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    Alltop, all the cool kids (and me)

How Counterfeit Freedom Is Keeping You Bound (and what marshmallows have to do with it)

marshmallowThe other day my sister, Alice, called about a friend’s impulsive decision and its destructive consequences to his life and those around him – to which I responded, “I bet he ate the marshmallow.”

Let’s rewind to a week earlier: Alice, who’s a chaplain, told me about a scientific experiment involving young children and marshmallows. Each child in the study was given a single marshmallow and told by the researcher: “I’m going to leave the room for a moment. If you can wait until I come back to eat that marshmallow, I’ll give you more. If you can’t wait and eat that while I’m gone, I won’t give you any more.” (I’m paraphrasing here, but you get the idea.)

As expected, some children couldn’t wait and gobbled up their marshmallow. Others waited and were rewarded with additional marshmallows. Years later, researchers tracked those children, now adults. They found that, in general, those who’d waited to eat their marshmallow now led more fulfilling and successful lives. Those who couldn’t wait and gave into their impulses now struggled with major life issues.

The differentiator was self control and, thus, the ability to delay gratification for a larger payoff. (Hence my comment implying our friend would have eaten the marshmallow as a child.)

Coincidentally, today I responded to a reporter’s inquiry for a story related to this study published by the New York Times, which indicates religious people have better self control. (Said reporter wanted to hear from church-going women whether this is true and why.)

First, I clarified that church attendance by itself doesn’t make you godly or a living example of any virtue any more than sitting in a garage makes you a car. As we discussed in the previous post, it takes a personal life commitment and relationship with God.

Then I added that the rules and guidelines presented in the Scriptures aren’t there to bind us — on the contrary: They exist to set us free from destructive behavior and other crud that would land is in deep trouble. It’s like the painted lines on a highway or the tracks that allow a train to speedily reach its destination: At first glance they seem restrictive, but remove them and you’ll have an ugly wreck.

In a related post, Doug Britton wrote, “an infant may be tempted to enjoy the ‘freedom’ of drinking from a bottle of bleach or running into [traffic] but this freedom would bring death. Likewise, ‘freedom’ from God may look attractive, but the end result is unhappiness.”

Perhaps what makes church folks better at self control is the understanding that, far from hindering personal freedom, self-control is a vital ingredient for a thriving, free life.

What expressions of so-called “freedom” in your life are actually keeping you bound? What “marshmallows” are robbing you of an abundant life or a successful career?

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18 Responses

  1. What a timely message for me! I recently wrote how this year, my theme (not doing resolutions, but you can read more on that at my blog) is discipline. I think this will probably confuse a lot of people, because I’ve been writing so much about letting go and claiming more creative freedom in my life. But to me, that discipline is about freedom – because of exactly what you write here.

    So as for your question about freedom that keeps you bound, one thing that I think is a great illustration is the web itself, especially, information. I’ve always been a reader, engager, learner. So the web is like so much candy to me. I easily get buried in information and technologies and tools – so enamored of all the freedom I have to explore and prod and learn.

    But that freedom often binds me, my time, my focus, my mind. It’s not just the web that can do that, but I like the metaphor of it. Our passions can consume us, if we let them. Or, we can choose a disciplined approach and let them enhance our lives instead. It’s all in the application.

  2. Tiffany — thanks for your comment! I completely relate to viewing the web as a candy store. (My newest addiction are podcasts.) I’ve noticed that I often use my thirst for knowledge and more research as an excuse not to get things done, and I’m trying to balance that.

  3. I like the marshmallow analogy because it’s so applicable. Self-control is so essential to success in a myriad of different areas. Whether it’s health and diet, religion, finances, or dealing with difficult people, you can always benefit from a little more self-control.

    Self control is hugely important to success and even happiness. Doing a little thinking about the freedoms we indulge in can save us a of of trouble.

  4. Michael – thanks for the feedback; have a great 2009!

  5. I feel that I have found another Kindred soul. I particularly enjoyed the garage analogy. Without renewing of the mind, church is just another activity. Unfortunately too few of our churches teach sound doctrine because it has to be endured. Hard to be transformed if you never hear that you need salvation.

  6. Digital Publius – You’re absolutely right. I’m thrilled you found this blog and enjoyed the post. Keep in touch!

  7. Thanks for an intelligent and interesting post. This is so hard to instill this in our kids (I have two teenagers) in the midst of an instant-gratification technology society. It takes a lot of work, but it’s worth it.

    Oh, heck the truth is I just send them to boarding school and let somebody else deal with them.
    (kidding!)

  8. @shrinkingthecamel – Thanks, dude!

  9. hey, andrea. i’m hoping to feature this over at high calling blogs.

    stay tuned.
    sam

  10. Cool! Thanks for stopping by and have a great week.

  11. Andrea, this is so fantastic. I love your metaphors. Sitting in a garage won’t make you turn into a car. Removing the lines on the road will just lead to more wrecks.

  12. […] out Andrea’s post . She includes some fantastic metaphors. Then (if you’re willing to put yourself out there) […]

  13. @Marcus – Thanks for the encouragement and the link on HighCallingBlogs.com! It means a lot coming from you.

  14. […] How Counterfeit Freedom Is Keeping You Bound (and what marshmallows have to do with it) http://espre… Speaking of highly commented posts, Sam Van Eman pointed us to a provocative post by Andrea Emerson […]

  15. […] unfortunate inclination to treat God as a spiritual Santa Claus, using prayer as a substitute for obedience, as A.W. Tozer explained: Have you noticed how much praying for revival has been going on of late […]

  16. […] project management stems from good self management. One common trait successful people share is the discipline to do the right thing even when it hurts. They understand that significant fruitfulness can’t […]

  17. […] project management stems from good self management. One common trait successful people share is the discipline to do the right thing even when it hurts. They understand that significant fruitfulness can’t […]

  18. […] out Andrea’s post . She includes some fantastic metaphors. Then (if you’re willing to put yourself out there) […]

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