A scene from our van yesterday:
Me: "The Story of the World is due back at the library in just two days. Would you guys like to listen for a little while so that we can try to finish before we return it?"Up next? Good Queen Bess, the first female monarch of England (much to the delight of my daughters, who listened with great enthusiasm to a recounting of Elizabeth's refusal to marry). Elizabeth's story was followed by a story from her time: Macbeth. The first track on Macbeth set the stage: we were told of the prophecy from the three witches that Macbeth would be king, of his relationship to the current king Duncan and of Lady Macbeth's assertion that her husband should kill his cousin to take the crown. What would Macbeth do? There the story paused, so I turned it off. Much to the dismay of my children, who wanted to know what happened right away. We waited about 24 hours before finishing the story.
A (who is wise in the ways of the library): "Can't we renew it?"
Me: "No, someone else has it on hold, so we can't renew."
A and B, in unison: "Yes, let's listen."
How good are you at delaying gratification? If you reach the last fifty pages of your book, are you plowing through no matter what time it is? Or do you wait until morning to savor the book that much longer? If you have a bag of Reese's cups in your cabinet, how long does that bag last you? Do you eat one or two at a time or a handful? So much of our culture is designed to teach us that instant gratification is not only fun, but our right. Hungry? Eat now, regardless of what time it is or what caloric value your meal has. See something you want? Buy it. Who cares whether you have the money right now?
I don't want my daughters sucked into this way of thinking. I want them to experience the ache of desire, the pain of need, true want. Because experiencing these things makes gratification mean so much more.
A few years ago I studied chapters 53 through 60 of Isaiah with a great group of women. These chapters from my favorite book of the Bible made a lasting impression, in part because of what I saw in them about who we are as humans. We are a people easily satisfied. Easily satisfied with the junk food of life - be that literal junk food or magazines that feed our brains without teaching us, television shows that entertain us without making us think or any number of other junk foods readily available. But while we are easily satisfied, these things lead to short term satisfaction, not true satiation.
Just like a bag of potato chips leaves your energy waning mere minutes after consumption, the metaphorical junk food that we use to satisfy our deepest needs doesn't really nurture or fill us either. So we walk around trying to mute that ache within us with something, anything. It's not easy to teach a ten year old, nine year old and six year old to delay gratification. Even as I've typed this post, I've been asked for snacks by all three of my daughters. The answer? "No, dinner is in the oven." It's a small delay of gratification. I can't hope to help them grasp how many children in our world, in our country, in our very neighborhood will go to dinner without snacks, without dinner, with true hunger gnawing at them from the inside.
But what I can do is teach them to recognize the ache before immediately doing something to numb it. Because the aches in our bodies and souls point us to the things that will satisfy us lastingly - a beautiful, well made meal, a piece of magnificent art and, most importantly, a God who made us, loves us and cares for us, even as we seek gratification from so much less than his best for us.