Student Culture, Trends & Issues

Overcoming A Culture of Instant Gratification

There seems to be a lot working against the (slow) development of healthy relationships today.

We live in an instant society. We want things and we want them now. And yet, most of us can remember a time not too long ago, when things weren’t so “instant.”

That’s not the case for the majority of our students however…

They’ve always known fast, until it was replaced by faster… and then faster yet.

And with all of the blessings that come with advances in technology, I fear we are fundamentally losing our ability to wait. To be patient. To go slow. And so are our students.

But the struggle to wait isn’t just in lines, or for food to cook, or files to download… but in more important areas; like waiting for character to develop, maturity to grow, faith to deepen and relationships to slowly develop over the course of time.

Our students are struggling to identify the problems with “instant” everything.

The hookup culture prominent among many of our students is a sad, but perfect, example of what I’m talking about. I need it now! He needs to “feel like a man,” and she needs to “feel loved, accepted and/or beautiful.” And they can’t wait. Or they won’t wait. Because they don’t have to. And so they jump in — hooking up and having sex before they possibly even know each other’s name.  No expectations that anything more will come of it. And should they happen upon each other again — at another party or social event — maybe they’ll “choose” each other for another “casual encounter.” And no one really knows how it quite happens from there, but for a small percentage… they will actually back their way into some kind of relationship — possibly going on a first date several months after first having had sex with each other.

It’s a relationship, yes… but how healthy could it possibly be? And what are the ramifications of starting a “relationship” this way? With an obscenely high divorce rate in our country as it is, how will the participants of this current hookup culture ever manage? What chance could they possibly have?

Then there’s also the readily accessible pornography that our students now have access to wherever they can connect to WiFi or find a 4G connection. On their notebook, tablet or smartphone… anywhere and everywhere they go. In an instant they can be in “fantasy land” — virtually and/or mentally finding acceptance, love, romance, significance, escape — from an image or movie… that countless other people have used in the same way.

Our students are harming themselves in ways they cannot comprehend — and in ways that we can’t even fully comprehend. Emotionally, physically, mentally, socially, spiritually… they are warping their minds, their hearts and their souls.

And for what?!?

A moment of pleasure. A fleeting feeling. An instant of ecstasy… that truly lasts but an instant.

What then? Likely varying levels of pain, confusion, shame, guilt, regret and despair.

So how do they cope? How do they “right the ship?” For most, they fall right back in to the practices and patterns that have become routine and commonplace. They need help.

I don’t think we dare resign ourselves to the ‘wait and see’ position.

We must take action. Our students are counting on us — whether they realize it or not!

I think we need to re-introduce our young men and women of faith to the discipline of slow. Yes, I said discipline. I know, slow isn’t one of the traditional spiritual disciplines we oft hear talked about. But in our current age of “instant,” there’s nothing more counter to the culture — and we all know how God likes to work in things that are counter to the culture.

We need to help our students to see the value in taking things slowly. In choosing to engage in the long, tedious work of character development. To make the kinds of choices that lead to growth and maturity. To wade into the waters of faith — deeper and deeper — and allow God to work in God’s own time. And to wait, and allow relationships to unfold in more natural (in the traditional sense) ways, that will lead to something meaningful, significant and healthy.

And we need to convince them that they can do it — even if no one else around them seems to be doing it. And that they’re worth it! And that they should want to be with someone who wants these same things — in themselves and in the person that they’re going to be with.

And when it’s all said and done… I’ve got to believe that the students that we can help to learn, and engage, in this discipline of slow will be much better off. They’ll be in the hands of the Father, a work in progress (and not stuck in a demeaning and degrading cycle of “instant” gratification) — who is healthy and (hopefully) able to be healthy in all of their relationships.



  • Max Malcolm

    It’s very interesting to read these positions. Definitely sparked some thinking here, though perhaps not in the way you might expect. My biggest question is what about for those who no longer believe in the possibility of long term monogamy. It’s not that I’m personally against it, I would be great with it if I considered it possible. But the situation remains that I have yet to meet women capable of it. In a world without long term commitment as an achievable goal short term pleasure is better than endless bleak loneliness. This is speaking as someone who has lived on both sides of this fence. At the moment I feel no great longing to cut off physical sensation and spend my life waiting to either die or find a woman that will stick around long enough to get married. That’s a pretty miserable existence. It’s not being all I can be and that doesn’t serve anyone, God or myself. I’m not saying I practice a life of utter debauchery, out every night drinking partying and carousing, I’m saying that when opportunities present themselves I don’t say no where as if I had a morality system that said I had to I would. I said no to quite a lot of things in my teen years, and it didn’t save my marriage. I said no to even more WHILE married, a practice I still support (because if you are married that is the point). Saying no, and holding by beliefs I had been told my entire life were true did not save my soul. In some cases it may have been building the foundation for the unstable future that was my failed marriage. So I take responsibility for that. No one else had control over the choices I made. I said no when I should have said yes, and I said yes when I should have said no.


    • Wow Max, thanks for this honest and vulnerable response. Your comments have sparked some thinking of my own. And I want to be careful about how I reply, because I sense that your story is very complex (as most stories are) and that makes this issue both personal and painful for you… so maybe a few questions.

      You described your former faith as “beliefs I had been told my entire life…,” but I didn’t get the sense that it was ever something you claimed for yourself — something personal and intentionally thought through and accepted/chosen as “your” faith — something you allowed to shape you and the ways that you think and live. Is that fair to say? 

      You also talked about a failed marriage and some wrong choices you made… How central were your beliefs (or your relationship with God) to you during these times? Did you find yourself “relying on God” during this difficult seasons, or blaming God, or was God (and your faith) more of a non-factor?

