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Saturday, August 17, 2013

Fine for Now, But What About Later?



by Charles Moncrief

If you drink this water, you will die. ~ Jack Sheffield, Under Healing Wings, p. 90 

Jack Sheffield is also a Priest, a leader in the Order of St. Luke (healing ministry), and a personal friend. The opening line above comes from a story he shares about a man whose car broke down while he was driving alone in the desert. Seeing a building in the distance and thinking it to be someone’s cabin, he walked toward it. By the time he arrived, he was about to die of thirst. The building was actually a shack with a water pump inside, exactly what he needed. Sitting on top of the pump was a can of water. As the man reached for the can, he saw a sign that read: 

DO NOT DRINK THE WATER IN THE CAN. THERE IS JUST ENOUGH WATER TO PRIME THE PUMP. IF YOU DRINK THIS WATER, YOU WILL DIE. IF YOU PRIME THE PUMP WITH THIS WATER, YOU WILL LIVE. 

What brought this story to mind is that six weeks ago I was in the hospital beginning treatments for pulmonary embolism. Yesterday morning I returned to the fitness center where I work, easing back into an exercise program. As I walked 2 miles per hour for ten minutes, it occurred to me that I could do quite a bit more. Then another thought came to me, something like this: “Of course you can, but which boss will find you asleep at your desk this afternoon?” (I did manage to stay awake after that wimpy treadmill action, but it was iffy.) 

Both Jack’s story and my personal experience served as object lessons to me on the tension between immediate and deferred gratification. Whether we satisfy our thirst once, or we get the rush of endorphins from a vigorous workout, the immediate satisfaction comes with a price later. With one comes death from thirst as we search in vain for the next water source, and with the other comes a reprimand (in this economy!) for sleeping on the job later. 

The idea of deferring a small immediate or near-term satisfaction in favor of greater rewards later is not new. 

Here are some examples:

  • A wise parent refuses to let the child have a tasty afternoon snack, because there’s a delicious dessert following dinner. 
  • A wise coach refuses to allow the football players to go out celebrating the night before a bowl game, because the victory may otherwise go to the opponent. 
  • A wise farmer never eats the seed corn, because next year’s harvest depends on planting the corn rather than consuming it. 
  • A wise consumer counts the cost of financing that new car and weighs the advantages of accumulating the money to pay cash rather than being stressed out with monthly payents for several years. 

Since I'm a Priest, I'll throw in a couple of examples from my industry. 

A man and woman who abstain from having sex until their wedding night have deferred the immediate satisfaction of their wants (no, not their needs!) in favor of increasing their chances of a more fulfilling sex life in the marriage bed. Granted, many other factors come into play here, and I recommend taking advantage of all resources that support a fulfilling marriage. I'm making no apologies, however, for advocating chastity. Especially in a forum such as this one; a number of submissions by other writers have submitted pieces in which sex outside of marriage played a significant part in the injuries and deaths of abused partners. 

Of course, if I were preaching a sermon on the topic, or doing Christian premarital counseling, it’s a no-brainer to speak of offending God by committing adultery; chasing the immediate sexual satisfaction may be symptomatic of a life heading toward eternal consequence. 

In my preaching I have occasionally admitted that there’s no way to be all-inclusive about any subject, and this is no exception. In such cases I've invited my listeners to consider the topics I couldn’t cover for lack of time. Here, I'd like to encourage you to make your own list of examples that depict the advantage of trading immediate for deferred gratification. Your examples will be far superior to mine, as they will be more personal to your life. 

Before closing, I want us to return to the pump shack. 

When Jack shared the story about priming the pump, he addressed it to a specific audience for a particular purpose. (The book’s title gives a hint as to that purpose!) But I, too, am writing to a specific audience for a particular purpose: that of considering who must tread the same path you have. 

If you have experienced any kind of abuse, you may breathe a sigh of relief when the beating ends. But unless you take action to put an end to the abuse, the long-range consequence is that the abuser returns. Or the abuser, enabled and empowered by not being held accountable, abuses others with greater relish and increasing success. This can be a misbehaving spouse, a misbehaving police officer, a misbehaving judge, a misbehaving TSA searcher, or a person lurking in the park to assault an unsuspecting jogger. 

If you’ve ever been on the receiving end of abuse, pressing for accountability has the potential for far-reaching benefits to those who come down the same road you’ve traveled. So after you’ve primed the pump and taken care of your thirst, please pull the pump handle one last time and refill that can before you leave. 

Grace and Peace, 
Charles+

Anglican Priest, Charles Moncrief, serves up the issues of the day on a platter mixed with scripture, seriousness, and a sense of humor to create a ministry founded in love for his fellow man.

“I’m an Anglican Priest, disguised as a geek during the week. It’s REALLY tough to change my costume, since phone booths are getting hard to find!”
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