Greatest Predictor of Success: Science and the Bible Agree

You might be surprised to know that God and science agree on the key to success. Read more to find out how you can be successful in this life and the next.

Ever wonder just what might be the greatest predictor of success? And when I say success, I mean the whole enchilada – happiness, financial security, relationships – everything. Well, Science has found the answer.

Go ahead and guess.

prosperityRich parents?


Hard work?

Good Looks?

None of the above. It turns out the greatest predictor of success in this life is….

The Ability to Delay Gratification.

That’s right. And it’s been tested. Several times.

In a recent Stossel in the Classroom segment, John Stossel talked about a study done with marshmallows that demonstrated the value of self-denial. There’s a TED talk about it too.

Apparently, for the study, originally done in the 60s, social scientists took four-year-old children and placed them each in a room. The moderator would say, “I have a marshmallow for you. You may eat it right now. OR, if you can wait until I return in 15 minutes, I will give you a SECOND marshmallow. In the original study and in every reproduction to date, only one third of the kids were able to avoid eating their marshmallow. (Videos on the TED Talk of kids trying to wait are priceless).

Researchers followed up on the kids. 15 years later, 100% of those children that had not eaten the marshmallow were successful. According to Stossel, the kids who did not eat their marshmallow within the 15 minute time period scored an average of 213 points higher on their SATs. They were happier and healthier. Years later, “they make more money, they are happier, they have better relationships, and they are less likely to get into trouble” than those kids who had not been able to resist the treat.

Research showed that kids who did eat the marshmallow were more likely to struggle in life. On average, they had more relationship troubles, didn’t do as well financially and tended to be more unhappy.

The truth is, as much as the ME-culture of instant gratification and self-indulgence would like us to believe that it is guiding us to the greener pastures of personal fulfillment and joy, no one is brought to greater happiness through self-indulgence. Like sin, the ME-culture sucks us into a cavern of darkness which leads us deeper and deeper into the blackness until we are so lost we cannot find the light.

For those of you who were doubtful, it turns out – according to the omnipotent and all-knowing halls of science –

Self-Denial is Good for Us.

Self-denial is not  – contrary to popular belief – about shackling ourselves to an earthly life of misery and unhappiness. It doesn’t mean torturing ourselves to lead lives of drudgery and self-imposed sacrifice.

Maybe self-denial – even in this world – is about opening doors and widening our options. Because apparently, self-denial begets success. Self-denial begets happiness.

Which brings us to our Faith.

What is the great command of discipleship – as symbolized by the very Cross upon which our Salvation hung?

From the mouth of Christ,

If any man would come after me, let him DENY HIMSELF and take up his cross and follow me.” (emphasis mine) (Matthew 16:24) (Mark 8:34) (Luke 9:23)

In the words of Saint Paul,

I appeal to you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. (Romans 12:1)

We are called to deny ourselves in this world, that we might enjoy eternal happiness in the next. What is that denial but the ultimate in delayed gratification?

Most interesting about this scientific finding is that in virtually all circles, we hear that this world and the next do not value the same things. Either you can live for this world, or you can live for heaven. But you cannot do both. In Scripture, we are warned about the temptations of this world. But while there is a culture out there promoting the opposite of self-denial — self-indulgence, instant gratification, gluttony — that culture is contrary to the truth that is engraved on the heart of every one of us. How could the laws of this world ever truly contradict the laws of Him Who made this world?

They couldn’t. Happiness in this world and happiness in the next must be consistent. Because happiness can only be found in Good.

So the next time you hear the above verses, don’t moan and complain as you drag that cross along behind you or slump sulkily up onto that altar. Remember that when you wail about self-denial you are as amusing to God as a small child at nap time who denies with his whole being that sleep is good for his peace and contentment.

Your happiness in the next world is contingent upon your denying yourself in love. For God. But here’s the amazing thing. Your goal is not merely greater financial gain. But research shows that you’ll probably have it. Your goal is not merely better relationships. But research demonstrates that you’ll probably have them. Your goal is not ultimately happiness in this world. But the science shows that you’ll probably have it.

I know what you are thinking. As Christians, we know there is no guarantee that if we deny ourselves we will reap worldly rewards. True. But could it be that we have been so frustrated by the wrong-spiritedness of the “Prosperity” Gospel (Just have faith and you can have whatever you want) that we make following Christ out to be just the opposite? A joyless duty? Could it be that in effort to avoid the silliness of the that false teaching, we’ve pushed back too far?

Apparently, it just isn’t true that you must be miserable here in order to be happy in eternal life. Apparently, if you live for God in this life, you need not wait for eternity. You will most likely enjoy greater success and happiness here on earth as well.

