Lessons from a Mason Jar

11 01 2012

It’s Day 3 of the final semester in my Master’s program at WMU and I already feel sleep deprived. In the precious moments between 6-6:10 this morning, I seriously considered picking up some “dry shampoo” to buy a solid 40 minutes of additional sleep. While I’m in school, my schedule is a daily marathon: up at 6am (well, depending on who wins the battle between the snooze button and me), a mad dash to get ready for work, drop off the kiddo at school by 7:30, in the office by 7:45. At work, I regularly have appointments every hour, on the hour until lunch, at which time I occasionally eat, though more often grab groceries, refill prescriptions, get an oil change, pay bills, run to the bank, post office, or home to fill a crock pot. I leave the office as close to 5pm as possible, so that I can pick up the aforementioned child from her after school location soon enough as to not feel forgotten. We run home with enough time to pick up or make a hastily prepared meal. And then I drive fast enough to get to class by 6pm. Afterwards, from 9pm to midnight, I alternate the nights that I spend working on the mural that I’ve volunteered to paint and hitting the gym with an hour or two to spare for homework. By the time I arrive back at home, I’m yearning for my pillow so badly that the only wind-down time that’s required is the five minutes spent to change and brush my teeth. You’re already exhausted, aren’t you? It’s clearly time to re-align a few priorities.

This brings to mind a lesson I learned years ago… on the first night of class at Spring Arbor University. The class was filled with weary-eyed professionals, not your traditional students, and the instructor knew we’d be facing a balancing act over the coming years. He stood at the front of the class placing various rocks in a mason jar and proceeded to give us an illustration in time management from Stephen Covey:

When the jar was filled to the top and no more rocks would fit inside, he asked, “Is this jar full?” Everyone in the class said, “Yes.” Then he said, “Really?” He reached under the table and pulled out a bucket of gravel. Then he dumped some gravel in and shook the jar causing pieces of gravel to work themselves down into the spaces between the big rocks.

Then he smiled and asked the group once more, “Is the jar full?” By this time the class was onto him. “Probably not,” one of them answered. “Good!” he replied. And he reached under the table and brought out a bucket of sand. He started dumping the sand in and it went into all the spaces left between the rocks and the gravel. Once more he asked the question, “Is this jar full?”

“No!” the class shouted. Once again he said, “Good!” Then he grabbed a pitcher of water and began to pour it in until the jar was filled to the brim. Then he looked up at the class and asked, “What is the point of this illustration?”

The point of the analogy is if you don’t put the big rocks in first, you’ll never get them all in. In fact, the sand and gravel of my time could easily fill my entire day if I don’t carve out space for the fundamental priorities. Here I am, thinking I’ve mastered this lesson because I’ve reached a place where I’m making time to pursue higher education by scheduling out time in my calendar for every detail, yet I’m still starting my day by choosing between adequate sleep and showering? Maslow would be so disappointed in me.

It’s been nearly a year since I wrote about my “Re-Resolutions,” and I’m proud to say I achieved nearly all my 2011 goals. It’s true, I still haven’t learned Spanish (maybe after graduation?); however, my education and career have significantly advanced, I read all the books I set out to read, I volunteer more, I work out regularly, I no longer have the time to waste on trivialities such as television and social media games du jour, and I even wake up earlier. Now the question begs to be asked — were these the right goals?

On one hand, I think they were exactly what I needed to achieve to be where I want to be. But on the other hand, I wonder if it’s time to go back to the basics of Covey’s lesson. Is it necessary to plan this much of my life? I suspect that if I reversed the lesson and stopped planning so much, I would better learn where the pebbles and sand really lie in my life. So, my 2012 Re-Resolution? Surrender. Plan less, live more. God has a plan and purpose for my life… I’d hate to miss it because I already set up a conflicting appointment.

-Nikki M Jones-