You Need a Theology of Delayed Gratification!

Learn to wait and delay good things...

Did you know that there is a connection between your child waiting for the prayer of blessing before meals and his ability to avoid premarital sex?

It has to do with delayed gratification:

When we sit down at a meal, it is just and right that we first thank God and ask His blessing upon the food that we are about to enjoy. Then, and only then, do we pick up our forks and eat.

Little children are usually tempted to sneak a bite from their plates while mother is turned around getting the last dish on the table. It’s the duty of parents to stop this. The children must learn to wait. Why?

Screen Shot 2015-11-06 at 2.56.14 PMWell one day their appetites will include not only food for preservation of the human body, but they will have an intense appetite for the preservation of the human race. Will they be allowed to nibble a little bit here and there before the blessing? In case you’re not following the analogy:

hungry child > dinner blessing > fulfillment of hunger appetite

young person > matrimonial blessing > fulfillment of sexual appetite

You see if Timmy learns that he can eat before the family is assembled and father leads in the religious blessing, well then, Timmy will not likely wait to have sex until after his family is assembled at church and Father has pronounced the religious blessing on Timmy’s bride and Timmy at the altar.

Are you following this?

Delaying Good Things for Good Reasons:

And this isn’t just about family meals. It’s about everything. School, jobs, Advent, Lent, the Eucharistic fast, fish Fridays, penance, sacramental preparation, childbearing, childrearing, illness, natural death, and so on and so on.

Catholicism is the religion of delayed gratification. This life is a test run to determine our eternal gratification. If we live only to have pleasure in the now, we won’t have beatitude in the future. Christ has instituted His Catholic Church to provide us with small mini-trials every day.

The Eucharistic fast is one obvious example. Humbling one’s self in the confessional before receiving the Holy Eucharist is another. It’s learning how to do something difficult or inconvenient for some other greater good.

Let’s go back to Timmy. If Timmy learns to break the Eucharistic fast or cheat his resolutions during Lent, what will he do in other areas of life? He’ll push the boundaries, but ultimately he’ll fail because he does not understand that all success derives from delayed gratification – both temporal and eternal.

Look at all these hipsters in America. They have college degrees. They vote. They are somewhat intelligent. They even own an interesting collection of vinyl records. Yet they do not have jobs.

It’s now being reported that our college educated hipsters are becoming dependent on state subsidies. They hang out in coffee shops discussing Renoir, Radiohead, and Rousseau, but they buy their groceries with food-stamps! It looks like they’ve fallen for the hipster trap.

What’s going on here?

These young people have been raised to reject delayed gratification. They are the products of society that glorifies immediate gratification  They want meaningful jobs…right now. They want to be art gallery directors, professors, CEOs, non-profit directors, film-directors, Facebook creators, authors, actors, and poets.

What they don’t see is that it takes a helluva lot of hard work to ascend to these professions.

This is why we must realize the value of Catholicism for our culture. Catholicism, in this regard, helps us in two ways: The first way is supernatural and the second way natural, temporal, and social.

  1. First, the Catholic theology of waiting confirms that the honors and accolades of this world are vanity of vanities. The Faith is what led the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V to resign his power and live his remaining days in an obscure monastery. The smaller natural pleasures of this life are not worth trading for the enormous supernatural beatitude to be attained in the next. This life itself is a prolonged wait for something better and beyond.
  2. Secondly, the theology of waiting or delayed gratification is not one of passivity. You are active and waiting. Unlike the ideology of hipsters smoking hand rolled cigarettes and complaining about those faceless stiff-shirts belonging to the “one percent,” the theology of waiting calls for sacrifice now for something better later. So if you want a meaningful job, get up off your skinny jeans and produce something. Contribute. Nobody cares about your thoughts and feelings unless they contribute to something. If you’re an artist, it may take you 20 years to actually sell something. If you can’t accept that, then don’t throw a tantrum and complain about the world. Learn a little delayed gratification. Write down your goals and realize that it takes a long time to reach important goals.

Contraception and Delay:

Contraception is the perfect example for our society’s desire for instant gratification. Contraception is the idea that you can have lots and lots of immediate pleasure (feels really awesome!) without committing to one person (a sacrificial act), and without committing to a pregnancy (a hugely sacrificial act), and without committing to raising a human person for eighteen years (an immensely sacrificial act).

Back to Timmy for one last time. From the time Timmy is born, he will be maintaining his “threshold for waiting.” He will observe the “threshold of waiting” in his parents. Do they live on a whim? Do they go into debt to have fun now? Are they penitential? Are they religious hypocrites? Then he will begin to see how the standard for the “threshold of waiting” is applied to him. Is he allowed to throw temper-tantrums when he is not immediately gratified. Will he persevere in household tasks? Will he finish homework? Will he keep the Eucharistic fast or will he sneak a cookie before Mass? Will he maintain simple customs such as not eating before the Blessing? You get the idea.

If Timmy does not learn this Catholic principle of delayed gratification, what will he become? He’ll become a contracepting hipster with a B.A. waiting for that $60,000 job to fall into his lap. Regrettably, he’ll be a nothing. Worst of all, he won’t live the abundant life that Christ promised for those who would take up their cross and follow Him.

Of course, it’s not easy to assume this theology of waiting. It is the most difficult teaching of Catholicism. As the Blessed Virgin Mary said to Saint Bernadette: “I promise to make you happy, not in this world, but in the next.” Those words terrify me. However, it is a sure promise. None of us will be perfectly happy in this life. It’s just not going to happen.

