Don't Eat That Marshmallow

The following was written by Tim Rankin for the February edition of the Wintonbury Connection.

CC0 Public Domain 

CC0 Public Domain 

Walter Mischel, a Stanford professor, conducted a series of psychological experiments commonly referred to as The Marshmallow Test. The experiment, which took place in the 1960’s, involved hundreds of children around the ages of four and five. Here’s how the experiment worked:

Each child was brought into a private room with a table and chair. The child sat in the chair and a marshmallow, or some other “goodie” was placed before them on the table. The child was then offered a deal. The researcher was going to leave the room for about 15 minutes; if the child did not eat the marshmallow while they were gone, when the researcher returned, the child would be rewarded with a second marshmallow. However, if the child ate the first marshmallow – he or she would not be offered a second one. One treat right away or two treats later. (You can find clips of the original test and reproductions online.)

The results of the experiment were mixed; some kids ate the marshmallow as soon as the researcher left, others gave into temptation after a few minutes, and still others were able to wait out the entire 15 minutes for the extra marshmallow. 

The significance of the experiment is found in the follow-up research conducted on the very same children years later. The children who were able to delay gratification and wait for the second marshmallow tended to have better SAT scores on college entrance exams, responded better in stressful situations as reported by their parents, were less apt to be involved in substance abuse, and were more comfortable in social situations. In general, these children tended to be more successful in adulthood.

As an educator, I can easily see the benefits in teaching children to wait. “Do your homework first, then you can...” is a common mantra of every parent. One more lap… your body will thank you in the morning…don’t spoil your dinner…and so on. There are countless ways we encourage children and adults in the discipline of waiting.

Of course, in all this my mind drifts toward the spiritual side. Did God promise us two marshmallows if we’d wait on Him? In our humanness, it’s really hard to do – we want to nibble on the edges of the marshmallow, like some of the kids in the videos.

Father Abraham had trouble waiting for God’s promise. And we have a Middle East conflict

today that can be traced back to Abraham taking matters into his own hands. As a matter of fact, the children of Israel, as a nation, grew tired of waiting for God’s promises, and fell into great rebellion.

It’s so easy to grow weary of waiting, especially when there are trials in our life – the loss of a loved one, a sickness, stress at work, maybe the loss of a job, finances, stress in the home, a dream unrealized, etc…

Maybe that’s why there are so many scriptures that encourage us to wait for the Lord:

…those who wait upon the Lord will gain new strength…(Isaiah 40:31)

…wait for the Lord; Be strong and let your heart take courage…(Psalm 27:14)

…wait for the Lord; ….and He will exalt you to inherit the Land…(Psalm 37:34)

God’s two marshmallows? New strength, courage, abiding joy, and the Promised Land.