In an early skirmish of the cultural wars back in the 1960s, conservative critics attacked baby doctor Benjamin Spock for encouraging permissive child-rearing practices that they believed accounted for the unruly behavior of baby boomers. Norman Vincent Peale, a prominent clergyman and author of The Power of Positive Thinking, had little positive to say about Dr. Spock’s best-selling baby books, complaining, "The U.S. was paying the price of two generations that followed the Dr. Spock baby plan of instant gratification of needs." Peale was a strong supporter of the Vietnam War and apparently assumed that youthful opposition to the war had its origins in the crib. Dr. Spock always denied that he supported permissive child rearing, and in truth the criticisms of him probably had more to do with his own opposition to the war than with anything in his books.
If it is instant gratification you seek, you need look no farther than the Sermon on the Mount. It was Jesus, after all, who advised, “Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself.” And this: “Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on.” And this: “Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: and yet I say unto you, that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.”
At first glance, it might appear that Jesus would side with the improvident grasshopper rather than the industrious ant in Aesop’s fable. However, a closer look at the Sermon on the Mount will show that Jesus was no more an advocate of instant gratification than Dr. Spock was. The lead-in to his remarks was a warning not to allow your life to be ruled by money. “Ye cannot serve God and mammon,” he told his listeners in the language of the King James Bible. Accordingly, it was important not to get caught up in thinking about all the things money can buy, even basic necessities. “Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment?” he asked. Still, you’ve got to eat, and Jesus was careful to add, “Your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things.” Now comes the punch line: “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.”
Jesus’ message was to stop being anxious about your life, which is not the same thing as instant gratification. By anxious, he meant not worrying about things you can’t do anything about today, like what happens tomorrow. “Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof,” he said. This is not a promise that our lives will be trouble-free, only that we will not have more than we can handle today. Likewise, in seeking God’s kingdom, we need to act like there is no tomorrow; in fact, that is the whole secret of God’s kingdom. The kingdom is not somewhere over the rainbow; it is right here, right now, always. That’s what Jesus meant when he proclaimed that the kingdom of heaven is at hand. There is no need to take thought for the morrow, good or bad. We can safely abandon our preoccupation with all that we want if we have faith we will get all we need. Our mistake is in seeking “happily ever after” when we are never promised more than “sufficient unto the day.”