Every now and then you may see an article mentioning the Stanford “marshmallow experiment”. Decades ago, researchers tested a group of young children to see if they could delay gratification. The kids were given a favorite treat and told if they would wait and not eat it for a time, they would be given a second one. If they didn’t wait and ate it immediately, they wouldn’t receive another treat.
The researchers recorded which students ate the treat immediately, which ones called the researcher back early (a third option which meant they got a second treat, but not their favorite) and which kids were able to wait the entire fifteen minutes and receive the second preferred treat.
The study didn’t stop there though. Over the years, the researchers went back to these same students and took various measures of how “successfully” they were navigating various aspects of life. Later in life, the children who had been able to delay gratification were described by others as being more competent, had higher SAT scores and even bran scans at middle age, showed two areas of their brain were more highly developed than those areas in the other subjects.
All of that is really nice and interesting, but as Christians, teaching your kids to learn to delay gratification has much larger consequences. You see, sin is actually a willingness to give into something you want – even if it is sinful- because you want immediate gratification of your desires. Godly principles like love, patience, perseverance and others often require the ability to delay gratification.
The ability to wait for God’s perfect timing often means your kids will have to wait longer than they want for something in order to match God’s perfect timing. If they aren’t able to delay that gratification for possibly extremely long periods of time, the consequences can be serious. Just ask Sarah and Abraham.
In fact, in some ways the entire Christian life is about delayed gratification. Your kids will have to give up gratifying their sinful desires immediately in favor of waiting for the ultimate reward – an eternity in Heaven. Your kids have to be able and willing to delay gratification not for the fifteen minutes in the Stanford experiment, but for hours, days, weeks, months, years and even decades.
As you can imagine from your own life, delayed gratification is tough to understand and even tougher to accomplish. Yet, it is a skill you must help your children develop if you want them to dedicate their lives to God. The good news is that there are actually lots of fun ways to help them understand and practice the concept. In my next post, I will share some of my favorite ideas with you.