There’s a pretty popular story often shared on the internet about a college professor and a mason jar. It’s important to summarize that now before we continue with this post. In the story, the professor fills a mason jar with golf balls and asks their students if the jar is full. They unanimously say yes. Then, the professor pours a box of pebbles into the jar, filling the opening between the golf balls. Once again, they ask if the jar is full and once again, the students say yes.
Then, the professor picks up a bag of sand and empties it into the jar filling the remaining space. Again, “is this jar full?” Again, yes. Finally, the professor takes two cups of coffee and empties them into the mason jar. Then, they explain. The mason jar is to represent life. The golf balls represent the most important things: family, health, friends, passions. If everyone else was gone, but those golf balls remained, life would still be full.
The pebbles represent the other things that matter such as career, your home, your car, vacations. The sand is the small stuff like the chores list or what you’ll make for dinner. If you fill your jar first with sand or pebbles, they’ll be no room for the golf balls. And of course, the coffee is a reminder that no matter how “full” your life jar seems, they’ll always be room for coffee with a friend.
Like many, the first time I heard this, I was enamored by its sweetness and its effectiveness. Of course, I want to get my golf balls in order first. Don’t sweat the small stuff is something of a mantra in my family. This checked out perfectly. It wasn’t until recently, though, that I realized this metaphor could be applied to more than just life… specifically, that it could be applied to love.
When I think of it this way, the golf balls seem to be the deep, non-negotiable values. Pebbles are the “nice to haves.” Sand is the totally unimportant but easily identifiable features and attributes. And boy is it easy to get distracted by pebbles and sand.
Many times I’ve fallen into the pebbles and sand traps. I thought about listing some examples here, but I also realize that what might be a pebble for me might be a golf ball for someone else. So rather than fall into my own mason jar of love reflection, I invite you to create your own.
What are your golf balls for love? What are the things that if nothing else was there, would still make your love and your relationship fulfilling? These are the big ones. These are the non-negotiables.
What are your pebbles for love? These things still matter. But not nearly as much as your golf balls.
And finally, your sand. It might seem counterintuitive to make a list of the “small stuff” that we previously said doesn’t matter much. But it’s as helpful to know what doesn’t matter as it is to know what does.
It’s easy to get carried away in perfectly aligned sand. But that doesn’t leave space for golf balls. Pretty eyes don’t carry near as much weight as the heart they’re connected to.