C.S. Lewis once speculated that if God gave us perfect happiness in this life, it would be unjust since we would then stop seeking after God Himself. Saint Thomas Aquinas would say it is impossible to find happiness anywhere else since our Summum Bonum is none other than God Himself.

So don’t get down in the mouth about delayed gratification. It’s delayed…not never. Life won’t be perfect. Embrace this truth. There is freedom in it. There is joy in realizing it. Here the verse that wraps it all up nicely:

“But if you partake of the sufferings of Christ, rejoice that when his glory shall be revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy.” (1 Peter 4:13)

And another:

“But he that shall persevere to the end, he shall be saved.” (Matthew 24:13)

Taylor R. Marshall

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  • defiant12314

    true enough, I met with our Training and Development guy (at my own request) today to discuss possible career advancement, I know that I have a couple more years (at least) of taking client calls, doing the expenses, typing the reports and learning what is in effect an on the job apprenticeship before the company lets me loose dealing on behalf of the clients, managing their portfolios and going clay pigeon shooting with the clients (I work for a wealth management firm). All of which comes with a nice salary, having said that they are good chaps, let me sit in on fund management meetings and ask me for my views on what the markets are doing.

  • Matthew Clarke

    In fairness, I think a lot of hipsters do have jobs.

  • Drabina

    Back when I was writing an MA on John Milton, this was one of my favorite of his poems. I have never forgotten it; I can’t say I’ve been patient enough to live by it. But I have not forgotten it. It is called ‘On His Blindness,’ and Milton – who went blind and feared that he would not be able to place his mature gift for poetry at the service of God – wondered how God could give him the ‘vocation’ of study and poetry and then take away his vision, which was necessary for him to fulfill his vocation to write. How could he present a good accounting to God for using his talents well, when God had allowed him to lose his vision, and thus effectively stopped his work? (BTW, ‘fondly’ here means ‘foolishly’ and ‘murmur’ means ‘complaint’.)

    When I consider how my light is spent
    Ere half my days in this dark world and wide,
    And that one talent which is death to hide
    Lodg’d with me useless, though my soul more bent
    To serve therewith my Maker, and present
    My true account, lest he returning chide;
    “Doth God exact day-labour, light denied?”
    I fondly ask. But Patience to prevent
    That murmur, soon replies: “God doth not need
    Either man’s work or his own gifts; who best
    Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best. His state
    Is kingly. Thousands at his bidding speed
    And post o’er land and ocean without rest:
    They also serve who only stand and wait.”

    As it turns out, Milton was able to ‘write’ Paradise Lost by composing it in his head and speaking it aloud to be written down by others. So he ended up using his gifts anyway, just not as he naturally assumed he would. I often come back to this when I’m frustrated by wanting to put my own gifts at the service of the Church and not being able to find a way to do that. ‘Bear his mild yoke’ and wait for God’s good time. Easy to say; hard to do.

  • Drabina

    You probably know about the Stanford Marshmallow Experiment? (See Wikipedia if you don’t.) The idea of the experiment was to see which children could delay gratification and which could not, and then follow them up and find out if being able to delay gratification at a young age had any measurable effects on success in life. Researchers would tell a child that he could go ahead and eat the marshmallow straightaway, but if he waited a certain amount of time without eating a marshmallow set in front of him, he could have two marshmallows when the researcher came back into the room. The researcher then left the room and observed the children to see if they could delay gratification for a greater reward, and what techniques the children employed to help them delay gratification.

    According to Wikipedia: ‘The first follow-up study, in 1988, showed that “preschool children who delayed gratification longer in the self-imposed delay paradigm, were described more than 10 years later by their parents as adolescents who were significantly more competent.”‘

    ‘A second follow-up study, in 1990, showed that the ability to delay gratification also correlated with higher SAT scores.’

    It’s very interesting that a repeat of the experiment was done later, with a twist. This time, they divided the children into two groups. Some of the children were promised something and then the promise was broken; the others were promised something and received what they were promised. Then they were told about the possibility of eating a marshmallow (cookie, pretzel) straightaway or waiting until the researcher came back and getting two treats. Children who had a reliable tester (who had not broken a promise before) ‘waited up to four times longer (12 min) than the unreliable tester group for the second marshmallow to appear.’

    These results would seem to show the importance not only of parents modelling delayed gratification, but parents keeping their promises (all involved adults keeping their promises) to children, so that children can really trust adults who say, ‘If you do X now, you can have a reward later.’ Trusting the promises of one’s parents is the first step to trusting the promises of God.

  • kono859

    Thank you Dr. Marshall. As a brand new Catholic….this really spoke to me as I’ve not been raised that way nor raised my children with this teaching. Praise be to Jesus Christ I have finally found True teaching in the True Faith!

  • Oh – this is a great post Dr. Marshall! My husband and I instituted a 10 minute ban on eating for anyone who sneaks a bite before grace – but in doing so we have found ourselves to be some of the worst offenders. Self discipline is a battle for all of us!

  • Larry Bud

    Exactly what is “a contracepting hipster”?

    I would submit that there is not one iota of authentic Catholic doctrine in this article. Just the author’s strange personal opinions. I’m embarrassed that “Big Pulpit” selected this as a featured article.