Tommy and the Gumball Machine

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“Tommy and the Gumball Machine,” Ensign, Feb. 1996, 13

Tommy and the Gumball Machine

I motioned again—for the fifth time—for three-year-old Tommy to walk toward me. And, as he had done the previous four times, his pleading eyes met mine as he realized that walking toward me would mean that he had to let go of his desperate grasp on the handle of the gumball machine.

This was the last penny gum machine in our area, and we had a time-honored tradition to give each of our children a penny for the machine on our way into the grocery store. Each penny bought at least two gumballs and sometimes even three! However, the machine stood between two sets of automatic glass doors. Going through the first set of doors would trigger the second set to open. But if you stepped over to where the gumball machine was, both sets of doors would close again. Once closed, they couldn’t be opened from inside the store.

I had told Tommy that I would go on ahead into the store and get a shopping cart while he put his penny into the machine and got his gum. I pulled a cart out of the stack and turned around, expecting to see Tommy coming through the doors. But he was having problems: his tiny fingers couldn’t get the handle to turn far enough to relinquish the prized gumballs, and this time no big brother was there to help him.

And so I motioned to him to come toward me far enough to trigger the doors to open so that I could help him turn the handle of the machine. But each time he began to do so, he realized he would have to let go of the control knob—the key to his treasure. He wanted those gumballs more than anything else at that moment, and letting go of the handle meant giving up what he wanted. So each attempt to obey me was cut short by his refusal to loosen his white-knuckle grip.

Hard as I tried, I could not make this young child believe that I was trying to help him obtain the gumballs, even though the direction I asked him to walk led away from the machine. Didn’t he know that I loved him and wanted him to be happy and to obtain his desired goal? How could I make him understand that I could see the “bigger picture”? The choice wasn’t between me and the gumballs—he could have both if only he would obey me. And yet it took painfully long minutes to finally convince Tommy to let go of the handle and take those necessary steps toward the door.

Do we as adults sometimes want something so deeply and so steadfastly that we cling to it—instead of approaching our Father in Heaven in prayer for help or guidance in the matter? There is no righteous desire of ours that he or our Savior would not like to help us attain. Our lives, too, have doors that we can open only from our side that allow the Lord to come in and help us with difficult “handles” that are just too hard for us to operate by ourselves. By trusting in his invitation to be obedient and come unto him, we will gain not only the closeness of the Spirit but also help in knowing how to achieve our righteous desires.

From time to time now, I examine my life to see if I am clinging to something that keeps me from opening doors that would grant me heavenly assistance. “Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me” (Rev. 3:20). A little child has shown me the way.

Illustrated by Greg Newbold