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I heard a lesson once during a Bible study in college that has stuck with me through the years. We were discussing how to balance a hectic college schedule that included a challenging course load, employment, church and ministry events, some amount of social interaction and of course the ever important needs to sleep and do laundry.
The lesson went something like this. Imagine that you need to pack an empty fish bowl full of rocks. The rocks come in many different sizes, from one that takes up over half the bowl, to many small pebbles and grains of sand.
If you put the sand and the small pebbles in first, they fill up the bottom of the bowl fairly quickly. Then when you try to put the bigger rocks in, you have a difficult time fitting them within that defined space.
Of course, if you’re wise, you’ll put in the largest rock first and work in the rest of the rocks in decreasing size. You might be surprised with how much you can fit into that little space if you’re methodical about the way you arrange everything. Put the pebbles and the sand in last, and you’ll have a much easier time of it.
The bowl represents your life—specifically, the natural constraints of your time and energy. And the rocks are all of the activities that fill up your days. The size of the rock is symbolic of its importance, according to your personal values.
Are you putting in the big rocks first? Or are you constantly wrestling to fit everything in the bowl in the wrong order?
I’m not a college student anymore (and I thought I was “busy” then??? HA!). I’ve found that over the years, those pesky pebbles have grown increasingly demanding for attention.
For as long as I’ve been alive, and for millennia prior to that, there have always been twenty-four hours in a day, seven days a week. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve wished away this simple fact of the universe…couldn’t we just add a little hour here or there?
Making priorities in my day-to-day life is hard and continues to get harder as my kids grow up. I’ve battled with the “busy life” for as long as I can remember.
Recently it occurred to me that maybe I need to stop battling. Life is busy, period, and wishful thinking will not change that. I just need to think differently about how I’m arranging my rocks. Do you relate? Then consider the ways you can make peace with the busy life.
Life to the full
At some point I came across what I believe is a false promise: that if I just do less or have fewer demands on my schedule, I will finally have peace.
But as I’ve said, I have NEVER not been “busy” to some degree.
Jesus proclaims in John 10:10 that his followers will have a full life. He does not say an “easy” life or a “convenient” life. In fact, as I wrote recently, we shouldn’t necessarily avoid stress because it can be good for us. Jesus does promise rest: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). But it isn’t because we’ve just cleared our lives of everything and are settled into early retirement. We feel restful because we have a shifted perspective and are trusting him with our burdens, not because we’re avoiding living a full life.
Understanding your rocks
Okay, so the first step to peace is surrendering our burdens by trusting God. What this means practically is faithfully prioritizing our lives and believing that God will fill help us fill in the gaps.
If you’re like, “That sounds great…but how?” —I’ve got you covered. Take five minutes and try this exercise, prayerfully. Write down the major categories of priorities in your life. Some suggestions include:
- Extended family
Under each category, write down the tasks that contribute to each priority. For example, if marriage is a priority, then going on dates with your spouse is a task that fits under that category. If health is a priority (as it should be), then specific self-care tasks could fall into that category. If kids are a priority, then family time and all of their activities fit into that category.
Be sure to make a mental note about which categories rank higher than others. This won’t be a perfect exercise because life naturally isn’t this compartmentalized, but it can be helpful. For example, my faith, marriage and kids are my top priorities, and everything else follows.
It doesn’t take long to paint a quick picture of what’s important to you. Suddenly all of those little things that cause unnecessary anxiety are recognized for what they are: small rocks.
Setting healthy limits
The book Boundaries: When To Say Yes, How To Say No, To Take Control of Your Life was a life-changing read for me. I first read it over ten years ago and read it again recently. The lessons are invaluable: learning to say “no” to the things that just don’t fit into the picture of a full life. I highly recommend you read this if you struggle with saying “yes” to everyone and everything.
When you’re planning your schedule (and trust me, you need one), keep those priorities handy. When something comes up, ask yourself: is this a big rock or a little rock? If it’s not as important as your other tasks, say no. It’s as simple as that. Or, see if you can fit it in at a different date.
For the past month, my household has been crazy busy with birthday parties, Father’s Day and visits with extended family. It has helped me immensely to remember that family and kids are among my top priorities, so I have said “yes” to a lot of partying and celebration. All of it makes me feel exhausted, so I have also prioritized some “rest periods” to help my little introverted soul recover. The result: my house has been just a notch below disaster at times, and I haven’t gotten around to household projects. But these are lower priorities, and I will add in these small rocks later when the higher priorities aren’t so demanding.
And, most importantly, I’m trusting that where I drop the ball, God will fill in the gaps.
Okay, your turn: do you battle with busyness? What do you need to shift in your perspective so that you can make peace with the busy life? I’m also thinking about creating a free printable for the priorities exercise—would you find that helpful? Let me know and I’ll get to work on it 🙂
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