As I’ve mentioned before, my wife is a psychology professor at UCO.And one of the advantages of having your own live-in psychologist is that you get to hear interesting stories about various kinds of experiments that have been done over the years.
And one of my favorites that she’s told me about is the marshmallow test. The original marshmallow test was done about 40 years ago, but it’s been repeated many times since. In fact, if you go to Youtube and type in “Marshmallow Test”, you can actually watch the test in action.
The test itself is pretty simple. Researchers will bring in 4 year olds one at a time and seat them at a table in a plain room. And then they put a single marshmallow on the table in front of the child and the researcher makes some excuse for leaving the room.
But before they go, they tell the child, “You can eat this marshmallow now, or if you can till I get back you can have two marshmallows.” And then they leave.
As soon as they’re gone, the researchers monitor the kids through a closed circuit camera. And what they find is that some kids grab the marshmallow right away, while others will hold out for a few minutes before giving in.
But then there are some who are determined to wait. The promise of two marshmallows is just too good! And so they do whatever it takes to hold out. Some will cover their eyes. Others put their heads down. Some will sing or distract themselves with a game. And a few even went to sleep.
The point is, they did whatever it took to keep from eating that marshmallow, because they knew that if they waited they’d get two!
And if you do go on Youtube to watch it you’ll get a good laugh at watching what these kids do to avoid eating the marshmallow.
Now the point of the original marshmallow test was to determine whether or not the patterns that are instilled in us when we’re young affect the way we’ll behave later on in life. And so after the original experiment was done, the scientists waited 10 or 12 years for the kids to grow up and then went back to interview them while they were in high school.
And what the researchers discovered was pretty remarkable. Almost uniformly, the kids who’d waited for the marshmallow tended to be better adjusted, more popular, more adventurous, more confident, and overall more dependable teenagers.
While, on the other hand, the kids who’d given in to temptation and eaten the marshmallow tended to be lonelier, more stubborn, and more easily frustrated. The researchers found that they kids didn’t handle stress as well as the ones who’d waited, and so they tended to shy away from challenges.
Perhaps you’ve already figured out where I’m going with this in relation to our gospel lesson this morning. Because in a lot of ways, Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness was his marshmallow test. It happened at the very beginning of his ministry, and so we can use it to gauge how he’ll do later in life.
The Holy Spirit had led him into the wilderness to fast and the devil came and tempted him to break the fast.
Obviously Jesus waited for the marshmallow, and so based on the research we can be pretty certain that later in life Jesus will be more confident, more dependable, better able to handle stress, and more willing to take risks than someone who’d given into the temptation.
And if we fast-forward to the Garden of Gethsemane and the cross, we can see that Jesus proves to be all those things.
When he comes face to face with the cross, he didn’t shy away. When the salvation of the whole world depended on him, Jesus showed that he was dependable. He could handle the stress, and he was willing to take the risk. He didn’t take the easy way out. Instead he prayed, “Not my will, Father, but yours be done.”
And so we come to you and me. And I want to suggest to you that at one level our Lenten journey is our marshmallow test. It’s a controlled experiment; 40 days of fasting. Can we hold out till Easter?
Can we live without our coffee, or desserts, or television, or whatever it is we’ve decided to give up? Do we have the kind of spiritual discipline it takes to resist temptation when it matters most? Will we prove to be confident and dependable when the rubber hits the road?
I can only speak for myself, but that’s something I’m hoping to grow in this Lent. I’m praying for the Holy Spirit to give me the patience and discipline I need to keep the fast.
Of course, if I fail, or if you fail in your fast, it doesn’t mean we’re bad people or doomed to hell. With Christ, grace abounds. He’ll always be there to lift us up, dust us off, and start us on our way again.
But he’s also here to lean on before we give into temptation. Before we eat the marshmallow.
Unlike the kids in the experiment, we’re not in the room alone. We have Christ. We have his Holy Spirit to strengthen us. And we have his Word and his Sacrament here this morning to sustain us.