The challenge was on the table...literally. One thousand small puzzle pieces lay on the table in front of me. Each piece lay incognito, defying anyone to connect it to another and position it in its proper place. Puzzles are a holiday tradition in my family from my early growing up years. It seems when there is more time to rest, to be at home and to be with family the puzzle provides enjoyment...and frustration.
After sorting carefully through the pieces, turning them all right side up, finding all the straight border edges and setting the picture on the box clearly in view, we commenced. Some stayed at the puzzle table only a few minutes, others a few hours. Some came and went and some determinedly persevered until they had a quota of pieces in place. The puzzle was a hard one, so no quick success was at hand.
Late on Christmas eve, after completing all the elf duties, we were heading to bed. I stepped into the room where the puzzle was to grab something to take to the bedroom and I was drawn to the table. Maybe just a piece or two and then I would head to bed. The room was silent except for the ticking of the clocks. The stove sizzled with a warm fire. Outside the wind moaned and howled. One piece, and then another found its place in the puzzle picture.
In the quiet I began to ponder the similarities between the puzzle and my life. So often, I have the picture of what is supposed to lie ahead. Just like the picture on the box, I think I know what the outcome is supposed to be. And yet, the picture on the box gives me no direction as to how to get the pieces in place. While I have some clues, like matching colors, unique shapes or even clear pieces of picture that go together, I am always surprised at what I think should fit into place and what doesn't.
As I worked the pieces of the puzzle, I smiled at the number of times I tried to fit a certain piece in a certain spot because it surely looked like it belonged there. Yet, every time, the piece was laid back on the table, still without a connection. Even more amusing were the pieces that did not seem to fit into the puzzle at all and suddenly they had found a home. Once they were connected, the work looked different than it had before they were placed. Of course, there are always those pieces that find their way to the floor and impede progress because they are not even on the table. Most importantly, I was struck by the reality that even though the completed picture was on the box, there were THOUSANDS of trial and error attempts to bring all the pieces to a completed picture.
Isn't life like that? THOUSANDS of trial and error attempts to create the picture we believe we want in our lives. Are we not certain that this piece needs to be in this place for the picture to be right, only to find out that it doesn't fit? Are we not surprised by what makes no sense and yet opens the next step for a new perspective? How many things have we set aside or even lost along the way that we missed or even worse, were dropped because we were careless?
In the still of the night, as the stove hissed and the wind howled, the clock chimed four times. The rest of the family was fast asleep as I put the last piece in the picture, content and satisfied that I had accomplished the goal. Time had escaped me. The focus on the task and the uninterrupted thought drew me into the deep night. In the quiet, I ran my hands over the beautiful picture on the puzzle and whispered, "well done. Now rest. Tomorrow's task awaits."
Thank you, LORD for the puzzles of life. Though we think we want completed pictures, we would miss the awe, the surprise of your ways high above ours. Thank you for letting us participate in the grand picture that you have painted for your world. Thank you for giving us success, and opportunities to try again and again. And thank you for always giving us clues to guide us on the path, even when it makes no sense or we carelessly lose our way.
Thank you that you are watching, and that you encourage us as we complete smaller pictures in your grand portrait. If we're listening we'll hear your voice in the stillness--
"Well done. Now rest. Tomorrow's task awaits."
Shelley Lopez, Executive Director
Shelley has been a member of the Springfield community for 29 years. As she lives and works and worships in the city, she uses the metaphor of an old Victorian house restoration to keep her focused on the work she is called to do. Inspired by the words of the prophet Isaiah, she pours herself into "restoring old ruins, rebuilding and renovating, making the community livable again" (Is. 58:12 MSG)