hard to believe, but the Bible is clear - heaven (later) is better than now (earth).  Far better.  Infinitely better.  So much better it is worth the wait; worth any sacrifice; worth any sense of self-deprivation.

We're all living the experiment. We're all at the table and all us face the choice.  And as we contemplate between the pleasure of now and the pleasure of later Jesus leaves us with this vital question:  "What do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul?"