Friday, September 5, 2014

"The Marshmallow Test"

Are you familiar with the Marshmallow Test?  I am not referring to the Rice Krispies Treats or S’mores that we all loved as kids.  Instead I am referring to an experiment in psychology. In the late 1960’s and early 70’s, Walter Mischel, a psychologist at Stanford University, developed what was known as the Marshmallow Test. 

Basically it worked like this: a young child was brought into a room and offered a marshmallow. The examiner explained to the child they can eat the one marshmallow now or wait until the examiner returns and then get two marshmallows. The examiner leaves the room for about ten minutes as the child stares down the tempting marshmallow. It is basically a test in “delayed gratification”. You can view a cute example of children and their marshmallows on YouTube.

What they discovered in follow up studies with the children is quite amazing. The children who demonstrated delayed gratification for the longer term reward, two marshmallows instead of one, turned out to have better life outcomes as measured by such things as SAT scores, educational attainment, and other life measures.

I am not sure when the age of “Instant Gratification” started, but it must have been when “instant” rice took priority over boiling rice. We’ve grown up with fast food and drive through ATM machines. We have light speed communication at our finger tips and the ability to speed something we want to buy to our doorsteps in just a few clicks. We can even pay more to get it faster. Less and less we have to delay gratification to get what we want. In and of itself, none of this is bad.

Yet, some things, like relationships, take more time and cannot be rushed. Every relationship we treasure takes time. Making and being a good friend takes time. Being a good parent isn’t something that happens overnight. Every husband and wife will tell you marriage isn’t a sprint, but a marathon. Our relationships are often best when we delay gratification and wait for the second marshmallow.

The same is true for our faith and our relationship with Jesus Christ. Theologians call this process sanctification. It means growing little by little, day by day, and year after year in your faith. How does it happen? Paul says the Holy Spirit and our belief in our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, are the ways we work through sanctification. 2 Thessalonians 2:13 (New Revised Standard):
But we must always give thanks to God for you, brothers and sisters beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the first fruits for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and through belief in the truth.”
We might have instant rice, but there are no instant saints. Life and faith are a journey. Spiritual maturity in worship, service, study and prayer take a lifetime.  We hold out for the second marshmallow, believing in the promises of God for us and our world.

How about in your life, what forces tempt you to take the treat now? What strengths let you wait for the treat later? 

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