Jigsaw Puzzle Theology

I’ve been listening to a lot more sermons than normal in recent days.  (You have too, I hope.)  That includes several friends of the East Hill church — Kris Emerson, Scott Taylor, and Bryant Bailles, among others.  But as far as visuals go, watching men stand still and talk is not too engaging.  So sometimes I watch some YouTube videos on mute while I listen.

For such endeavors, I recommend high-speed jigsaw puzzle construction.  Seeing a 9,000-piece puzzle come together in five minutes is pretty incredible.  I was able to give the speakers due consideration, never fear.  (Kris, if you’re reading this, I heard your thoughts on 1 John just fine, brilliant as always, blah blah blah.)  But I noticed some processes that might lend themselves to spiritual application.

First, and most obviously, it takes a long time to assemble a big puzzle.  Hundreds of hours, in some cases.  Some hours and some days are more productive than others, most likely.  There may even be major setbacks along the way.  (Ever have a toddler come and shake the table when you’re halfway through a 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle?  Patience is a virtue.)  But perseverance and a focus on the goal that lies ahead will keep the dedicated hobbyist on course for the duration.

Life is like that.  Specific moments in time may stand out from the rest, certainly.  But when looking at a life pursuit such as building a marriage, rearing children, or growing one’s faith in Jesus Christ, it’s much more about the “big picture.”  A Christian tends to get hung up on either his big successes or his big failures, depending on which end of the pessimism/optimism spectrum he may call home.  But it’s more about the “walk” (1 John 1:7) than any individual step.  If we live every day committed to reaching forward (Philippians 3:13-14), keeping our eyes on Jesus (Hebrews 12:1-2), it will pass more quickly and more pleasantly than we may have thought possible.

Second, you need a plan.  The first thing the workers of these mammoth puzzles do is sort the pieces into separate piles, and usually separate containers.  Edge pieces here, sky pieces there, road pieces in this place, sign pieces in that place.  Keeping most of the work space clear allows the puzzle guru to address one situation at a time, bring it to completion, and move on.  If she were forced to dig through thousands of pieces to find just the right one to complete Gandalf’s hat, she would quit during the first hour.  But plan properly (fair warning: the planning stage tends to be the least interesting part of the process), and she is set up for success.

Life is like that.  There is a sense in which life hands us a new challenge every day and we are forced to make the best of it.  But if we are to find success in any lifelong endeavor, all our improvisation has to be done in the context of the (pardon the expression) big picture.  The Bible is replete with passages regarding the collection of godly virtues and characteristics — the armor of Ephesians 6:13-17, the graces of 2 Peter 1:5-7, and the fruit of Galatians 5:22-23, just to name three.  If we work every day in pursuit of such things, the moment-to-moment issues tend to fall into place.

Third, you will smile when you are done.  That is speculation on my part, I suppose; the faces of the puzzle-builders were not shown.  But I’ve put puzzles together.  I’ve spent hours and hours fitting protrusions into indentations in search of a cohesive whole.  And the smile that comes toward the end of the process is irresistible.  It’s equal parts relief, satisfaction, and appreciation of beauty.  Order has emerged from chaos.  It is among the most pleasant experiences life has to offer.

Again, life is like that.  I would like to think we could find a certain degree of satisfaction and pleasure in our daily walk with Christ.  But focusing on that too much can lead to discouragement when it is difficult to come by.  It is better for us to focus on the finished product that is yet to be revealed.  We want to be able to look back at a life spent in God’s service and say we have “fought the good fight” (2 Timothy 4:8).  If we devote ourselves to a life of faith, seeking strength from God to endure the challenging hours that life inevitably brings, we will wake up one day looking at a life that was worth living.

It is a beautiful thing that God is working in us, slowly but surely.  May He give us the faith, courage and endurance to finish.