In 1972 Stanford University Psychologist Walter Mischel conducted an experiment with marshmallows and children. Each child was placed in a room and offered a marshmallow. The same children were told that if they could wait to eat the marshmallow for an undetermined period of time they would be given a second one. The results were tabulated and the children’s choices through the next several decades were observed. The results determined that children who struggle with deferred gratification will most likely struggle with it later in life and face the consequences of such a lifestyle. I know the temptation when hearing this information is to run home and place a marshmallow on a plate in front of your kids and see what choice they make. I think their is another indicator as to whether or not your kids may struggle with delayed gratification-how are their parents at it?
We live on a continent that doesn’t make it easy to delay gratification. We are constantly bombarded with don’t pay a cent, and zero money down campaigns for anything from homes to cars to sexuality-what wait when you can have it all now. There seems to be a sacrifice deficit in North America. Truth is we can’t give up stuff that is bad for us, so why would be ever give up something that is good for us? Sacrifice isn’t giving up something you know to be wrong. Sacrifice is offering up something you know is all right. It is the gift of denying yourself the right to have.
The truth is if it doesn’t require discipline to give it up, then maybe your aren’t giving anything up.
Lent is a time where many Christians give something up for the 40 days leading up to Easter. The idea is that in a small way you can identify with the suffering of Christ leading up to the victory of resurrection. I know it is hard to imagine how denying myself coffee for 40 days might count as suffering. But there really is a suffering state of mind that can help give us a posture for Easter. Not only do we give something up and suffer with that choice for the sake of identifying with Jesus, but we identify with those who do without every day. We often forget that many do without the luxuries we give up at lent simply because they have no choice.
We give it up in the hope that by offering up what is good, it will create in me something that is better. If we do it right, there is something to be learned that can’t be taught in an indulgent life.
The real challenge is determining what it will be that I will give up? What is it that I will choose to withhold for 40 days in order to prepare me for the wonder that is Easter? What can I offer up that is good, in order to make me better. I guess the real question is..what is my Marshmallow?
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