Bottom line, on this subject Science and God are preaching the same message:

Self-Denial will reap great rewards.

Pick up your cross. You’ll be glad you did – maybe sooner than you think.

When Your Family Doesn’t Measure Up

Sometimes I wonder whether God laughs or cries as He watches us taking notes on other families. Does He roll His eyes as He watches us hold onto every off-handed remark that offers any clue about their daily routine, and then shake His head as we rush home to regroup?

Do you spend an inordinate amount of time looking around at other families and trying desperately to figure out how they do it? Do you openly admire your friends, while secretly sad familytrying to get a handle on that green-eyed monster that lurks just below the surface?

Are you beside yourself as you try to figure out how it is that other families bear each other’s burdens and have each other’s backs while your kids bicker over the meaning of the word of and would gouge each other’s eyes out rather than build each other up? Does the love and respect other kids show their parents have you in tears as you think about your sassy high schooler with the Jeckyll/Hyde personality?  Are you bewildered by the fact that your friends’ children always seem to choose the right path while yours aren’t even on a path?

Sometimes I wonder whether God laughs or cries as He watches us taking notes on other families. Does He roll His eyes as we hold onto every off-handed remark that offers any clue about their daily routine, and then shake His head when we rush home to regroup?

What a great family – What do they do that we don’t do? Ooh – they attend daily Mass. Better add that to our schedule – Check! This family prays the rosary as a family every day – ooh – gotta figure out whether that’s a decade or the whole rosary. Whole rosary – OK! Better add that too – Check! And this other family reads the Bible together every night. (Are there enough hours in a night?) Well, if it will help our family to be more holy, I’m all in – Check! That family is amazing – a seminarian in the family- they have no cell phones and no television. Oooh. Check? Nope – this other family is great too – seminarian and a couple of national merit scholars – and they have both cell phones and television. Good deal! Check!

Sadly, you could emulate every single activity of every family to whom you look for wisdom and insight regarding that amorphous concept of holiness, without ever being able to secure the same results. In fact, you are more likely to wreak greater havoc in your own home by trying to follow the routines of this family or that family, rather than discerning exactly what it is that God asks of your family.

God loves you.

And He loves your children.

He loves your children so much that He loaned them to you – not to that family over there. He placed your children in your care because He knew that you would be the best parent to help your individual children make their way through this life equipped to spend forever with Him in the next. He has great faith in your ability to turn to Him as your guide, and He trusts that by His grace, you are more than capable of preparing your children for the Kingdom of Heaven.

Your children do not need the perfect routine. More than anything, they need you. They need your love. They need your patience. And they need you to live your Faith in a way that best reflects the light of Christ.

Sure there will be tension in the family. Sure there will be difficulties.  Just as there are difficulties in each individual human soul. But just as your relationship with God is unique to you, the relationship between God and your family will be unique as well. So don’t look around to see what your neighbors are doing. While it seems like a great idea to seek guidance and example, more often than not it leads to depression and a sense of failure.

How Faith manifests itself in our families will be unique to each and every family, depending on an infinite number of particularities. More than anything else, the soul of the family must be animated by God. Just as He must be at the center of each individual’s  life, He must also reign at the core of the family.

Recently, I found a great book about family life, published in 1921. Believe it or not, although it was nearly a century ago, at their core, families back then faced problems not so foreign to the ones we face today. The author offers great insight:

In the home where God is rightly honored, it is realized that children cannot honor God without honoring their parents, and parents will understand that they cannot honor God without respecting each other and living mainly for the children. It is easy to see that with such a spirit animating children and parents, the family circle will truly be “Home, Sweet Home.” 

The most beautiful families, like the most beautiful individuals, are too busy living their Faith to look around and measure themselves against their neighbors. They are busy measuring themselves against the only measuring stick there is – Christ Himself. And to the extent that they don’t measure up, they ask for His grace to help them improve:

Of course, every family will have its misunderstandings and annoyances. That is life. There is no escape from it. But the home wherein God is supreme will be able to meet these vicissitudes in a way that will make them a blessing. Some of the homes that I have known were those where affliction had abounded; for the peace and comfort which God knows how to bestow on His own, also abounded there. If you would save the home, therefore, and have it the dearest place on earth, begin by putting it on the foundation of Faith. If after you have done this, the home is not what it should be, it will be exceptional. (emphasis mine)

And for those of us that worry about friction in the home,

We must not forget that we have not here a lasting city, but that we seek one which is to come. A certain worldly man has said that our home is our heaven. Our home may be very dear to us, but the best home will have many annoyances and afflictions to remind us that our true home is not here, but hereafter. – You and Yours: Practical Talks on Home Life, by Martin Jerome Scott, cir. 1921, p. 8-9



Mother Angelica and the Power of Old Age

If you ever wanted to illustrate the beauty and gift of suffering for a friend or family member – or even witness it for yourself in living color – I highly recommend this book. Written in a casual voice that is easy and enjoyable, Arroyo hits home when it comes to relaying, through Mother’s experiences, our close connection with the spiritual world.

