“There are in nature neither rewards nor punishments – there are consequences.” 

                         – Robert G. Ingersoll

I helped deliver the children’s message Sunday during the late service at my church.  I wore a big dog costume to help teach them about the new paper recycling container now located at our church.  I was playing the part of the Abitibi “paper retriever,” who was encouraging the kids and their parents to bring all their household papers to the church to be recycled.

The costume came complete with a full head, body, gloves and boots, making it impossible for anyone to recognize who was in the suit.  So naturally, I decided to ham it up a bit.  I did a fair amount of hurrying about, sniffing at whatever I came across, and each time the kids put a piece of paper in the recycling container, I’d explode into a tail-wagging fit of doggie happiness.  “Paper!  Paper!  Paper!”

I got a number of laughs out of the church audience, and a couple of the kids kept getting up from their seats on the stairs to wave at me, so I got the impression that my performance was well received.  One quick recollection from the event: I started out a bit too animated when we first entered the sanctuary, and I had some trouble catching my breath through the small, restricted air opening in the mask’s nose.  The lack of oxygen made my lungs burn and my head spin, causing me to mess up one of my first lines.  I was able to recover and finish the skit, but it was hot and uncomfortable in that suit.  It was a relief to take it off after our 10 minute performance.

Driving home afterwards, I couldn’t help reviewing the performance in my mind.  I thought again of how I had struggled to catch my breath inside that costume head.  “I should have said, ‘Mister Dog needs to be careful, or he’s going to hyperventillate!'”  That struck me as funny.  I smiled thinking how the audience would have reacted.  Then I thought of another funny line that would have enhanced the performance, and then another.  Oh, if only I had another chance to go back and do it again, I could do it so much better…

Thankfully, I became aware of a small, quiet feeling sounding like an alarm bell from a great distance away, just barely audible, but catching my attention none the less.  I was given the wisdom to catch myself – my mind’s review of my performance had quickly turned critical as I thought of more and more things I could have done differently.  I had done the best that I could at the time; second guessing after the fact was only serving to steal the happiness and joy from the memory of the experience.  “No more,” I resolved as I pulled into our driveway.

At this point, I needed to hurry.  My boys were playing in a soccer tournament, and I needed to eat and get ready before their last game at 1:00 PM.  I had already missed their 11:00 AM game to perform my part at church, so I did not want to be late.  I had a load of laundry to fold, and another load to wash.  The bed still needed to be made, animals needed to be tended, etc.  In my mind, I was thinking about putting off those chores as a reward for my good work in the children’s message, after all, the costume made it hot and hard to breath, and I had delivered the message and got people to laugh.  I deserved a break…

But another small, quiet feeling sounded an alarm, this time as a question: hadn’t I already received my reward?  I had enjoyed the experience of entertaining and teaching the children and their parents, that was the positive consequence of my action.  There was no “reward” after the fact.  Choosing to shirk on my chores in the present as a reward to myself for my past positive actions would have negative consequences in the future.  I realized that I’ve been on a feast & famine roller coaster ride for most of my life because I keep making this mistake about rewards.

I learned quite a while back that most of what we call God’s punishment, or wrath, is usually just the negative consequences of our own decisions.  It’s easier to blame our dissappointments and failings on a ridgid, unsympathetic Supreme Being than it is to take personal responsibility for the poor choices that we’ve made in the past.  As a further consequence, we don’t learn from our hard-earned experience.  We blame our situation on outside forces or events, deny our own responsibility, and repeat the cycle over and over again.  God doesn’t need to punish us, we can do it all on our own.

I’ve been doing my best to avoid making those poor choices to avoid those negative consequences, at first under my own strength, more recently by walking as much as possible in faith.  Thank God, I’ve seen improvement in this area of my life.  However, I now realize that I have been mistakenly pursuing rewards in my life, subconsciously keeping score and granting myself treats for my good works (by my own assessment).  In every case, my “rewards” have negative consequences: fattening snacks or hollow time wasted “resting” in front of the TV, or both.  I allow myself to believe that I deserve these rewards and I’ll somehow avoid the negative consequences associated with them.

We’ve all heard a job well done is its own reward.  I’m not sure that I entirely agree.  Sometime a job, no matter how well done, is nothing more than a lot of hard work that simply has to be endured.  However, I do believe, if we’re focused on being present to each moment in our lives, we’re able to experience the positive consequences of our choices and actions.  Having fun in front of the congregation during the children’s sermon and receiving their laughter was ultimately my “reward”.  Too bad that I didn’t enjoy it more at the time; I was too busy focusing on how I’d reward myself later on.

How about you, dear reader?  Do you believe in rewards?  Is it possible to recognize yourself for your own good efforts after the event?  Do you have any examples of positive consequence rewards?  What do you use for motivation in your life?  Is living in the present its own reward?


3 Responses

  1. Hmm…. rewards. I’ve always been taught that my rewards will come when I make my walk. I’ve also heard that I will receive 10x what I give. I’ve also been taught not to be selfish, but to be selfless. Let’s face it, we’re modern human beings. We want our rewards now, and we want them for ourselves! At least, that’s what mainstream culture is teaching us all. LOSE WEIGHT NOW! WIN THE LOTTERY NOW! TAKE VIAGRA NOW! (well, that’s what the latest email spam said, anyway 😉 )…

    What do we want in the end? Do we want to be known for the rewards we received or do we want to be known for the things we’ve done? You said it to me in conversation at work… those 2 questions in life? Anyway, I do believe in rewards but try not to go looking for them. I believe they just naturally come and usually not what we expect. Maybe most of our rewards come in the afterlife. Maybe what we consider a reward is really a new struggle to overcome and be stronger and better as a human being. Deep Shtuff. I feel a philosophical moment coming…. whew, it passed. That was close 😉 Have a great day!

  2. Oh, I thought of something else. The quote at the beginning of this post reminded me of it. “There are neither good experiences or bad experiences. Only experiences to be learned from.” An extraordinary Spiritual Leader who happens to be a good friend of mine told me that. I think part of what he was saying was that we are responsible for all or our actions, reactions, consequences, etc. Everything we do helps us to be who we will be… in the near & far future. How’s that for deep thinking!

  3. […] remembering that there are no rewards or punishments, only consequences, it occurs to me that the list above isn’t really a list of rules to follow to achieve […]

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