      You also said, “In a world without long term commitment as an achievable goal short term pleasure is better than endless bleak loneliness.” And I hear in that both pain and a desire to have your needs met (and maybe even a desire to be loved and accepted)… and so I wonder, how’s that going? How is this approach to life, love and sex treating you? And I hope I don’t come across as cynical, skeptical or even judgmental… because I really do want to know if you are finding fulfillment in this way of life.

      Max, there are so many things that I’d like to know about you… but let’s leave it at this for now. And I’ll understand if you don’t want to respond, or at least not in this public forum, but I would love to continue this conversation.

      Thanks for taking the time to share.

      • Max Malcolm

        I’m always glad to share some more on my personal walk, if for nothing else as a cautionary tale. 

        There was a time that I suppose I was somewhat under educated about what really goes on in marriage, and that no matter how much you love someone that doesn’t make them do the right thing.  Let me condense down the story and maybe things will make more sense.
        When I was 18 and still relatively inexperienced I met this girl. She was 17 at the time and seemed to be in the same position. We hit it off in a limited way, but it was more secure than any relationship I had experienced thus far. Around the time I realized I wanted to marry this girl I had sex with her. In retrospect, the way that we came together was a mistake. I think realizing that was one of the first holes in my image of the abstinence approach to sex. Because after that things proceeded slowly towards marriage. I tried to become more pure and perfect, with limited results, that would be a battle that I fought for four years. Looking back there were warning signs, things she did and things my friends said that should have tipped me off.
        Regardless we read every book on the subject, learned everything we possibly could about eachother and repeated frequently that we “didn’t believe in divorce.” This whole time I had grown closer to God and to being involved in the church, which had and has been a constant battle in my life. After getting married it was suddenly like I was communicating through a fog. God had been so present in my life earlier in my life, and suddenly he was very far away. I tried to emulate the successful christians I knew… with no result. Painfully I watched as job after job crumbled out from under me with seemingly no rhyme or reason. After a year and a half I found out my wife was cheating on me. Again, aside from money I could find no reason why. I had been doing right by God, more so than ever in this crisis point in my life. I had actually succeeded at living a sin free life for 6 months, first time that happened in my life. Then she left. I saw everything that mattered to me going up in smoke. I’m not saying I was that crazy about her, I was happy with her at times but she wasn’t the end all be all of my existence. But with her left my dreams of having been with only one woman, and most of the stability in my life.That was two years ago. Since then I have had to chart my own course. God does have more involvement in my life now (much to my chagrin), but my entire opinion on how he feels about sex has changed radically. I can no longer buy into the concept of sex outside of marriage being just plain damaging and evil. Yeah, it’s not pretty. I’m not going to try and talk anyone down from being against it, because honestly if you can manage to avoid sex, and get married, and convince that person to stick around I’d be the first in line to shake your hand and ask for your secrets. I’m aware that I’m stubborn, and that most likely I’m not hearing God’s voice as clearly as most. I realize getting married was a mistake. Most of my mistakes come back to putting trust in the wrong place. For one I trusted the woman I married to be with me for better or worse…. whoops. For another I had hoped that the christian community would support reconciling the marriage. They didn’t, most likely because I stick out like a sore thumb and as her ultra conservative christian parents would say “she could do better”. And she has. She remarried a military man with quite a bit of money. Every once and awhile I hear back news, she’s never been happier in her life. This of course rubs me raw, as I consider her sin as what destroyed our marriage ultimately. I had some sort of concept that God punished the wicked and took care of the righteous. But that’s another rant.The third and perhaps most rattling was the reflected failure of God. When I stood at that alter I swore a three way covenant before God, that the three of us would preserve the marriage vows. I still have clear memories of weeks that I prayed for days at a time, trying to keep a job that was coming out from under me. I had done everything I could, and all I wanted was for him to help with the variables I couldn’t control. Needless to say he didn’t answer my prayers. In fact in the entire time I was married he never answered a single prayer. So that’s a mystery to be solved if I can make it to heaven. Anyway I hope that answers some questions.

        • Max,

          Thanks for opening up and sharing some more of your pain-filled story. I am glad to hear that God is a growing part of your life — and I pray that that he will bring healing and wholeness to you in his time.

          So much of life, and God, are mystery to us all. How God chooses to work, who he chooses to bless, how and why we get to experience him so closely in certain seasons of our lives… while at other times he seems so distant… I wish I had more answers than I do questions. But that’s just the way that it is.

          I want to encourage you to not give up on God, or the idea of a committed, monogamous, joy-filled relationship. God does not promise us these things… but I know that they’re out there. And while you can’t go back and undo those things that have been done, you can learn from them, and allow your past to inform your future.

          Your original comment referenced wanting to “get what you can now” as opposed to “just waiting to die.” But what might it look like if you chose to focus your attention and affection on God — and allowed him to start a new work in you? How might that change the way(s) you view sex, God, women and fulfilling your own needs?

          Max, thanks for engaging me in this tough conversation. You are making me think about some things I’ve not had to before.

  • MJ

    What a great observation about how our inability to wait for ANYTHING plays out in the relational realm. Knowing my wife for 2 years before ever even THINKING about being anything more than friends was certainly a blessing. What kind of marriage would I have today if I had married one of those girls who I was just instantly into romantically/sexually whether I managed to wait for sex till marriage or not. WAITING IS GOOD! (But I still don’t like it often times. Kind of like vegetables.) THANKS GUY for putting this whole shebang together and then sharing this bit o wisdom.

  • Pingback: Go Slow()

  • Pingback: Top Posts for February 2012 | Faith ON Campus()

  • Great job. This article helps me in my dealing with the youth who are into relationship.

  • Pingback: The Problem of Future | Faith ON Campus()