Instant Gratification

I've been thinking and reading and hearing a lot about instant gratification, our inability to delay it, and, for that matter, our natural instinct to run from any kind of pain, discomfort, or displeasure.  It makes sense, naturally, to go after exactly what we want and take it.

It makes sense, naturally, to avoid pain at all cost.  That is the pure, raw instinct of the flesh.  The problem is, that tendency, to instantly quench all desire immediately, to instantly fight off all kinds of discomfort and displeasure, is a short-term remedy, which often comes into conflict with the long-term gains.

The problem is we are not merely animalistic, fleshly beings.  We are made in the image of God.  We are Spirit-breathed.  We are both Spirit and flesh.  This is the conflagrant conundrum.  Because of our spiritual nature, sometimes the eternal good requires the temporary delay of gratification of the flesh, and that is just UNNATURAL!  (Deny desire?!!  WHAT?!!)  It is unnatural, and it is downright impossible to do unless we consciously, whole-heartedly buy in to the truth of the ultimate benefit of the immediate denial.  To refuse or to deny focus on that ultimate benefit is the death of all sorts of things...failing diets, failing grades, failing budgets, failing health, failing relationships.  When we lose focus on the eternal, everything fails.

I am reading a book about passion and purity by Elizabeth Elliot.  She is pretty hard-core conservative, and there are some statements she makes to which I don't fully agree.  But the self-control and the self-denial she expresses in her first relationship through her 20's puts me to shame.  She waited YEARS for a man she was not certain she would ever get to marry.  (FYI...I hope she touches on the loss.  They must have only had a few married years together before he was killed on mission.  I cannot imagine the pain in her sacrifice!)  I mean, I'm reading this stuff, and thinking...I can't even say no to an extra pop or glass of wine!  Seriously, if it comes down to my will versus God's will for me...I'm gonna fail EVERY TIME.  Well...I should give myself a little more credit than that.  It's really the small things where I fail.  I've gotten so much better at relinquishing control over the big things.

Not that we have that much control anyway.  There was a time, when I first really committed my heart to God, and one of my very first prayers was, "Just don't send me to Africa."  Of course, years later, my close friends move to Africa on mission.  I got very close to praying, "Please let me go to Africa."  I was lying in bed one night when panic seized me, as I envisioned myself in my friends' shoes, and I felt I could never survive away from the comforts of MINE.  My morning mocha, my daily shots of sugary caffeine...and most of all, MY bed at the end of the day.  I NEED the comfort of MY bed at the end of the day.  I REQUIRE the comfort of MY bed at the end of the day.

A few weeks later, I left a two week old baby at home for a week, while I had my gall-bladder removed and, incidentally, developed pancreatitis.  I suffered the most excruciating pain I'd ever endured.  I was still in agony when I came home from the hospital.  I was not really ready to leave, but my family was getting desperate without me home.  And the hospital really couldn't do much to help me besides.  It was a most helpless feeling.  I came home and lived with constant, chronic pain for another week.  I remember crying in my bed, in agony and discomfort and pleading my husband, "Am I always going to hurt now?!!"

I realized then, even if I surround myself with comforts...even if I stay in my own, "safe" little world...there is no promise my own comfort will remain.  I can experience pain, sorrow and agony no matter where I am.  I can set up every system to keep it out, but, ultimately, I can do nothing to ensure my own security.  Any number of things can come along and destroy the promise of security.  So, I can sit here and hide and avoid as much of that as possible, or I can step out, reach out, and trust God to carry me through whatever discomforts I face, wherever I face them.

I got a job offer that spring.  I had just decided the day before to put the kids in school.  I have gone from stay-home mom (for 12 years, people!) to full-time work in 20 different schools and part-time intern as a crisis counselor.  My reach has expanded exponentially now that I am out of the house.  It has not come without sacrifice, but it has also not come without reward.

I'm not certain my husband appreciates my sacrifice.  (A lot of the household weight has fallen on him.)  He doesn't seem to mind my full-time job, but the additional is the internship he seems to have come to resent.  (He was spoiled with a housewife for 12 years, and now I am gone so much of the time.)  It's a sacrifice he has had to make.

And that sacrifice has become my reward.  In August, we will celebrate 20 years of marriage.  20 years, my friends.  How can this be?!!!  (Am I not just 20 myself?!)  This week, my husband proposed an anniversary trip.  I wish I could relate to you the profoundness of this proposal.  My husband WILL NOT leave his family.  We have not left the children behind for anything but a one-night stay in a local hotel for all of the duration of their combined little lives.  I can't even get him to come with me on the one-night work trips.  He WILL NOT leave them.  (He is so loyal, so committed, so responsible.  His steadfast servitude so trumps my naturally selfish tendencies, that I am ever humbled in his presence.)  In other words, it is not a small thing that he makes me this offer, and I believe a good part of it has to do with the fact that, in my constant absence, he has become  more desperate for my time.

There is, however, a catch.  A sacrifice I must pay in order to receive the prize.  HE wants to be in charge of planning the whole thing.  Now, this may seem like an easy yes.  But control is my safe place.  I like to be in charge of the details to ensure my own comfort and happiness.  (Plus, I mean...I am a better planner, and I tend to choose much more exciting adventures.)  My first response was, "But why can't I help plan?!!"  And my defense was, "If I were to plan it, I would spare no expense.  I would choose something BIG!  If you plan it, we will go camping."  (He promised he would not choose camping.)  I pushed until I sensed I was about to defeat in him all the joy surrounding the original idea, and I asked him to let me process.  (My first answer is always NO.  I require time to convince myself of a yes.)  I know this is another area I need to let go.  I know this is a stretching opportunity.  I know that I will let him plan it.  (I don't think I can do a completely formal surprise just yet, but maybe I will stretch myself that far, who knows.  I hate surprises.  I think I have had too many experiences with BAD surprises, whether it has been seriously, painfully tragic or merely reality falling short of my intense expectations.)

So I know what would be the most beneficial choice.  I will put aside fear.  I will put aside expectation.  I will relinquish control, and I will accept the unknown.  And I will focus my heart on gratitude, whatever the result.  I will allow him to do this thing for me, and I will offer him the personal victory of successfully surprising me.  Isn't it silly that I have to put so much effort into such a small and seemingly easy decision?!  Ah, but...that is the reality of my flesh.  That is my severely strong and obstinate will.  I really am, naturally, this stubborn and controlling.  Everything is a fight against my own will, for me.  But this makes every small victory even sweeter...because to conquer my own stubborn will is never a small thing!  It is an ongoing epic battle.  And the more often I persevere and realize the long-term prize of my short-term battles, the more I strengthen my ability to fight for the Spirit and the eternal.  Victory begets victory.  And because I am so stubborn, the converse is equally true.  Defeat begets victory.  Because defeat only makes me more stubborn to renew my focus on God's ability over my own and to continue to fight and overcome.

So, really, the decision is already made.  I will deny instant gratification for the greater gain.  I will set aside my own desire for the security of control, and I will accept the gift of surprise with gratitude.  ( least that's the plan.  I will keep you updated on the reality of how this all plays out.  😉 😂)

As Always,
Your little homie