I have always hated puzzles. With a passion. They were maddening to me. Why spend hours putting all these cut up, tiny pieces together to make a picture that you could just buy and frame? Then once you have finished, you tear it apart, put it back in the box, and do it again another time.
Not only did that drive me nuts, but the actual process of flipping them all right side up, picking out the straight edges, and then spending hours trying this and that with all the pieces…I mean, really, I considered puzzles to be inventions of the devil himself, aiming to drive us all insane.
My extended family loves to do a puzzle over Christmas when we are at my sister’s for a few days. She sets up a table for this specific purpose. Half my family will sit there for hours, drinking wine and working on this puzzle. I couldn’t stand it. I spent my time at the dining room table playing fast-paced card games. There was constant movement and a clear winner. A clear beginning and end time. None of this drifting in and out to work a few pieces here and there. Slowly.
My husband (of course…because he’s my carbon opposite) loves puzzles. So he decided we should also do a puzzle at home over the holidays. Two Christmases ago, we started our tradition. Our kids had just gotten big enough that we could leave out a large puzzle and it wouldn’t get messed up.
Admittedly, he was the one who did the most work. I’d walk past and throw on a piece or two, but I never parked myself to actually work on it.
The thing about Cody is he’s super practical. He doesn’t just sit and do a puzzle willy nilly. He has a specific system. He organizes every single piece of the puzzle first before he starts working on it. He puts all the straight pieces in a pile. Then he categorizes the rest based on color by making multiple piles of pieces that seem to go together.
Once all 1,000 pieces are organized, he constructs the border. He then proceeds to work on each individual pile roughly in the space where it would go on the puzzle. Once he reaches tougher spots, like maybe a huge chunk that’s all the same color, he begins to reorganize those piles of specific shapes. For example, if there’s a big black shadow on the puzzle, he takes the pieces in the black pile and organizes them by shape. That way, when he’s looking for the next black piece, he has already narrowed down where those specific pieces are.
You guys, this is so opposite of how I approach anything in life, let alone puzzles. But I thought, “Well, good job, guy. But I still don’t like puzzles.”
Then something funny happened. We noticed that our very busy and very energetic five-year-old son actually loved working puzzles. He would sit down to a 750 or 1000-piece puzzle, and he would work on it quietly, sometimes for over an hour. When he woke up at 6 a.m., he’d sneak into the living room, flip on the lights, and work on the puzzle until we all woke up.
It was baffling to me. He never lost patience. He just would slowly look for pieces, try them in different places, get one set in place, and try and find another piece. He started asking me to sit with him and work on it. So I did. And I actually started liking it because I was doing it with my son. I loved seeing how much he enjoyed it.
Then the craziest thing happened. One day, I wanted to do a puzzle. And we didn’t have one. So I went to Target, found one on sale, brought it home, and began working on it of my own volition.
This has never happened once in my entire life.
Cody was out of town, but I adopted his method. And lo and behold, it made the process more enjoyable and satisfying because I had a strategy, and it actually worked. I was actually starting to enjoy puzzles.
Lately, I have been thinking about how these puzzles are a lot like life. And maybe by adopting Cody’s method, I could relax and trust God’s plan for my life a little more than I do.
First you have your border: those straight edges that need to be set up before you can even start. I consider this our boundaries in life. What do we want in our lives? And what do we want to keep out? We want love, trust, joy, and peace inside. We want to keep out drama, negativity, hate, and sin. These need to be clearly established before you make any big decisions because it will help you filter everything that comes at you.
Then you organize the pieces into piles. Each piece is different, just like every day and every season of life is different. Some are bright and super colorful. Some are really wonky and confusing. Others are just a complete solid color, even black. But you need every single one of those pieces to make the picture.
Once you organize the pieces, you start to work on the piles. This makes me think of seasons of life. One might be marriage. Another might be parenting. Others could be faith, friendships, or career. Some have to come before others. Some need to be prioritized over others. Some have yet to materialize.
Then once those big sections are together, you somehow have to figure out the random pieces that connect them all. And isn’t this the hardest part? Those stretches of time and life that seem so tough and awkward, when we feel out of place, and we wonder what we are doing are the kind we would rather skip.
There are some days in life where we find so much joy, we’ll never forget it. We probably have lots of photographs from that day, but we probably don’t need them because we can remember every detail. A wedding day, the day we held our babies for the first time, that first day on our dream job…those pieces are easy to find and string together.
Other pieces are confusing. Random colors thrown together, a jagged line through the middle, blurry lines. Where does it even go? Why is it here? Surely this doesn’t fit anywhere. Why is this season of life so hard? Why do I feel lost? What is the point? Does God even care? I hate this piece!
Then there are the completely black or solid pieces. It’s even more impossible to find where these go, and we end up having to sort them a little bit more. Digging deep into our hearts for the strength to get through them, grappling for every ounce of hope and energy we have to endure.
But every single piece is needed. Every single piece has a place. Each one is needed to get to the next one. The beautiful ones uplift us. The dark ones strengthen us. The mundane ones give us patience and ground us.
And when it’s all put together, we can finally see. Unfortunately, we can’t see the entire picture. Not yet. But we know the artist. And we can trust Him. He wastes nothing. And he’s always there, cheering us on, telling us to keep trying at our puzzle. He can’t wait to show us the final product.
When all is said and done, we’ll be shocked to know who we blessed by our simple gestures. We’ll be blown away by how our dark seasons taught us lessons that inspired others with without us even realizing it. We’ll be stunned to see that while maybe we wanted God to do a big work in our lives, He was working with our daily faithfulness on even bigger works around us and in us while we were unaware.
God put you were you are, and He gave you what you have to see what you’ll do with it. Don’t waste it. Because He certainly doesn’t. He has His reasons. And we can trust Him.
“From one man, God made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and He determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek Him and perhaps reach out for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us. For in Him we live and move and have our being.” Acts 17:26-28
“In his heart, a man plans his course, but the Lord determines His steps.” Proverbs 16:9