I’m not a big fan of self-help books. It’s not that they don’t contain any wisdom or truth. It’s just that I prefer – perhaps even need – more human interaction. But let’s be honest, a book is far cheaper than a life-coach, therapist or weekly lunch with a good friend. And self-help books remind us that we ourselves play a significant role in finding the answers to many of our challenges. The books often do this through a combination of straight-talk, tough love and encouragement.

Like this one:

Life is difficult.”

These are the opening words to M. Scott Peck’s famous book, The Road Less Traveled. Originally published in 1978, The Road Less Traveled continues to be a self-help classic.

In this opening line, Peck tells a simple truth that no one with a depressive condition forgets. Even people who don’t live with a depressive condition know that life is difficult. But, Peck says, many people spend a lot of energy complaining about, denying or avoiding the fact that life is difficult. Once we accept this axiom, life is no longer difficult.

Peck offers several approaches to managing the complexities of life. His discussion of “delayed gratification” has always grabbed my attention.

Most people call this concept “sacrificing present comfort for future gain.”

Peck describes it as a “process of scheduling the pain and pleasure of life in such a way as to enhance the pleasure by meeting and experiencing the pain first and getting it over with.”

My faith tradition calls it “patience.”

It may well be a deep spiritual wisdom: that there is merit in waiting.

The Psalmist writes it this way:

Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning.” (30:5)

The prophet Isaiah puts it this way:

They that wait on God will renew their strength; they will mount up with wings like eagles; they will run and not get weary; they will walk and not faint.” (40:31)

People who live with a depressive condition know a lot about delayed gratification. We’re constantly waiting:

  • Waiting for the medicine to kick in
  • Waiting for the fog to lift
  • Waiting to feel better enough to do regular activities
  • Waiting to feel again

This kind of waiting is a characteristic of the public life I have chosen as well. There’s a good deal of delayed gratification in being a scholar and an activist. There’s a lot of education that must happen before earning an advanced degree and academic job. There’s a lot of on-the-ground work, reaching out, phone calls and poorly-attended meetings before sensing that a difference has been made.

I know how to wait. I understand how to delay gratification. I – and many other people – do it all the time.

But that doesn’t mean I like it.

There is a significant part of me that wants what I want when I want it. And, as M. Scott Peck reminds us – delayed gratification involves pain. Platitudes about enjoying the process or finding joy in the journey don’t help. And biblical verses about the value of waiting don’t actually make it any easier for me.

My internal brat speaks another maxim: waiting sucks!

With so much of my life in delayed gratification mode, I realize that I sometimes need to foster my own impatience. I need some kind of immediate gratification. I actually need to see the fruits of my efforts in a relatively short period of time. Sometimes I need to know I’m making a difference so I can continue on with the hard work. Sometimes I need a deep hearty laugh until the big breakthrough.

So I schedule it. I actually plan activities where there’s little waiting for the payoff.

I take up all kinds of hobbies that allow me to see beauty quickly.

  • I make jewelry for myself.
  • I cook.
  • I rent a funny stand-up comedy video.

In less than 2 hours, I have received some kind of pay-off.

Something to hold me while I’m waiting.

Down deep, I think M. Scott Peck is right. Delayed gratification is a good thing. It helps foster love, discipline, success and spiritual depth. But it’s not easy. Especially when waiting to feel human and alive again.

In the meanwhile, I think it’s okay to nurture the impatience a little. It makes the waiting . . . bearable.

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