Have you read the story of the Professor who came to speak about efficient time management and began his lecture by filling a jar with large stones? He then asked the students if the jar was full to which they replied that it was. Then he shook in a pile of small stones into the spaces and it was noted that there was more room in that jar than was thought. Is it full yet? Seems so. But when you pour in a container of sand that still fits too. And finally, not full yet. Water fit too. The point of the story was thought to be that you can keep adding things to your jar even when you don’t think you can (we’ve all seen that before!) Instead, the message was that you have to put the important ones in first and fit the other little ones in after, not the other way around.
My life used to be filled with all kinds of stones, big and small. Ones that took up 37.5 hours a week. Others that woke me up in the night for a feeding. Some gave me worry and fret although there was nothing I could actually do about them. Others that had me running for reasons I could never figure out. Some urgent. Some relentless. Some joyful. All of them added up to my jar of stones.
Some would argue that the important stones are their children. Or their full-time employment. Perhaps a major house renovation. Running a business. I have had all four stones in my jar at once.
I have also found that it is easier to add small stones to a jar of large ones than it is to try to shove a big stone back into the pile of little ones. When people ask me what I’m up to these days I could just as easily answer ‘nothing’ as ‘too much’. But they all seem like little stones to me. Nothing major going down. Just a lot of housekeeping (in the literal and the figurative sense) and logistical tasks and chores. Alongside the care of those little people that live with us in our home.
Children to me are the ones that matter the most. Their impact on the household is greater than anything else in our space. They require the most attention. They are the biggest of stones in this way.
And yet it is so tempting in this day and age of parenting to fill the jar around them like they are appendages to our lives. Like they couldn’t possibly be the main act. Being a mother is not considered enough for a woman anymore. She is expected to ‘make something of herself’ outside of the home.
Then there is the guilt I feel every time I make a move away from my kids. When I make an attempt to do something that makes me feel whole again just for me, I experience a knot that is quiet and steady beneath all that I do. I have discovered that I need to change the focus on the mundane chores that raising children involves (cooking, cleaning, scheduling etc.), but not lose the opportunities to spend time intentionally enjoying my children’s company. What will shift my focus from the little chores? I want to find a new stone for my jar to call my own.
I intend to push this big stone way down deep into my jar of sand and other stones. I’m looking for some kind of employment, project or business. I suspect it is going to be quite a struggle to get it in there. I don’t quite know if I need to be removing everything first and putting it all back in place differently. Or if I just have to put it on top and let the pull of gravity and the earth’s shift draw it under into the substrate.
What I don’t want is to change the size of stones that my children represent in my life. If there is room in there for lots of big stones, then great. But I refuse to give up quality time with my kids. But the focus cannot be entirely on my children. I cannot expect them to make me whole.
The trouble with parenting is that if you are doing your job right, you are constantly pushing your children away from you. This happens until they are fully functioning, self-sufficient beings in the world. At best, you will be able to witness their lives through every major step but once they are grown, you become less and less needed (or a bank or babysitter).
With every push that is made, a mother has the choice to backfill the space where the child once depended on her. Does this mean that the big stones that are children become smaller, making room for other big stones? I think not. The space in a mother’s heart and the concern in her head still occupy the same real estate. And yet she must get out there and make good use of the time that is made free again – after 2 weeks, 2 years, 2 decades. When is it the right time to backfill this space, anyway? I suspect never. And yet gradually, continually, always.
Little by little, I add things back into my jar. I never let go of the fact that everything I do for my own fulfillment, independent of what my children and family need from me, feels selfish and uncomfortable. I may never go back to a place of worrying only about the individual that I once was. I am a unit now. I come with connections. God willing, these connections will never leave me until the day I die.
I think humans are far more capable than they often think they are. I think we can do immense and wonderful things if we set our minds to it. I believe that women are far too good at underestimating themselves, selling themselves short. And yet not asking for help when it is needed. On this principle alone, I’m hoping I can handle a new stone.
I filled my jar for a decade now with stones that I learned to care deeply for. I topped it up to the brim with so much that mattered, so much to lose, so much that depended on me. But it became easier to meet the needs of others than to concern myself with my own.
I gave up pieces of myself to build this colourful mosaic I now call my life. I chipped away at the things that made me who I am, my interests, my dreams, the things I love and used these bricks to fill the needs of everything and everyone around me.
I know I’m not alone. This is what every person in the world does when they have something important to care for. It is natural and good to be this way.
But we have a choice as women to give or be taken from. I do believe that giving to others is a sure way to happiness. I also think that if you let yourself be repeatedly stripped of the stuff that makes you who you are, you will surely be headed towards anger and despair.
So it seems the trick is to be proactive with your resources. Get up in the morning and make choices about who you want to be and what you have to offer. If you do not, there will surely be a murder of crows waiting to take a piece of you. Offering your services and skills and creativity to the world outside of you is essential to being part of something bigger than you. We all need to feel as though we are useful and contributing. Trouble with parenting is that it so easily becomes a ‘taking’ scenario instead of a giving. The action is often a pull from the outside rather than an offering from the inside.
How do you make the same old chore a true offering from you heart (when you’ve had far too little sleep, you haven’t eaten a proper breakfast and the cow trough needs a filling)? You anticipate happy ways of spending time together rather than being dragged by the momentum of the train you are attached to. You make sure everyone gets enough sleep and enough to eat and has opportunities to grow, and relate and play and learn and discover and then rest. Including you.
The vessel is you. So please keep it shiny and clear. Don’t let the dust from that passing truck cloud your vision. Don’t let the sky falling mean you have to run around collecting the bits in your jar. See something beautiful, put it in your jar. Your jar is too full? Take one of the more unnecessary or draining things out.
Be careful, you are likely already filled up. But make sure you carve out a space for what is important. Make sure that you are part of what is important. More of that means more of you left to offer the world. Not pieces stolen, but given with a full and clear heart.
Because you took the time to make it so.