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The Big Rocks of Life

Let me begin with a story.

A wise woman brought a glass bowl and set it on a table in front of the group. Then she produced about a dozen fist-sized rocks and carefully placed them, one at a time, into the bowl. When the bowl was filled to the top and no more rocks would fit inside, she asked, “Is this bowl full?” Everyone in the group responded, “Yes.”

“Really?” she said, as she reached under the table and pulled out a bucket of gravel. She dumped some gravel in and shook the bowl, causing pieces of gravel to work themselves down into the spaces between the big rocks. Then she smiled and asked the group once more, “Is the bowl full?”

By this time they were on to her. “Probably not,” a member of the group answered. “Good!” she replied. She once again reached under the table and brought out a bucket of sand. As she dumped the sand in, it filled all the spaces left between the rocks and the gravel. Once more she asked the question, “Is the bowl full?”

“No!” the group shouted. Once again she said, “Good!” Then she grabbed a pitcher of water and began to pour it in until the bowl was filled to the brim.

Then she looked at the group and asked, “What is the point of this demonstration?” One person responded, “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 wise woman said, “that is not the point. The truth this demonstration teaches us is that if you don’t put the big rocks in first, you’ll never get them in at all.”

The big rocks represent our foundation and our focus in life. As Christians, we believe that Jesus is the foundation and center of our lives. Like the big rocks, our foundation needs to come first. We look to model our lives so that we live as Jesus lived, with love and compassion. Unless Jesus is our basis and our priority, we can lose that way.

Like the big rocks in the story, Jesus has to come first in our “bowl” of life. As St. Paul tells us, we need to “clothe ourselves with Jesus Christ” (Rom 13:14) and imitate Jesus by “walking in love as Christ loved us” (Eph 5:1).

Jesus is our rock. Jesus is our model. Jesus is our way. When we can keep sight of our rock, we know that we are held by a gracious, loving God who guides us, challenges us, and cherishes us. And when we know this, we can live in a way of love, patience, understanding, and compassion for others.

Do we always put Jesus Christ into our bowls first? What do we let get in the way?

Sister Eileen is a member of the RENEW staff, a spiritual director, and an avid Mets fan.

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