Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Feast and famine

During our morning Bible reading, we've been talking about the life of Joseph--his troubles with his brothers, his slavery in Egypt, and his rise to power in Pharaoh's house. To illustrate the story of the famine in Egypt that would lead to Joseph's reunion with his brothers, our devotional suggested a clever little family experiment.

So two weeks ago, we instituted Seven Days of Plenty, which would be followed by Seven Days of Famine. The kids received a big cup of treats at breakfast for one week, and a bag to use as a "storehouse" on which we would mark the days as they passed. They were reminded that the following week,there would be no treats, so they should save some for the days of "famine" that were coming.

The first grader got it. The four and under crowd, not so much. Day One found Caleb and Jacob shoveling every marshmallow they were given into their mouths at once, and begging for more. Abby, meanwhile, was busy counting hers, and planning how many she would like to save to enjoy for each of the seven days of famine that she'd been warned of.

Day 2: 
Discussed some of the reasons why Joseph gave his brothers the bread they'd come to buy and put their money back in their bags. Maybe after all those years of hardship, he still loved his brothers and wanted to take care of them. Abby decided to stash away extra skittles since her brothers are already behind in their famine preparations. There are more lessons than we anticipated in this experiment.

Day 3: 
Jacob is running around chanting "The famine is coming!" like he's warning us of a British invasion. Abby has enough treats in her reserve to feed each member of the family one tiny piece per day when the famine comes. Caleb wants me to hide his bag of stored treats so he's not tempted to eat them. This is going very well.

Day 5:
Jacob is still not entirely on board with the idea of saving anything for the days of famine that will soon be upon us. We've taken to helping him divide up his rations each day, since "the future" is too arbitrary a concept for him to plan for.

Day 8:
The famine begins. We explained that there are no sweets, no desserts, no special treats for the next seven days. Except, that is, for what they have in their "storehouses." The 6-year-old, like an auctioneer, surveyed the situation and began bartering high value green skittles and marshmallows like a pro. The 4-year-old seems confident that he will survive the week on what he has. The 3-year-old needed help not pouring the entire contents of his bag into his mouth. The 1-year-old has had a little help from mom, and should make it through the famine just fine. I predict weeping and gnashing of teeth by Day 12.

Day 10: 
Things are starting to get serious. Jacob has only two skittles left in his storehouse, both green, because he flashed those big brown eyes at his sister and she traded him for some pistachios. Abby has enjoyed a generous helping of treats each morning at breakfast, and a few at lunch as well, because of her excellent hoarding skills. She has more than enough, she says, and is trying to show the rest of us poor planners grace by sharing from her stash of plenty. Caleb is getting a little nervous watching his supply dwindle, and has shown a measure of self-control never before demonstrated in his impulsive life. As a bonus, they're all getting good at math, as each day they must subtract from their supply, then divide by our number of days remaining to see how many treats they can reasonably enjoy without running out before this famine ends.

Day 12: 
A dark cloud falls over the land. Jacob consumed his last remaining skittle today. Abby offered to trade him two pistachios for it, but the temptation to eat it was too much, and alas, it was gone before she could finish explaining that now he will have nothing to eat for the remaining two days of our treat famine. Caleb is down to one skittle and half a pistachio. It's no feast, but it will get him through the next 48 hours. Because she listened to the voice of her father and planned for this famine, Abby will be enjoying a dessert of three M&M's tonight while the rest of us look on. Tomorrow will test the limits of her kindness and self-preservation. She has more than enough to feed her brothers, but will she? Time will tell.

Day 13:
She doesn't want her brothers to go without, but marshmallows are delicious. Today was a hard day for everyone.

Day 14: 
With an empty storehouse and a heavy heart, Jacob faced our last day of famine. "Where are my treats?" he wondered aloud. Abby and Caleb, busy enjoying the last of their stashes, were quick to remind him that he had finished all of his treats already. And then, sensing his sadness, Abby passed her brother a pistachio, and assured him that tomorrow the famine would end, and he would no longer be starving for sweets.

The lessons in all this?

First and foremost, listen to your parents. We warned them daily that the famine was coming. We encouraged them to save up their treats for the days to come. We helped them exercise self-control when they were tempted to devour all their goodies at once. We are wise beyond their years. And we can be trusted to do what's best for them.

Second, delayed gratification is a good thing! Sure, it would have been delicious to eat up all those treats we gave them every day. And sure, it was hard to put a few away for the future. But it paid off dividends in the end (for those who were able to do it). Abby made it through the treat famine mostly unaffected. Caleb, too, though his stash was smaller, was grateful in the end for the times in the previous week when he didn't gobble up everything in sight. And Jacob learned the hard lesson that comes from not planning ahead, and having to rely on the kindness and graciousness of others (in this case, his sister) for help in times of need.

Lastly, Joseph must have had an awful lot of love for his brothers. They taunted him, threw him in a pit, sold him into slavery, lied to their father that he was dead, and years later, he forgave them. Just like that. And they didn't even really ask for it. How was he able to forgive, and love, and provide for his brothers so abundantly after all they'd done? Joseph recognized God's sovereignty in the whole pit-to-prison-to-Pharaoh's assistant story that was his life. We don't love because of what someone else says or does. We forgive, and we love, and we show kindness because of who God is. Period.

I'd say this experiment went very well.

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