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  • Elder Aaron Tan (PSPC)

The Parable of the Mayonnaise Jar

Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. Ephesians 5:15-17 (ESV)

I do not know about you, but I personally feel that the current situation where most of us are still very much confined to working from home has made working hours very difficult to distinguish from personal time. I have found myself often in back-to-back Zoom/Teams calls till late in the evening and even on some nights. I get urgent emails late at night, or during weekends and public holidays that require attention. The meaning of being ‘on leave’ has also become rather blurred and I find myself having to take a couple of urgent Zoom/Teams calls or reply emails when I am ‘on leave’. In the past, when I was on leave, I am not in my office so nobody expects me to answer a call or respond to an email.

Any one here who has the same experience as me?

As I was reflecting about this situation for this month’s article, I became concerned that we can so easily become overwhelmed with work if we fail to intentionally take a step back to intentionally review our commitments and prioritise our time. If we are not careful we can easily be swamped by all the daily tasks that we need to do that may be urgent but not important and unintentionally sacrifice the important things that may not present themselves as urgent. A story I came across recently gave me a timely reminder about this. It is not my own but unfortunately I could not find the name of the original author to give credit to, and some of you may have read similar versions of it. It goes like this:

A professor stood before his philosophy class and had some items in front of him. When the class began, wordlessly, he picked up a very large and empty mayonnaise jar and proceeded to fill it with golf balls. He then asked the students if the jar was full.  They agreed that it was.

So the professor then picked up a box of pebbles and poured them into the jar. He shook the jar lightly.  The pebbles rolled into the open areas between the golf balls. He then asked the students if the jar was full. They agreed that it was.

The professor next picked up a box of sand and poured it into the jar.  Of course, the sand filled up the remaining space in the jar. He asked once more if the jar was full. The students responded with a unanimous "Yes!"

The professor then produced two cups of coffee from under the table and poured the entire contents into the jar, effectively filling the spaces between the sand. The students laughed.

"Now," said the professor, as the laughter subsided, “I want you to recognize that this jar represents your life. The golf balls are the important things — God, your marriage, your family, your children, your ministry, your health, your friends — things that if everything else was lost and only they remained, your life would still be full.”

“The pebbles are the other things that matter like your job, your favourite hobbies or recreational activities, your house...stuff like that.”

“The sand is everything else - the small stuff.”

"If you put the sand into the jar first," he continued, "There will be no room for the pebbles or the golf balls. The same goes for life.  If you spend all your time and energy on the small stuff, you will never have room for the things that are important to you.  Pay attention to the things that are important first - your relationship with God, working on enriching your marriage, spending quality time with your family, taking time to get that long over-due medical check-up done, or perhaps taking someone out to dinner.  There will always be time to clean the house and fix the disposal."

One of the students raised her hand and inquired what the coffee represented.

The professor smiled. "I'm glad you asked. It just goes to show you that no matter how full your life may seem, there's always room for a couple of cups of coffee with a friend!”

I after reading this story, I was prompted to re-order my life to have a more clear-cut stop-work time and just leave my desk to go for a jog or walk, and to intentionally plan time to meet up with people I need to meet as part of my ministry (but have been putting aside), and so on. This has since given me back a sense of control, and I do feel less stressed and more fulfilled.

May this article encourage us to “make the best use of the time” that God has given to us. Covid or not, we all still only have 24 hours a day. May we glorify and honour Him with every minute we have for the sake of His Kingdom. Amen.

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