First Things First
If you visit my office here at St. Dunstan’s (which I hope you will – often!), you no doubt will notice a jar at the corner of my desk filled with rocks, pebbles, and sand. As I curated my beautiful new work space this summer, I thought carefully about which symbols and images I wanted around me. I placed the jar right in front of me as a constant visual reminder of what is most important.
You may be familiar with the story of the professor who wanted to teach his students to budget their time. He stood before his class with an empty jar and placed several large rocks inside. “Is the jar full?” he asked. When his students responded yes, the professor dropped in handfuls of small pebbles; they nestled easily in and around the big rocks, challenging the students’ previous assumptions. “Is it full now?” The class, beginning to catch on, surmised that it probably was not. And with that, the professor poured a bag of sand over the rocks and pebbles, filling every remaining crevice until the jar was, at last, completely full.
When I conducted this experiment in Chapel at St. Andrew’s last year, my Middle School students recognized immediately that it wouldn’t have worked had I poured in the sand before everything else. The big rocks had to go first; they would not fit later. I wish I were always so astute! The message is clear: it is all-too easy for our “jars” to become filled by demands which consume our time and energy and leave little room for that which is truly meaningful and life-giving.
In this week’s Gospel, Jesus challenges His followers to make our relationship with God the “big rock,” prioritizing it above and before all else. Christians have wrestled with this troubling text for two thousand years, and we in our generation are no exception. Given the increasing complexity of our world and of our individual lives, it may feel unrealistic, if not altogether impossible, to meet Jesus’s expectations. With so much else clamoring for our attention, how can we devote ourselves fully to God?
The answer, of course, is that few of us do it perfectly, or well. Virtually every day, it seems, my best intentions are thwarted by the pebbles and grains of sand that compete for my time and energy. This is why I am so grateful for Christian community, because I need the encouragement, support, and prodding of my brothers and sisters as I try, however haltingly, to put my faith first.
This week at St. Dunstan’s is Homecoming, the official kickoff of the 2019-20 program year. For those of us who appreciate fresh starts, we might think of this Sunday as an opportunity to “refill our jars” and begin to think anew about the place and role of God in our lives. In the Episcopal tradition, we mark such new beginnings with prayer. In that spirit, I invite students to bring your backpacks to be blessed at the outset of this next school year. Adults, bring your briefcases, backpacks, and gym bags, too. There will be abundant blessings for everyone!
I look forward to seeing you on Sunday.
Your Sister in Christ,