I Want it Now

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If you are a parent or grandparent, what Hollywood movie character would you least like the little ones in your life to emulate?

One of the primary candidates would have to be Veruca Salt, that disturbingly self-centered brat from Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.  Midway through the classic film, she insists on seizing one of Wonka’s geese that lays golden eggs.  She makes her case through her anthem of greed:

I want the world.  I want the whole world.  I want to lock it all up in my pocket.  It’s my bar of chocolate.  Give it to me now!

No one is surprised when she hops up on the scale and the arrow points to Bad. 

“She was a bad egg,” sighs Willy Wonka, as Veruca slides down the reject chute and out of contention for a lifetime of chocolate.

A key component of growing up is learning the art of delayed gratification.  The Veruca Salt Syndrome is that dispiriting combination of entitlement and impatience that leads numerous children – and not a few adults – to shout, “I want it now!”

In a famous study in 1970 – just one year before the Gene Wilder version of Willy Wonka came to movie theaters – Dr. Walter Mischel explored the possible connections between delayed gratification and later success in life.

It was called the Stanford Experiment.  Or more popularly, the Marshmallow Test.

A group of young children were each given a marshmallow (or a cookie or a pretzel stick).  They were told they could eat it right away.  Or, if they wanted to wait 15 minutes, they could have two marshmallows.

Mischel and his staff left the room and watched the ensuing drama on hidden cameras.

Some of the children, predictably, popped the treat into their mouths without a second thought.  Others waited – some of them in agony.  They closed their eyes, turned away, or pulled their own pigtails.  But by holding out and holding on, they doubled their reward.

For several decades Mischel and his team followed the lives of those children.  The kids that demonstrated an ability to delay personal gratification, even at an early age, scored significantly higher on their SATs and in other measurements of leadership and success.

We should pause here and ask:  How did the original Veruca Salt turn out?

Fortunately, the British actress Julie Dawn Cole (who filmed Veruca’s big scene on her 13th birthday) didn’t end up in the chocolate factory furnace with the other bad eggs.  In a real-life twist worthy of Hollywood, she is a mother of two and a celebrity psychotherapist who has established programs to enrich the lives of children and help out-of-shape adults retake command of their lives.  Go figure.

Over the years some of Mischel’s colleagues have wondered if there might be another dimension to the Marshmallow Test.  What part was played by the children’s assurance that the promise of an additional treat would actually be kept?

It makes a difference, in other words, if our waiting is arbitrary – “Oh, someday things will get better for me, and surely the world will become a better place if we all just hang in there and keep plugging away” – or whether our waiting is based on a realistic hope.

At the heart of a healthy relationship with God there is realistic hope. 

Not that we have the ability to make and keep our promises to God, but that God is able to make and keep his promises to us.

“Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.” (Hebrews 10:23). 

God doesn’t guarantee that any of us will ever put our hands on a goose that lays golden eggs.

But there is something we can have.  And we can have it now

God’s own assurance of unbroken care, no matter what might be happening around us.