The Significance of a Marshmellow

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. Galatians 5:16, NIV.

Imagine you are 4 years old. Picture yourself in a strange room; a strange person gives you a marshmallow and promises you a second one if you don’t eat the first one until he returns from a short errand. What do you do? Do you gobble down the marshmallow, not thinking about the possibility of another? Or, with nothing to do but stare at the marshmallow, do you muster all the self control available to you as a 4-year-old and wait until the giver returns?

That question has proved to be a classic in a research study conducted on a group of 4-year-olds. When the researchers tracked down the children 14 years later they found that this test was an amazing predictor of how the children would do in school. The ones who had waited in the test scored significantly higher–210 points higher–on their Scholastic Achievement Test. In addition, the kids who had patiently waited were, later, more stable emotionally than the other group, better liked by their teachers and their peers, and were still able to delay gratification in pursuit of their goals.

The children who had eaten the marshmallow immediately were, 14 years later, less emotionally stable, more irritable, more likely to pick fights, not as well liked, and fell apart under stress.

The Bible talks about the importance of self-control. Galatians 5:22, 23 says, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self control. Against such things there is no law” (NIV). While our society places great emphasis on scholastic success–defined as how much knowledge you can pack into your brain in a given amount of time–God, as usual, has an entirely different way of measuring success.

Now science has caught up with what the Bible has always presented to us. God promises us success, not based on worldly standards, academic achievement, or measures of wealth, but upon His Spirit working in us. When He develops the fruits of the Spirit in our characters we will be healthier and happier, our relationships will be more satisfying, our academic pursuits more successful, and our jobs more fulfilling. Better yet, we will be successful not only in the physical world but in the spiritual world as well. That’s were it really counts.

Isn’t it interesting that one character trait–self-control–can have such a widespread effect on a person’s success in life? How healthy is your self-control?

—Carole Brousson Anderson

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