There is a direct correlation between delayed gratification and intelligence. In the famous Stanford study a group of children were told they could have one marshmallow now, or they could have two marshmallows if they waited for 15 minutes. The children were observed for the period of time and test scores showed that those children who scored highest on intelligence tests were more often able to wait the full 15 minutes for the additional treat.
Certainly we can see how the ability to avoid short sightedness can help us avoid the unintended consequences or even unforeseen consequences of our choices. Haven’t you ever said to yourself “If I could only go back in time and undo that action…”
The truth is most of us do try to do the best we can in living our lives. But so many times the failure to really work on developing a keen sense of what’s really important in the long run means we make choices that turn out to be actually bad for us. Oh, say for example, a 50 something Greek Orthodox priest who hasn’t paid enough attention to his health and his choices for exercise and diet. He really means well, but….
Short sightedness is one of the key components in today’s Gospel Lesson. Look here: “At that time, Jesus strictly charged the disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ. From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him and began to rebuke him, saying, ‘God forbid, Lord! This shall never happen to you.’ But he turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me; for you are not on the side of God, but of men.’ Then Jesus told his disciples, ‘If any man would come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow me.'” Matthew 16:20-24
Our Lord understood and saw the end from the beginning and He saw that what might appear the right course of action in the moment always ran the danger of being too short sighted. That’s why He rebuked Peter for his words. Peter only saw the immediate pain that would come from the Lord’s sacrifice. And that pain blinded Peter to the greater joy of Christ entering the battlefield of death and defeating death for all creation!
This is why the Lord says what He does after He corrects Peter’s short sightedness. If we are ever going to develop the ability to see beyond the constant temptations of the immediate, we have to learn how to “deny” ourselves and “follow” Christ.
This discipline is so very difficult and certainly flies in the face of modern American values of “I’m my own man” or ” I’m free so I can do whatever I want” or “Don’t I deserve to be happy?” All these tendencies to narcissism and self-focus blind us to the ability to see beyond our immediate gratification to the greater reality of being fashioned into the likeness of Christ.
But this ability to see beyond our immediate situation also requires us to exercise our faith. If we really have been granted eternal life, then actually living in the light of this gift insists we abandon the temporary and short-lived “pleasures” of the moment, especially if those “pleasures” actually carry within them the poison of the temporary. How can a life lived by the childishness of the temporary ever hope to enjoy the eternal?
Today, take a moment and look beyond your immediate gratification and ask God to give you the strength of will and trust and love to “follow” Him. Also know this development of this discipline of denying the temporary in favor of the eternal will take the rest of your life and even then we will always be praying “Lord, have mercy.” But don’t let the difficulty of the journey enslave you to a life of temporary choices. Take joy knowing even beginning again every day is a sign that your heart is truly turned toward Him to follow Him.
Today, wait. Today, be quiet. Today, see beyond fear and pain. Today, be Orthodox on purpose.