I have been mulling over a memorable object lesson that Stephen Covey tells in his book First Things First. I’ve seen various forms of the story over the years; perhaps you have too. Below is a collation of some versions I collected. Even if you recognize the story, it’s one that is good to hear again! As Peter said, “I will always remind you of these things, even though you know them” (2 Peter 1:12). At least I know that I have needed to reflect on it again as this New Year begins.
During a lecture on time management, the instructor set a wide-mouth gallon jar on the table next to a platter covered with fist-sized rocks. “How many of these rocks do you think we can get in the jar?” he asked.
Class members offered several guesses. He put rocks in the jar until no more would fit. Then he asked, “Is the jar full?”
Everybody agreed. The jar was full. The instructor reached under the table, brought out a bucket of gravel, and started dumping the gravel in the jar. It filled the little spaces around the rocks. The instructor grinned and asked, “Is the jar full?”
“Probably not,” the class said. The instructor reached under the table, brought out a bucket of sand and started dumping the sand in the jar. It filled in the little spaces left by the rocks and gravel. Once more he asked, “Is the jar full?”
“No!” the class shouted back. With this he started pouring about a quart of water into the jar.
When he asked the class for the point of his picture parable, someone replied, “The point is, no matter how full your schedule is, if you try really hard, you can always fit some more things in it!”
“No,” the instructor said. “My point is, put the big rocks in first. Think of the rocks as the important things in life. The bits of gravel are things that matter but on a smaller scale. The sand and water are everything else, the truly small stuff. It’s true that you can often fit in some smaller stuff. But if you put those things in first, you won’t have room for as many rocks.”
What are the things that really matter in our life? Time with loved ones? A relationship with God? Our education? Our health? A worthy cause? Teaching or mentoring others? Nudging persons around us toward Jesus? If we don’t deliberately plan to make room in our week for the big priorities, all kinds of smaller things will quickly fill our days and we may never get to some of the truly important things.
Each morning, or perhaps each night, it’s good to examine one’s life: What are the ‘big rocks’? Am I putting those in my jar first?
My life marked the passing of time in several ways last week.
On Wednesday nine of us (part of one of Trissels’ small groups) watched the ball drop to signal the arrival of a new year. As the last seconds of 2014 were ticking away, a woman was threading her way across the room toward me — my favorite person to talk with and touch. Her timing was perfect: as we began enjoying a kiss of discreet (I hope!) passion, cries of “Happy New Year!” and then “Happy Anniversary!” went up. Yes, that midnight marks for us not only the start of a New Year but also of a wedding anniversary. Karen & I began our 32nd year of “marital bliss,” as she calls it, a description true enough to be amazing!
Then on Saturday Karen & I and our kids and spouses, nine of us (plus!), gathered to celebrate my 60th birthday. Can it be?! It seems I’m just in my 30’s or — if I think about it — maybe 40’s. Then on Sunday the church family surprised me with further celebration!
The passing of time pressed itself in on me another way last week, this one much less fun. I had no sermon to prepare, so I was going to attack some piles of reading material and projects at home and in my office. But the piles are only a bit smaller.
How to use time — what to do, what not to do — is perhaps the hardest battle I face.
Stephen Cherry talked to some of us VMC pastors last summer about being “not busy” (see notbusy.co.uk). He says that our initial response when we sense that there “isn’t enough time” is time management — trying to get more out of each block of time. But Cherry says that the answer to busy-ness is not to try to live faster. (When engaging in a song, we don’t speed it up so we can get through it faster!) The answer lies in “timing,” in spiritually discerning what this particular present moment is for.
That’s my goal this new year and this new decade in my life: be constantly monitoring (and responding to!) the Spirit’s nudging as to what is to be done. I’m finite, limited; there will be tasks I leave undone, persons I disappoint. But there will be peace and well-being each moment I sense that I’m doing what the Lord of my days is calling me to do!
Got this in an Mennonite Central Committee mailing many years ago. Loved it — though I’m not sure what it means!
He saw a large crowd and was moved with great love for them. He talked to them about the irresistible love of God.
As it became dark, His disciples said to Him: “Lord, send these people away, it is already late, they have no more time.”
“Give them something,” He said. “Give them some of your time!”
“We ourselves have none,” they discovered, “and what we have, this is not much at all. How can this be enough for so many?”
But there was someone among them, who still had 5 time slots free, no more, though in an emergency, 2 additional quarter hours.
With a smile Jesus took the 5 time slots that they had, along with the 2 quarter hours, into His hands.
He looked up to Heaven, thanked God, and then let His disciples hand out the precious time to the many people.
And there you have it: this little bit was enough for everyone. And everyone was finished; they were even able to collect 12 leftover days; that which remained was not just a little bit.
It has been reported that the people were amazed. They witnessed that even the impossible is possible with Him.
–Lothar Zenetti, The Wonderful Increase of Time
Two more blurbs on time:
If idle hands are the devil’s workshop, then overly busy hands are his recreation. He loves to see people too rushed to take time for God, too hurried to give any thought to the moral and ethical dimensions of what they’re doing.
–Doug Sherman and William Hendricks, authors of Your Work Matters to God and Living Your Faith at Work
To be busy is not a bad thing. The problem comes when one is hurried or rushed. Hurried and busy are two different things. To be busy with meaningful work is a good thing.
–Donna Mast, co-pastor, Scottdale (Pa.) MennoniteChurch, in Nov 2003 Allegheny Conference News