Mayonnaise Jar Principles

Perhaps you are familiar with the story of the mayonnaise jar.  Here’s my rendition of it:  A professor stood before his class and put a number of golf balls into the jar.   He asked his class if it was full, to which they replied it was.  “Wrong,” he said.  He then added a number of pebbles and again asked his students if it was full, to which they replied that it was full.  “Wrong again,” he said.

He then added sand to the jar, which filled in all the cracks and crevices between the golf balls and the pebbles.  Asking his class again if it was full, they were hesitant to respond.  He then poured two cups of coffee into the jar, and it was absorbed into the sand, in between the pebbles and all the golf balls.  “Now it is full,” the professor said.

The professor shared, “The jar represents your life.  The golf balls are the big things that matter most—faith, family, health, and passions.  The pebbles are the other things that matter—your job and your home, for instance.  The sand is everything else—the small stuff.”

The professor shared, “This illustration reminds us to remember to make room in our lives for the big things first, and then add the lesser important things, in order of importance.  If we fill our days up with little things, we won’t have room for the things that are most important.

The coffee?  That is to remind us that no mater how busy we are, we always have room for a cup of coffee with a friend.  Relationships—that which creates the fabric of our lives.

Moses said to the Lord in the Psalms, “Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom (Psalm 90:12).  How wise His counsel and wisdom that would serve us well today.

How often do we fill our busy schedules with the little things in life and find ourselves with no room left for the “big” things?  It is never too late to take stock of our commitments, priorities and values and be sure they line up with God’s.

What things in life do you value?  What are your top priorities each day, week, month, year?  As you look at your calendar, can you see these things reflected in your daily schedule?  Does your day-to-day life support that which you value?  Do you find yourself running out of hours before you run out of activities/responsibilities/tasks?

If so, it’s time to take an inventory and make some healthy changes.  You’ll be glad you did and so will those you cherish.

I encourage you to do a brief exercise:  Write down all the things that you are currently involved in.  Look at your calendar to help you remember how your time is spent.  Whether it is work, ministry, driving children to activities, going to the gym, write it all down.

Then rate each activity on a scale of 1 to 4, with 1 being most important and 4 being least important.  I challenge you to make a plan to cut the number 4s out of your schedule.  Keep only what is truly important to you and that which you value.  As difficult as it may be, I believe you will find yourself less stressed, more peaceful and enjoying your everyday life a whole lot more.

I just did this exercise recently.  I was surprised at how much of my time was slipping away by the demands of the sand, despite my best intentions to focus on golf balls.  Somehow, when I let my guard down and wasn’t diligent about enforcing my boundaries, the golf balls were smothered by the sand.

I made some big adjustments to my priorities, time and calendar.  While a bit difficult at first to say no to some things, the peace and joy I’m experiencing is so worth it.  I am a lot less stressed and enjoying each day more.  And I’ve even made time to run again, which I so enjoy!

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.  Feel free to leave a comment and share your experience.  I will be sure to lift you in prayer as you do this.