One of my favourite speakers and authors, Tony Campolo writes, Growing up, I knew a man who loomed larger than life to me. He was Edwin Bailey. He ran the astronomical observatory at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia. I would go there most Saturdays just to spend time with him. His encyclopaedic mind fascinated me. He knew something about everything. I was friends with him until he died several years ago. Once, after he’d suffered a serious stroke, I went to visit him in the hospital. In an effort to make small talk I told him about all the places where I’d been to speak and how I’d come to his bedside right from the airport. He heard me out. Then looking questioningly at me he asked, “You go all over the world to people who, ten years from now, probably won’t remember your name, but are you taking time for those who really matter?” Campolo went on to say, ‘That question changed my life. I’ve decided not to let my time be used up by people for whom I make no difference, while neglecting those for whom I’m irreplaceable.’
With that thought in mind let me share the following story I read last week.
One day a well known businessman was speaking to a group of undergraduates. To drive home his point he used the following illustration. He lifted a large empty plant pot onto the desk then proceeded to place a dozen fist-sized rocks into the pot. When the pot was filled to the top and no more rocks would fit inside, he asked, ‘Is this pot full?’ Everyone in the class said, ‘Yes.’ Then he said, ‘Really?’ He reached under the table and pulled out a bucket of gravel. Then he poured some gravel in and shook the pot causing pieces of gravel to work themselves down into the spaces between the big rocks. Then he asked the group once more, ‘Is the pot full?’ By this time the class was onto him, ‘Probably not,’ one of them answered. ‘Good!’ he replied. He reached under the table and brought out a bucket of sand. He started pouring the sand in and it went into all the spaces left between the rocks and the gravel. Once more he asked the question, ‘Is this pot full?’ ‘No!’ the class shouted. Once again he said, ‘Good!’ then he grabbed a pitcher of water and began to pour it in until the pot was filled to the brim. Then he looked up at the class and asked, ‘What is the point of this illustration?’ One eager young student raised their hand and said, ‘The point is, no matter how full your schedule is, if you try really hard, you can always fit some more things into it!’ ‘No,’ the speaker replied, ‘that’s not the point. The truth this illustration teaches us is, if you don’t put the big rocks in first, you’ll never get them in at all.’
Epicteus the first century philosopher puts it well when he wrote. ‘This is our predicament. Over and over again, we lose sight of what is important and what isn’t.’
Let me finish with a prayer. Father please help us to understand what you see as the big rocks in our life. Help us to not reach the end of our days and discover that we have spent our energy on nothing more than sand and water.