The professor stood at the front of the classroom holding a large glass jar. Next to her lay a pile of big river rocks, a heap of smaller pebbles and a bucket full of beach sand. Setting down her coffee cup, she asked the class, “If you were given the task of successfully filling this jar with all of these materials, how would you go about it to maximize what fits inside?”
A low murmur filled the large lecture hall as students turned to their neighbors and began sharing their ideas. Finally, one brave student raised his hand and suggested that you have to put the biggest objects in first so the smaller ones can fit around them.
“Very good idea,” the professor responded as she gestured for him to come down to the front of the class and test out his theory. The student carefully put the big rocks in the bottom of the jar, then dropped in the pebbles, and lastly poured in the sand. The rest of the class watched as the sand filled the tiny spaces that weren’t even visible before, until the jar was completely full.
“Now consider what would have happened if he had filled the jar in the opposite way. Some of the largest objects would not have fit into the jar because the sand would have taken up most of the room, right?”
The class nodded in agreement.
“So if this jar is your life, then what are your ‘big rocks’?” the professor asked. “These are the biggest priorities that you need to make time for in your life and should focus on first. Yet what often happens is that we fill our lives with the least important things—the sand—that take our time and energy away from focusing on what really matters most in our lives.”
Picking up her coffee cup again, she now asked the class, “Can anything else fit into this jar?” A few students shook their heads, while others looked back quizzically. The professor proceeded to slowly pour the remainder of her coffee into the jar, and the brown liquid quickly percolated into the sand.
“What does this show?” she asked. A student in the front row fired back quickly, “You can ALWAYS find space to fit something else in!” The class broke into laughter, knowing from their own busy college lives that this was all too true.
“Not exactly,” the professor responded. “While you can always try to cram more in, this coffee symbolizes the relationships that you need to maintain, even when your ‘life jar’ looks and feels completely full. When your jar is full, you need to take a coffee break.”
While this classic story has several variations, the moral is consistent: Knowing what the big rocks should be in our lives is crucial before we start filling up our own “life jars.” However, most students don’t realize that they haven’t made enough time for their most important priorities—creating a healthy lifestyle, maintaining relationships with close friends and family, focusing on their spiritual lives—until all of their time is already invested in other activities.
With all the various classes, activities and demands placed on a college student’s life these days, making time for developing and maintaining a deep and lasting relationship with God often gets pushed to the side because of an already overly full life. Even though our relationship with God should be the largest rock in our lives, it often doesn’t fit into our jar of life. Sometimes we don’t even make time for a quick “coffee break” with God. We claim our lives are simply too full.
While it’s easy to make excuses as to why these spiritual routines get neglected, given all the other demands on our time and energy, imagine what your life would be like if you felt more spiritually connected, engaged and supported.
King David is a great example of a young man who earnestly and continually sought after God (Psalms 63:1 Psalms 63:1O God, you are my God; early will I seek you: my soul thirsts for you, my flesh longs for you in a dry and thirsty land, where no water is;
American King James Version×). And because of the relationship David actively developed with God, He appointed David to be a great leader and called him “a man after His own heart” (1 Samuel 13:14 1 Samuel 13:14But now your kingdom shall not continue: the LORD has sought him a man after his own heart, and the LORD has commanded him to be captain over his people, because you have not kept that which the LORD commanded you.
American King James Version×; Acts 13:22 Acts 13:22And when he had removed him, he raised up to them David to be their king; to whom also he gave their testimony, and said, I have found David the son of Jesse, a man after my own heart, which shall fulfill all my will.
American King James Version×). What do you want God to call you?
Seeking God daily and calling on Him is crucial to maintaining a strong relationship with Him, both in college and throughout life (Isaiah 55:6 Isaiah 55:6Seek you the LORD while he may be found, call you on him while he is near:
American King James Version×). Yet intentionally and proactively setting aside an appropriate amount of time in a busy college student schedule for regular prayer, Bible study, meditation and fasting often seems daunting. Use the action steps below as a starting point to create and sustain healthy spiritual routines in college.
What’s in your jar?
Take a moment to consider what you’ve filled your life with now—classes, student organizations, service projects, time with friends, among other activities and commitments. What is taking up the most space? What is left out of your jar because it doesn’t fit?
Identify your big rocks
Now determine what your biggest priorities are and see if you have created enough space for them in your life. What do you need to change or even eliminate to make more time for seeking a deeper relationship with God and spiritual fellowship with like-minded friends?
Strategically fill your jar
After you know what needs to go into your jar first, it’s time to establish how these big rocks will fit in your jar on a regular basis. Decide what spiritual routines you want to develop in your life—morning Bible study, personal prayer with God, Sabbath fellowship and more. Then build your other activities around these routines instead of trying to find time for them after you schedule everything else.
Remember to take coffee breaks
Life is busy, and sometimes even the most well-intentioned routines don’t happen in the way or at the time we desire. Remember: When you feel overwhelmed and think that you don’t have time for one more thing, this is the most important time to take a short “coffee break” and reestablish your connection with our Holy Creator. Spend some time in prayer or meditation on His Word, take a deep breath and then jump back into the busyness of life.
By intentionally examining your own life and creating some personal spiritual routines, you can begin to develop and deepen your relationship with God while in college. VT
Spiritual Routines in College
Here’s what other students and recent college graduates had to say when asked, “What is your spiritual routine in college?”
“One thing I realized toward the end of my undergraduate degree was that I was spending almost all of my time studying and not enough time on my relationship with God, after which I made an effort to not discuss college, classes and the inevitable sleep deprivation on the Sabbath. I would look forward to weekly Friday night chats with Church friends where we’d discuss either a Bible study from the Church’s Web site or other Bible topics we were studying. This along with the other strategies helped me a lot.”
- Male master’s student, Ohio
“While I was in college, I knew that if I did not take the time to pray in the morning, when my mind was fresh, I would never get the chance to, and my entire day would be off. I found that kneeling in prayer with a fresh cup of coffee in hand helped me to slow down while talking to God, giving Him and the time I was spending with Him my full attention.”
- Female college graduate, Wisconsin
“While at university I would set aside a specific amount of time for prayer and study every Friday night. I would put it in my calendar and keep to it. As with anything, if you don’t plan to keep an appointment, you’ll always find something else that is perhaps also important to fill the time. I found it helpful to think of it as an appointment that I had to keep.”
- Male college graduate, Washington, D.C.