“Be patient, therefore, beloved, until the coming of the Lord.” James 5:7
You may remember that my December 12th devotional referred to the old joke of an impatient person who prays, “Dear Lord, give me patience . . . right now! Amen.” That bit of humor comes from James W. Moore who wrote the book “Lord Give Me Patience, and Give It to Me Right Now!” (2010 Abington Press). In his book, Moore discusses the change that has taken place in our lives and culture as we move ever deeper into an age of immediate results and instant gratification. Moore’s commentary reminds me of my early studies in psychology around delayed gratification in children. In the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, Stanford University professor Walter Mischel (Journal of Personality and Social Psychology) published a study in which he placed a chocolate chip cookie before young children and then told them he had to leave the room for a few minutes. They were told they could eat the cookie before he got back, but if they waited until he returned, he would give them a second cookie and they could eat two instead of one. Follow up studies years later found that children able to delay gratification had better life outcomes measured in part by higher SAT scores, higher educational attainment, and even better body mass index. The most successful at delaying gratification did so by focusing their minds on other things they enjoyed like interesting images in the room or thoughts of salty pretzels rather than the tasty, sweet cookies.
That knowledge of how God has hard wired us humans helps me when I struggle with my impatience around what seems like a humongous delay in “the coming of the Lord.” Theologically, I understand the coming of the Lord to be the hope in every Christian heart that one day we will experience the promise of the Lord coming among us to usher in the kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven. I cherish this ultimate hope that one day this world of too much hatred and wounding will cease, and we will live in a world of wholeness and peace. But, what do we do in the meantime? Delayed gratification may just give us some guidance.
Perhaps since “…no one knows when that day or hour will come…” Mark 13:32, we should take a hint from the kids in the delayed gratification experiment and put our mind on other things we hold dear or hope for. I love guiding young people into their own experience of the Holy Spirit and the mystery of faith. I love empowering clergy and laity called to serve to be in mission and ministry. I love to gather in worship and share the story of the love and hope Christ has set in motion in this world. Filling my mind and my life with these wonderful things helps me find “Patience…until the coming of the Lord.” (James 5:7) But, the joyful anticipation that I claim now in Advent is my deep belief that the gratification of the Lord’s coming, and the people of the world living in peace as we should, is only in delay, not default.
Prayer: Lord, may I keep my mind on the good I can do now until the day of your surprising return. Amen.
Rev. John Farley
South District Superintendent
Dean of Cabinet