Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Rocks, Pebbles, and Sand

Many of you have probably already heard this modern 'parable' before. I remember reading it for the first time in Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul when I was in 8th or 9th grade. It's called Rocks, Pebbles, and Sand:

A philosophy professor stood before his class with some items in front of him. When class began, he wordlessly picked up a large empty mayonnaise jar and proceeded to fill it with rocks about two inches in diameter. He then asked the students if the jar was full. They agreed that it was.

The professor then picked up a box of pebbles, poured them into the jar and lightly shook it. The pebbles, of course, rolled into the open areas between the rocks. The students laughed. He asked his students again if the jar was full. They agreed that it was.

The professor then picked up a box of sand and poured it into the jar. Of course, the sand filled up everything else.

“Now,” said the professor, “I want you to recognize that this is your life. The rocks are the important things—your family, your partner, your health, your children—anything that is so important to you that if it were lost, you would be nearly destroyed. The pebbles are the other things in life that matter, but on a smaller scale. The pebbles represent things like your job, your house, your car. The sand is everything else—the small stuff.

“If you put the sand or the pebbles into the jar first, there is no room for the rocks. The same goes for your life. If you spend all your energy and time on the small stuff, material things, you will never have room for the things that are truly most important. Pay attention to the things that are critical in your life. Play with your children. Take your partner out dancing. There will always be time to go to work, clean the house, give a dinner party and fix the disposal.”

Wise words. In your own life, be sure to take care of the rocks first—the things that really matter. Remember, the rest is only pebbles and sand.

I am guilty of paying a lot of attention to the sand and pebbles in my life.  I'm now at the point where every day that goes by without putting the rocks in first is a day wasted. I want to life a full life, but I've been filling it with the wrong things.

My weekend position has been a huge, huge blessing in so. many. ways. but my job as a full-time staff nurse in general, and on the weekend premium position in particular, has kept me from putting roots down in a church. Online sermons are a good resource. Small group has been a tremendous blessing. I've started going to weekday Mass once a week (thank you, Catholicism!) which has been amazing and humbling, but it's not the same as going to the same church. Every Sunday. With the same people. Getting involved without worrying about working every third Sunday (or more) and half of the important church holidays.

After all, a house (life) built on sand is scenic, but fragile at best. But a house built on rocks? Read Matthew 7:24-27 to see which foundation you would rather choose.

If you base priorities on sheer amount of time spent immersed in something, the rocks in my life have been constantly changing since high school, for better or for worse. They've included friends, boyfriends, school/good grades, running, preparing/eating/controlling/abusing food, reading blogs of people I've never met and never will (shameful), Facebook (extra shameful), reading for pleasure, working (especially on night shift-- it consumed me), and more.

Not all of these are bad, in fact, most are very good in the right amount, or when not replacing something more important (for example, it was not uncommon for me to read a massive novel from start to finish the weekend before finals in college).

As Mike Wilkerson says in Redemption:
To be human is to worship... You worship what you live for, whatever is most worthy of your attention and devotion... You can't turn off worship. It's your basic human wiring. To not worship is to not love. It's like a garden hose stuck on full blast. You can aim in at the grass, the car, or the shrubs, but you cannot stop its flow... What you pay attention to, how you spend your time, the way you work, how you relate to others in your life- all these things broadcast your heart's worship, making visible and advertising what is most important to you.
Don't waste your time worshiping unworthy idols.

In the last 3 months, my rocks have been (in no particular order): school, my TA job, work, wasting time on the internet (to clarify: I don't think of writing my own blog posts as a waste of time. Even if no one reads them and no one cares, I'm not the only blogger who things that these times are important. I blog to keep memories. To remember the good and the bad. And it's probably the closest I'll come to writing a book.)

My pebbles have been: my marriage (this summer, it was a rock but through the winter, once I started school, I'm ashamed to say that my efforts fell by the wayside), working out 2-3 times a week, small group, creating healthy meals that Ross and I will both eat a few times a week.

Scattered among the sands of daily living activities, some other things have managed to slip in: quiet time with God a few times a week when I thought about it (this waxes and wanes as a pebble and as sand), church (ditto, although Lent has been a bit better), friendships, good daily habits.

What I would like my rocks to be:

-quiet time with God

-my marriage

-keeping in touch with my family better

-church life

-good daily habits and routines (for example, doing my PT and Bible study when I wake up, tidying up for 5 minutes and preparing the next day's clothes/lunch if needed before bed, journaling each night)

-school and my TA job


-creating healthy meals with local food that Ross and I will both eat

-working out so I can stay mentally, physically, and emotionally healthy and balanced

-small group

-getting outside (for workouts, gardening, or just a walk)


-improving my photography and updating my own blog

-work (I know it's weird to put this as a pebble, but I'm 'demoting' it because I'm not spending a lot of time outside of work doing stuff for work, such as the Developmental Care Committee, studying for RNC, etc)



-reading stranger's blogs

-starting ambitious new projects around the apartment

-baking for fun (sad, because I love to do this, but I don't have the time nor the money to be doing it a lot right now)

-reading for pleasure (again, totally a good pastime, but I tend to get sucked into books so I need to save them for school breaks or the rare times when my homework is done early

Writing this reminds me of the song "Two Sets of Jones'" that was on the WWJD CD I listened to on repeat for most of 1997: Is your life built on the rock of Christ Jesus, or a sandy foundation you've managed to lay? I want to be the wise builder. And only by the grace of God is this decision even remotely mine to make. And I choose Him.


  1. I forgot about that picture! Yay I want friends as pebbles too!

    1. It's blurry and awkward, but I guess I am too :o) So it's good!