From that time Jesus began to show to His disciples that he must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priest and scribes and be killed and be raised on the third day. Then Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, saying, “Far be it from You, Lord; this shall not happen to You!” But He turned and said to Peter, “Get behind Me, Satan! You are an offense to Me, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men.”
“Do you want your reward now, or in heaven?” “In heaven, of course,” Gleb would reply. “But, can’t I have a little of it now?” At this Eugene would only shake his head, “It’s now or then. Take your pick.”
Father Seraphim Rose: His Life and Works, pg. 383
On my morning and evening walks at York River State Park, I like to park my car near the Contact Station and take Backbone Trail into the woods away from the river. Then, I loop back to the Visitor Center by hiking the Beaver and Woodstock Pond Trails. I begin my journey going down and up a small ravine with a small stream. But when I turn the corner just past the Mattaponi Trail head down the hill, I am greeted with a broad piece of York River shoreline as I make the final stretch to my desk. West Point’s paper mill and Eltham Bridge can be seen upstream. In the other direction is the Gloucester County bank with historic Wererrocomico, Almondsville, and Capahosic. My favorite waterfowl, canvasback ducks, are in season. So, I’m really loving the rewarding view.
Treating myself to this broad vista is an inspiring way to start and end the workday at the park. But before the treat, I tread a narrow trail with a mere trickle that disappears and comes back into view among a canopy of hardwoods that block the sun. Nothing blocks the sky and waters at the end of my journey.
Being God, Our Lord could have come into the world as a full grown man with total dominance over us all. He could have immediately imposed the kingdom of heaven on us all without breaking one bead of sweat, much less a drop of His own blood. But for our salvation, Jesus showed solidarity with mankind by coming into the world in the same way we did and receiving total glory by His death, burial and resurrection. While humanly preferring an easier and painless route, He committed himself to obedience to the Father (1). Because of this, Jesus was given the name above every name (2).
The delayed gratification of Jesus is a stark contrast to that of Adam and Eve. Despite having all that they wanted in Eden, the serpent tempted them into believing they could be like God without obedience and patience. By taking the easy way of enlightenment apart from the source of all things, they found themselves vulnerable and fearful of being exposed to God and each other (3).
We still have not quite learned from the failure of our ancient parents. In the 1960’s, many of the counter-culture tried using LSD and other drugs to open their minds the greater perception. Our consumer culture encourages us to spend money we don’t have on items that will make our lives better. Sadly, even among Christians there is a strange idea that we can gain blessings and good feelings from God without any effort. It is true that we did not and cannot earn salvation. However, Jesus clearly declares the price to pay in claiming His name: “If anyone desires to come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” (4) Unless we are willing to delay gratifying ourselves in life, we cannot know the grace that He provides.
Does this mean we sell all that we have and become monks and nuns? God may be calling more of us to monasticism than we realize. But, not all of us are called to be such spiritual athletes. The NFL has its great quarterbacks. No one needs to be in a stadium to throw a football to a friend. What is necessary is to take the time to do it, grip the ball correctly, aim as you throw, and make adjustments as you get it right.
In developing the virtue of delayed gratification we can start by saving something we really want until later. In time, we may put off enjoying whatever it is a little longer. We may put off enjoying something else we want in the same manner. This is why we Orthodox Christians fast most Wednesdays and Fridays throughout the year and during special seasons such as the Nativity and Great Lent. When we enjoy special meals, in particular Christmas and Easter (the feast of the Nativity and Pascha), we do so with very grateful hearts knowing the significance of what we have arrived to. My parents, both Baptist Deacons, make it a habit not to purchase anything special they want for themselves from Thanksgiving to Christmas Day as this is the season to give to others. From such practices in and outside of our Christian traditions, we can add another means or two of self-denial. Always seek guidance from the Holy Spirit and advice from a wise spiritual father or mother.
- Philippians 2:8
- Philippians 2:9
- Genesis 3:1-10
- Matthew 16:24