For a number of weeks we have been talking about our theme “First Things First” and the importance of priorities in this chaotic world. This week I want to include a story that I shared a few years ago that illustrates the importance of making the important things the important thing.
A professor stood before his philosophy class and had some items in front of him. When the class began, wordlessly, he picked up a very large and empty mayonnaise jar and proceeded to fill it with golf balls. He then asked the students if the jar was full. They agreed that it was.
So the professor then picked up a box of pebbles and poured them into the jar. He shook the jar lightly. The pebbles rolled into the open areas between the golf balls. He then asked the students again if the jar was full. They agreed it was.
The professor next picked up a box of sand and poured it into the jar. Of course, the sand filled up everything else. He asked once more if the jar was full. The students responded with a unanimous “yes.”
The professor then produced two cups of coffee from under the table and poured the entire contents into the jar, effectively filling the space between the grains of sand.
“Now,” said the professor, as the laughter subsided, “I want you to recognize that this jar represents your life. The golf balls are the important things — your faith, your family, your children, your health, your friends, and your favorite passions — things that if everything else was lost and only they remained, your life would still be full.
“The pebbles are the other things that matter, like your job, your house, and your car. The sand is everything else — the small stuff.
“If you put the sand into the jar first,” he continued, “there is no room for the pebbles or the golf balls. The same goes for life. If you spend all your time and energy on the small stuff, you will never have room for the things that are important to you. Pay attention to the things that create fulfillment and joy, that are eternal. Play with your children. Take time to get medical checkups. Take your spouse out to dinner. Go for a walk at sunset. Play another 18.
“There will always be time to clean the house and fix the disposal. Take care of the golf balls first, the things that really matter. Set your priorities. The rest is just sand.”
One of the students raised her hand and inquired what the coffee represented. The professor smiled. “I’m glad you asked. It just goes to show you that no matter how full your life may seem, there’s always room for a cup of coffee with a friend.”
We all, at different times, will focus on the minutia of life and allow it to distort our perspective. What we need to do is to step back from all that is happening, the craziness of life and all its activities and expectations, and remember the important things of life. No one ever wishes on their deathbed that they had made more money, gotten further up the corporate ladder, or achieved more fame or fortune. As we take a week to step away from all that is life at Dalat, I hope we can remember what the golf balls are and spend some time focusing on them and not the sand. Oh, and also have a chance to have a cup of coffee with a friend.