Are you a puzzler? It seems puzzling is a favourite winter pastime for many of us here in Canada. Dark winter evenings afford wonderful relaxing opportunities to work together (or alone) to engage in the challenge of recreating an attractive scene from a large number of jumbled pieces. Always, the promise is that if one is able to fit each piece in just the right place, a beautiful image will eventually emerge. Those who patiently commit to indulging in such a pastime experience a great sense of satisfaction in seeing the pieces smoothly fall into place until completion!
Knowing my wife, Carolyn, as the puzzler she is, I was quite sure that she would find a good deal of pleasure in assembling the thousand-piece project that I gave her at Christmas. (In my mind, the European castle-like picture was a way to prepare possibly, for a trip to that part of the world sometime later in the year.) After Christmas, we supplemented the puzzle-gift by buying an assembly platform. It included four thin rectangular drawer boxes in which the puzzle pieces could be spread for sorting according to their shapes and colours. Everything, it seemed, was in place to make this a very enjoyable wintertime diversion. I was quite sure the project would be finished within a week or two.
But alas! Working many hours–alone and together–the beautiful puzzle project took almost the entire month of January to complete! This particular puzzle project turned out to be far more challenging than we had ever experienced before! Many times, while working on it, we found ourselves wondering whether we were up to the task. Often, we concluded, that some of the pieces must surely be missing. We congratulated ourselves when, in the course of one day, we were able to place even one or two pieces successfully! We often felt unprepared for the level of difficulty the project seemed to represent. Perhaps, we mused, we lacked experience or expertise needed. We knew of others who had no difficulty in completing puzzles of two-or–three thousand pieces in very little time.
What seemed to challenge us in this case were a couple of things. One was the fact that many of the pieces had very similar colours, sizes and shapes. Even after sorting and resorting, as well as trying repeatedly to fit various pieces, the right match refused to be found. Many times, also, there seemed to be a very good fit, but closer examination made it clear that it was not quite the proper match. In fact, some pieces began to show signs of serious wear because of our repeated attempts to make them fit. So often, what we considered a good fit, turned out to be a subtle misfit.
Yet we persisted–some days more encouraged than on others by the degree of progress. As we regularly counted the number of pieces remaining, and as their number slowly diminished, things seemed to get a little easier. Sometimes, especially near the end, we were not a little surprised that pieces, which we thought would never fit, fell into place rather easily.
As you might expect, I find many applications to daily life from this experience! So much of life is like working on a puzzle! We are attracted to the prospect of completing what we see “on the cover of the box,” eagerly looking forward to engaging the process, only to find that the whole thing is far more challenging than we had ever imagined.
Of course, as in puzzling, there is so much of life that is a mix of pieces which, on first sight, appear to be, well… rather puzzling. It takes time to sort out life’s pieces and to educate ourselves about the process. Even though we have an idea of how it should all look, we need to separate the various parts of life to see how each might fit into the whole in order to form the actual picture we have in mind. Without some perspective, and maybe even some coaching, it is easy to be lost in the process and often become discouraged. Also, it is easy to get sidetracked, to set the challenge of puzzling aside, and to entertain ourselves with other, less taxing, pursuits.
The parallels between puzzling and the Christian faith are also numerous. To begin, we may think we have a pretty good idea of the nature of the Christian life. We may have seen it in childhood through our parents, the church, or various experiences among genuine Christians. We may have been attracted to that image and made a real commitment to achieve its beautiful, life-giving image. However, we soon discover that the process is much more challenging than we had ever anticipated. It turns out, in our pursuit, that there appear to be so many similar, but slightly varied, shapes and colours to the Christian faith. And sometimes, what we thought might fit to make the picture beautiful and complete, does not seem to work out quite the way we had thought.
Sadly, people who begin are often inclined to suspend their pursuit of “the beautiful life” because they just do not see how some of the pieces fit together. It seems common in puzzling the Christian faith that there are many distractions. Discouragement is not limited to difficult puzzling. Often, in the history of God’s people, it is evident that faith and commitment waned. So also, it was, in the lives of many followers of Jesus in His time, in the early church, and in its variegated history since that time. It is evident that there are many obstacles for all of us in the completion of faith’s puzzle.
That is why we need constant encouragement to continue in the pursuit of the goal to finish the task, the race, the puzzle. Repeatedly, this is the message throughout the New Testament. But it is especially the theme of the Letter to the Hebrews. The apostle in this case (whoever he may be), is very deliberate in encouraging his readers to keep at it. In chapter 6, verse 11 and 12, he writes, we want each of you to show this same diligence to the very end, in order to make your hope sure. We do not want you to become lazy but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised.
This year’s puzzle experience has reminded us, that though the project is sometimes confusing and rather gruelling, it is well worth the effort to keep at it. Because, in the end, there is an amazing sense of satisfaction in finally seeing all the pieces in their intended places revealing the beautiful image of “the puzzle’s” original Creator.