Years ago, I was talking to someone about a few bad habits I had fallen into because of stress. Trying to meet the needs of a growing family was pulling me in many directions. As a result, every fault in my personality was starting to show and it wasn’t pretty.
He listened to my complaints and asked a few pointed questions. Afterwards, he suggested I attack an underlying cause: an unbalanced life that was leading me to be easily overwhelmed.
What do I mean by unbalanced? I had just had baby #4. On a typical day, I would wake up whenever the baby did, after a night of broken sleep. I would try to spend time with all the kids, make sure school work was done, keep the house in order, cook healthy meals for the table, and care for my husband when he finally got off of work.
Notice anything? It was go, go, go from waking up to falling asleep. The cycle would start again the next day as I slowly sank into a hole I couldn’t find a way out of. There was precious little chance to recharge, to take a step back and breathe. ‘Quit’ is not a part of my vocabulary, but many days I was so tempted to just hide in a closet.
So, yes, I agreed with him that change was needed. The tough part was how. Balance was a nice idea, sorta like being in good physical shape. But I thought it was something I couldn’t have yet. Balance was for the future, when the kids were out of the house. Or at least old enough to go to the bathroom on their own.
He pointed out that if I didn’t alter my life now, I would continue on the same path (and probably end up driving off a bridge (my comment, not his)). Well, that didn’t sound appealing in the least. For days, his words kept going round and round my head while I kept up with the craziness surrounding me. The more I thought about it, the more I realized how right he was. For my own sanity and the sake of my family, I had to find another way.
Thus launched my investigation on how to live a balanced life (I have a need to research things before I do them). I started online because I could hop off and on, bookmark interesting articles, and continue late at night when I should have been sleeping. Somewhere along the line, I ran across this story about a professor and a jar:
The Mayonnaise Jar
When things in your life seem almost too much to handle, when 24 hours in a day is not enough, remember the mayonnaise jar and two cups of coffee.
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 fills it with golf balls.
He then asked the students if the jar was full. They agreed that it was.
The professor then picked up a box of pebbles and poured it into the jar. He shook the jar lightly. The pebbles rolled into the open areas between the golf balls.
He then asked the students again if the jar was full. They agreed it was.
The professor next picked up a box of sand and poured it into the jar. Of course, the sand filled up everything else.
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 empty space 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, family,
children, health, friends, and favorite passions. Things, that if everything else was lost and only they remained, your life would still be full. The pebbles are the things that matter like your job, house, and car. The sand is everything else — the small stuff.” he said.
“If you put the sand into the jar first,” he continued, “There is 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…” he told them.
“So… pay attention to the things that are critical to your happiness. Worship with your family. Play with your children. Take your partner out to dinner. Spend time with good friends. There will always be time to clean the house and fix the dripping tap. Take care of the golf balls first — the things that really matter. Set your priorities. The rest is just sand.”
One of the students raised her hand and inquired what the coffee represented.
The professor smiled and said, “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.”
You may have heard it already. It’s one of those things that floats around the internet in one form or another and I have no idea who originally told the story. I don’t know why it jumped out at me. Honestly, it could have been the very last line; I am ALWAYS up for coffee. But whatever it was, it just seemed a great image of a full, balanced life.
So, I concentrated on the golf balls. The children and family ones could use some tweaking, but the rest were sorely lacking. After reading more articles and a few different books, I worked out a plan for how to bring some order to the chaos.
One of the first things I did was to make a set time for prayer, one that could be flexible if I needed it. I’m Catholic, so you’d think prayer time would be second nature. But there was a whole lot more of “Dear God, please let me finish this before the baby wakes up” and a whole lot less of spending time in His Presence. Conversation is a two-way street and I was the one doing all the talking.
Then, I had a long talk with my husband about what I could do to get away for a bit each week. I looked for reasonable options I might enjoy which could work around my husband’s and available babysitters’ schedules. I ended up in kickboxing classes which slowly morphed to karate and brazilian jujitsu.
I also discovered the wonderful world of continuing education available through our local university. Cake decorating and dancing and writing classes, oh my!
Date nights were on the agenda as well. We loved each other very much, but we didn’t exactly make time together a priority. We saw everything which needed doing and put ourselves last. It took a while to realize we had the wrong end of the stick. Our marriage was more important than all the other things clamoring for our attention. We made a commitment to at least one date night out a month and more communication on a daily basis. The ‘two ships passing in the night’ thing was getting old.
We also decided to give each child an outing on their own on a regular basis. Sometimes we did so many family activities that the individual kids would get lost in the shuffle. These times might be as simple as errand running or more elaborate activities such as the museum or skating. The point was to give them all their parents’ attention for at least a little while.
One more hard thing I did was accept help in the form of a housekeeper once a week. I was a stay at home mom for Pete’s sake! If I had time to go lollygag at a dojo, I should be able to keep up with the housework, right? Why should I pay someone to come in and do the work I was supposed to be doing? It was at this point my husband sat me down and told me point-blank I was taking the help, so I might as well go enjoy myself. If I didn’t, he was locking me out of the house and getting it done anyway (we have a rather no-nonsense relationship).
These seem like small changes and they were. In reality, I was out of the house a few hours a week. The housekeeper came in four hours once a week. Prayer was maybe an hour a day, broken up into small segments morning and night.
But in those precious bubbles of time, I was able to recharge. I grew closer to God. I had adult conversations. I learned about things I was interested in. I remembered I wasn’t just a mom or a wife or a housekeeper. I was me and I was as worthy of time as anyone else.
It has been years since then. Though balance is challenging, the rewards are completely worth it. I have my daily prayer times in addition to family prayer. I have time away each week for exercise and hobbies. The housekeeper keeps our home in good order and allows me to get to things I normally wouldn’t have time for (I’m looking at you, junk drawer!)
These changes have helped me to stay on a more even keel, which keeps the bad habits down. The amazing thing is I used to not be able to make it through a week without a near melt down. Now, even if my schedule gets thrown off for a bit, I have enough mental reserves to call upon to keep me out of the closet (well, usually).
As for the sand and the pebbles? Well, if I can’t get to everything, I know that the most important things are taken care of. The rest will wait until tomorrow.
The coffee, on the other hand, is always brewing between 2 and 4. You never know who will drop in.