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“But the Fruit of the Spirit Is . . . Patience”

The Sabbath School Quarterly lesson for this week comments on the December 8 Saturday introductory commentary:

Scientists did an experiment with four-year-old children and marshmallows. Each child was told by a scientist that they could have a marshmallow; however, if the child waited until the scientist returned from an errand, they would be given two. Some of the children stuffed the marshmallow into their mouths the moment the scientist left; others waited. The differences were noted.

The scientists then kept track of these children into their teenage years. The ones who had waited turned out to be better adjusted, better students, and more confident than those who didn’t. It seemed that patience was indicative of something greater, something important in the human character. No wonder, then, we’re told to cultivate it by the Lord.

It may be that I never liked marshmallows; the fact is I hate them. They are balls of sugar along with (in my view) disgusting gelatin (the stuff made of animal bone marrow). It may be the fact that I think simplistic arguments are simply too reductionist, but I confess to find whimsical “prediction” of someone’s life based on one’s eagerness to eat two marshmallows instead of one. Could it be, then, that the take home message is that those who like more sugar and gelatin (that is, marshmallows) will be better off in life?

On the Web site of the researcher who carried out this “marshmallow study,” Walter Mischel, Niven Professor of Humane Letters in Psychology, we read:

One of our long-term longitudinal studies examines the ways in which the ability to delay gratification, assessed in our laboratory situations in early childhood, predicts a variety of consequential developmental outcomes in the life course and serves as a protective factor against chronic vulnerabilities such as rejection sensitivity.

The “marshmallow study” is well described in a succinct way at a Time magazine article, “The EQ Factor,” published on the Web. It reads:

It turns out that a scientist can see the future by watching four-year-olds interact with a marshmallow. The researcher invites the children, one by one, into a plain room and begins the gentle torment. You can have this marshmallow right now, he says. But if you wait while I run an errand, you can have two marshmallows when I get back. And then he leaves.

Some children grab for the treat the minute he’s out the door. Some last a few minutes before they give in. But others are determined to wait. They cover their eyes; they put their heads down; they sing to themselves; they try to play games or even fall asleep. When the researcher returns, he gives these children their hard-earned marshmallows. And then, science waits for them to grow up.

By the time the children reach high school, something remarkable has happened. A survey of the children’s parents and teachers found that those who as four-year-olds had the fortitude to hold out for the second marshmallow generally grew up to be better adjusted, more popular, adventurous, confident and dependable teenagers. The children who gave in to temptation early on were more likely to be lonely, easily frustrated and stubborn. They buckled under stress and shied away from challenges. And when some of the students in the two groups took the Scholastic Aptitude Test, the kids who had held out longer scored an average of 210 points higher.

According to Walters, craving a second ball of sugar and gelatin gives you the ability to go farther in life. The enticing element is that statistical analysis seems to point in that direction. SAT scores cannot lie! I believe the author of Galatians 5:22 had something quite different in mind to delay gratification. Delay gratification involves a very complex trait, a trait that is active and engaging with its environment.

Of all the occasions the Greek word makroqumiða is used in the New testament (see, translated as “patience” in Galatians 5:22 (NIV), two are used by Peter, once in each of his epistles.

[W]ho disobeyed long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water. (1 Pet. 3:20 NIV)

and 2 Peter 3:15 (NIV)

Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him. (2 Pet. 3:15 NIV)

These two times the word is used to describe an attribute of God-not of man-God is said to be patient because he wants salvation for all humans. Is God delaying gratification and hoping for two marshmallows instead of one? Literally, YES, God’s “patience means salvation,” says Peter. God is seeking the salvation of more, versus the salvation of fewer; therefore God is patient (makroqumiða).

Patience means for God to wait, just like the kindergartners of the Stanford 1960s study, God waits for more. God’s EQ allows him to hold on and wait. But the truth of the matter is that for those of us who are waiting along with God we see his patience as formidable and incomprehensible. Why wait more? The more we wait, the more suffering people go through, but for God, according to Peter, the more we wait the more people will accept salvation and be saved (see 2 Pet. 3:8-9, NIV):

But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient (makroqumeÑw see with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

We are called to be patient like God, patient with those who are lost, not discarding those who have less patience as inferior or less emotionally (EQ) developed.

Instead of reading about marshmallows and promoting self-indulgence via delayed gratification, we need to promote self-negation and seeking out the salvation of those who are lost, seeking those who may fail the marshmallow test! Galatians 5:22 is not about how to succeed in life, it is about how to develop the traits that will allow us to see sinners like God sees sinners; as opportunities in the making! That is why I hate marshmallows and love patience with those who are lost, those who may as well fail the marshmallow test. (Probably I would have failed the test because I would have said, “who cares for marshmallows anyway.”)

I invite you to fail the marshmallow test and seek to make it in the “patient-like-God-test” seeking the salvation of all, waiting on people to see them accept the salvation freely granted and offered to all!

Johnny Ramirez-Johnson is professor of religion, psychology, and culture in the School of Religion, Loma Linda University.

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