On the eve of the Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus (that would be last night), I finished reading Raymond Arroyo’s Mother Angelica:Her Grand Silence, his final chapter sacred heart paintingon the last years of Mother Angelica‘s amazing life. I could have read no better book as a “novena” of sorts leading up to the day of one of my favorite feasts.

Particularly for those who do not “get” the concept of redemptive suffering, this book illustrates the beauty and value of suffering and sacrifice in Mother Angelica’s straightforward and no frills way.

Mother’s story is compelling in its simplicity. The words do not merely relay church teaching, but rather provide an intimate recording of the profound and powerful nature of sacrifice made in the August of life.

Mother Angelica’s personal story will resonate with another mother very close to my heart. My own. She has had some medical issues lately. Nothing life-threatening. But we have been talking a little more about end-of-life-stuff. Of course, there has been a recurring theme throughout our conversations, and she wouldn’t mind if I shared it with you:

My mother does not want to suffer.

Of course, I don’t want to suffer either. And – I’m willing to bet – neither do you. So what’s the big deal, you ask?

Well, my mother has the attitude that she would not want to live if she couldn’t take care of herself (not an uncommon sentiment these days). Extremely independent, she would consider it the worst of all fates if her children or a caregiver had to care for her in her later years. Or if she couldn’t walk or drive or see (she has macular degeneration) or worse.

But Arroyo illustrates, through Mother Angelica’s example, the spiritual power that one can have, particularly because of her physical weakness:

Mother was – spiritually speaking – stronger than iron, and yet she couldn’t stand or feed herself during the last few years of her life. Her final bittersweet act was in some ways a conscious oblation of self. In 2000, following a near-death experience, she shared with me a prayer she had been offering to God: “Lord, I want you to use me in any way you want. I don’t care what it is. Just don’t let me see the fruit.”

For the most part, she wouldn’t see the fruit. But having always considered redemptive suffering a gift, she embraced this last drawn-out trial as she had all those that preceded it. “Whether I am suffering in a physical, mental, or spiritual manner, I resemble Jesus at those moments – and the Father looks at us in our pain and He sees His son in the most beautiful way. That’s what makes you holy. Don’t rebel,” Mother taught. “Our pain only has meaning when we unite it, out of love, to the suffering of Christ. -p. 219

For some people – my mother, for instance – stuffy language and beautiful doctrine crash like a clanging cymbal on deaf ears. But you’ll find none of that here. Only a little lady who, through great faith and hope, united herself completely to the cross of Christ, and took whatever He offered with great grace and humility.

If there’s anyone who could show my mother the value of suffering and the sheer beauty of uniting one’s cross to Christ’s, it’s Mother Angelica. Rather than pour on the schmaltz, Mother told it like it is:

“One of the lessons I’ve learned is that suffering and old age are most precious. You know why? Because at that point in our lives we’re powerful.” p. 185

Arroyo extrapolates:

Mother meant that the elderly and infirm enjoy long hours with God alone, hours to pray and intercede for others. It is a mysterious power, but it is a power nonetheless. Just as their bodies weaken, their spirits are emboldened. As death draws near, fears diminish. So does interest in the material world.

If you ever wanted to illustrate the beauty and gift of suffering for a friend or family member – or even witness it for yourself in living color – I highly recommend this book. Written in a casual voice that is easy and enjoyable, Arroyo hits home when it comes to relaying, through Mother’s experiences, our close connection with the spiritual world.

As it happens, this morning while getting ready, I decided for the first time ever to pull up a YouTube video of an old Mother Angelica Live Classics show  – this after reading several letters people have written about her impact on their lives, even in her later years when they found re-runs of this nun speaking in her animated and joyful way. Sadly, I’d never watched Mother Angelica when her show was on live. But that will change now that I’ve found the “Classics.”

Surprisingly, I found a video on the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Mother mentions in the video His words to St. Gertrude:

“Whenever you willingly offer yourselves to me, you truly glorify me.”

If anyone ever truly glorified Our Lord, it was Mother Angelica, through her complete offering of self – particularly in the last years of her life. This paradox of power and strength resonating in humility and weakness will convince even the most stubborn skeptic that suffering, when offered in love, can have great merit.

I thought you might enjoy her talk about the Sacred Heart on this special day:

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