The Pickle Jar Theory of Prayer is not really a theory but more of a method of prayer. It is based on a theory of time management involving a pickle jar. The analogy is to think of the many tasks that you must complete in a single day as rocks and pebbles. All of these tasks need to fit within one day, or a big pickle jar.
You have big tasks that must be done today. These are like big rocks. (Hopefully you only have a couple of these.) The many more medium sized tasks that you must complete are like medium size rocks. The pebbles represent all of the little things that you have to do within a day.
Now, how do you fit all of these rocks and pebbles into your big pickle jar?
To start, you place the big rocks in first. Among the gaps around the big rocks, you fit the medium size rocks. And then finally, you place all of your pebbles around and among the gaps of the big and medium size rocks. Thus, you can accomplish many, many tasks in one day.
Now for the Pickle Jar Theory of Prayer, we add one more ingredient—sand. Every grain of sand represents a small prayer with God. Your small prayer does not have to be anything fancy or formal. It should be as simple as saying the word Jesus or Lord in your mind. Or better yet, a few more words like the Jesus’ Prayer—Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me. Any word or phrase that you personally connect directly with God will work. Sometimes you do not even have to say a word in your mind. Just a glance at the cross or at a picture of Jesus will do. Even the feel of the cross dangling around your neck is enough to think of God. Anything will work, just as long as you are trying to make a connection with God and your heart. The trick, though, is to think consciously and continuously of God during your whole day.
When we add the sand to our pickle jar filled with rocks and pebbles, the sand fills in every nook and cranny. No space becomes untouched. In essence, the sand becomes the support for the other rocks and pebbles. The rocks will come and go, and even shift around, but the sand will always remain. The same with prayer. Prayer becomes the support for everything you do. God becomes the support for everything you do. As the sand wraps around and envelops the rocks and pebbles, prayer wraps around and envelops you, and you become closer to God. You live as if God is the most important thing in our life.
Ideally, over time, the sand metaphor should turn into a water metaphor. Sand is made of discrete, individual pieces. Water is continuous and flowing. When this happens, your whole day will be a prayer, and you will be doing what Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 5:17, “pray without ceasing”.
The more rain falls on the earth, the softer it makes it; similarly, Christ’s holy name gladdens the earth of our heart the more we call upon it. — St. Hesychois the Priest, from the Philokalia