How a Jar of Stones Saved Christmas

As Christmas drew near last year, my to-do list kept growing.  Each night I fretted that our Christmas tree might not be decorated before out-of-town family arrived.  How could I get everything done, not collapse from exhaustion, and still have energy to enjoy Christmas?  Praying for calm, I was saved by a jar of stones.

I learned years ago that a jar of stones can help people figure out priorities, reduce anxiety and let go of things that aren’t important.  The jar gave me mental space to create fun, tender, new types of family time that wouldn’t have happened otherwise.   It’s not too late to give yourself a jar of stones for Christmas.  It’s a gift you can take with you everywhere and use any time.

Imagine a quart-sized canning jar and three small bowls, one filled with stones, one with pebbles, and one with sand.  Now, on a paper, draw three columns. In the first column, list your most important values, goals, or tasks–you know, the really big stuff that truly matters.  These are the stones.  In the second, list those what’s important, but not as essential.  These might feel “essential to salvation,” but really aren’t.  These are the pebbles.  The third column gets all the stuff that helps you procrastinate, is just fun, nibbles away your time, and is, as Steven Covey says, “neither urgent nor important.”  You guessed correctly: these comprise the sand.

What’s the jar?  You are.  Your time, energy, finances and personal resources, in other words, your life forms the jar.  The question is what will you put into it?

If you pour, or allow others to pour, sand and pebbles in the jar first, you won’t have room for the number of stones you want to include.  Choose the stones that are most important and give them the honor of going in the jar first.  Then add some pebbles, and let the sand fill in the rest of the space.  Trust me, no matter how many stones and pebbles you put in the jar, there’ll be lots of room for sand.

My Christmas stones are:

  • to be as true as possible to the meaning of Jesus’ birth,
  • to finish all errands before family arrives,
  • to focus on relationships and love,
  • to save enough energy and health to enjoy family time together,
  • to do something for people whose needs are greater than mine, and
  • to thank the Holy One for love made real in the Incarnation.

Last year, I didn’t decorate the tree before everyone arrived.  I decided the tree wasn’t a stone, it was a pebble.  Instead, we trimmed the tree as a family, drinking wassail, snacking, and recounting each ornament’s history.  We lingered over an ornament made by Chris when he was in nursery school, another by Ken at age two, and another by an artist with whom I walked through her last stages of cancer.

A daughter-in-law suggested we make Christmas cookies one morning, which we’d never done together.  I haven’t had so much fun baking Christmas cookies since my sons were in grade school.  Having stopped worrying about baking cookies, they became a time for relationship and love.

In this Christmas season, I offer you a jar of stones.  I pray that it will be as much gift to you as it was to me, and that you’ll carry it with you for the rest of the year.  Merry Christmas.

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