History tells a tale of how the Greek scholar Archimedes was stymied by the problem of determining if a goldsmith had cheated the king with a crown made supposedly with only the gold the monarch had provided. Like many of us, he took his quandary with him into the bath and our understanding of volume and density changed forever that day.
I had a similar moment a couple of weeks ago. Although the situation did involve water, it didn’t take place in the bathtub. And I didn’t run through the streets naked, yelling at the top of my lungs afterwards.
The Tale of the Water Pitcher
I’ve always liked checklists for the simple reason that I love crossing things off. It allows me to look back and see all I’ve accomplished in a day. At the lodge, I cross off the same items every day. One of those items is filling water goblets and placing them out for the morning guests. I’ve determined that for every ten glasses I fill maybe one is emptied. The rest go untouched. Why drink water when you have coffee, tea, and juice available?
Because of this, I end up dumping out and washing dozens of cups that have only my fingerprints on them.
On this particular day I had over thirty guests coming to breakfast and the pitcher I had been given to use on my first day filled four glasses at most. Having sprained my knee recently I was acutely aware of how much walking I was doing refilling water pitchers every morning.
That’s when I remembered seeing a large stainless steel pitcher hidden on the back of one of the shelves in the kitchen.
Based on its size I guessed I could fill all of my cups with only two trips back to the sink and I marveled at my brilliance. Little did I know I was about to have an object lesson play out before me that has stuck with me ever since.
I loaded my tray with the first ten water goblets, filled them with ice, and then added the water. A glance in my pitcher showed that I could easily fill another five to ten more, so I set out the glasses, came back to my station and started again. After filling the next set, I looked in the pitcher again expecting it would be time to refill it.
There was still a quarter of a pitcher of water left.
I was stunned and as I set out my second load I wondered how many more glasses I was going to get out of that one pitcher.
One. Two. Three…Seven…Eight…Nine….
Each time I poured I looked inside to check the water level and could not believe there was still something inside. And with each filled glass I became more and more excited.
It’s in our lowest moments that our biggest blessings are usually found.
I was reminded of the widow who had only a handful of flour and a little oil when Elijah approached her and asked for some bread, and how that handful of food was replenished every day until the end of the famine (1 Kings 17).
I recalled another impoverished widow whose sons were about to be taken from her to cover her debts. Elisha told her to gather as many pots as she could find then fill them with what oil she had in her one little jar. The oil didn’t run out until she had filled every single jar, and so her family was saved (2 Kings 4).
And then I remembered a little boy in a crowd of five thousand who stepped forward to share his two meager fish and five tiny barley loaves, and whose gift resulted in enough leftovers to fill twelve baskets (Matthew 14).
That’s when it hit me—I was the pitcher.
I’d been feeling so drained that I wondered how on earth I could be of any encouragement to others and yet, when I considered the last year, I realized I had never witnessed so many moments of fullness coming out of the supposed emptiness in my life.
And that right there was the catch.
Pitchers don’t fill themselves. They are filled by a main source so that they in turn can fill other vessels.
The same is true of my life. I will never find fulfillment in myself. I have to tap into the Life Source. It’s from that connection abundance flows out of my life and into others (John 4:14).
Like the individuals above, it took a moment of near emptiness to realize just how incredibly blessed my life really is. I don’t have to sit waiting for the right opportunity to come around to make a difference in my world. I can be that difference now.
I’ve come to the conclusion that if what I write or do each day affects only one life, the effort is more than worth it. Just as a pitcher can’t fulfill its purpose by sitting on a shelf, neither can I. And like the pitcher, I don’t have to be overflowing to fill a single glass.
A little bit goes a long way.
By the time I’d set out all the water goblets I had enough left over to fill three more, and still there were a few drops left at the bottom of that pitcher. I had all I needed for the day, plus some!
So there you have it. My Eureka moment won’t go down in history for changing the world of mathematics, and it may never solve any global problems, but it did improve my perspective.
P.S. To this day, I’ve never been able to fill as many water goblets as I did that morning. But that doesn’t mean I’ve quit trying!