I am a firm believer in the power of sugar. I have watched sugar change a cranky three-year old into an accomplished musician who can perform classic pieces in front of an audience. I have watched sugar turn a defiant eight-year old into a studious mathematician. Most recently, I have watched sugar transform an attention-demanding special needs adult into an obedient student. What’s more interesting is that in all of the above cases, the sugar was not dispensed until after the result was achieved. If you guessed that sugar was used as a reward, you are absolutely right. I promised each of these students the reward after they completed the task I asked of them, they obeyed, and the reward was given. Sounds simple, right? Well, it was for most of the cases I’ve mentioned, except for the last.
When I was first offered the job of homeschooling my friend’s special needs daughter, I was reluctant. Being raised with a high standard of performance, I am often frustrated when others can’t seem to perform at the level I expect them to. In my mind, a thirty-two year old should think, perform, and behave like a thirty-two year old or older, not a six year old. When I took the job out of financial need, I found myself in a room with a tender-hearted woman whose demand for attention and approval was as loud as her neon pink shirt was bright. From stopping her work every five seconds (literally) to ask, “Did I do that right?” to repeatedly reminding her mother that “tonight is church and someone has to bring me” to whining and complaining nonstop when her mother refused to take her where she wanted to go, she was quickly becoming an instrument God was using to teach me patience. When every command I gave her to stop her whining and attention seeking behavior was ignored at best and rebelled against at worst, I decided to pull out my secret weapon. You guessed it, the sugar bribe. I pulled out a chart that her goals for the week written on. In addition to her regular goals such as cleaning her room and doing her homework, I added, “No whining.” I explained that if she completed all her goals for the week, I would take her out to ice cream on Friday. All of a sudden, the whining stopped. As long as she was thinking about spending one on one time with me eating her favorite treat, there was no desire to indulge in the repetitive behavior that never really got her what she wanted (except for negative attention). When she forgot about the ice cream treat, the whining would begin again.
This reminded me of an incident that happened about a year ago. A dear friend of mine had gotten robbed by a young man whom she and her family had loved for many years. He had sort of been “adopted” into their family and my friend and her husband treated him like their own son. Shortly after he began hanging out with the wrong crowd, he led a series of robberies in which his gang stole many valuables from my friend’s family while he was eating at her parent’s table. The saddest part of the story was that a member from my friend’s church had told her parents a few weeks before the incident that they wanted to pay for his college education because he came from a needy home situation. They hadn’t even gotten a chance to tell him about the offer before the incident, and when they shared the incident with me, I grieved at what this young man could have had had he not listened to the lies from the enemy spoken through the members of his gang.
Then I thought to my own life, and how often I buy into the lie that what the enemy is offering is better than what God has to offer. I have been bound by sinful addictions because even though I knew it was wrong, I believed that it would get me what I wanted just like my special needs student believed that if she whined enough, she would wear her parents out and they would give her what she wanted, or at least what she thought she wanted.
This weekend however, something drastically changed. God in his great mercy gave me a glimpse of what his plans are for me, and that excited (and terrified) me so greatly that every other idol I have been clinging to paled in comparison and even became detestable in the light of what God had in store for me.
I realized that this was the answer to any addiction that we find ourselves bound by. We can get reprimanded, punished, or shunned, but if you’re like me and your addiction has been your crutch for a long time, it doesn’t go away just because someone says “Stop it”. It takes a prize, a glorious, life-altering prize. A prize that only God can give because it is, like my pastor so lovingly told us this morning, none other than Jesus himself. When we are so captivated by the ultimate prize, we no longer desire anything that is not Him. When He is the only prize we want, we will never be disappointed because He who has promised to satisfy us with Himself has declared himself to be the truth. That is definitely one reward that I don’t want to miss!