Monday, October 24, 2005

Puzzling

Have you ever tried to put together a jigsaw puzzle without the box?

I have this childhood memory of my grandmother pulling out a gallon zip-lock bag filled to the brim with puzzle pieces. It seems the box had been lost long ago. As children we set forth to tackle this problem with what can only be called “ignorant optimism.” We didn’t need that box; we were a Cracker Jack team of puzzle champs and were ready to meet this challenge head on. In fact we had a clue to what the puzzle was supposed to look like because my grandmother remembered it was of “animals.”

HOURS later and we were all ready to give up and throw that stupid puzzle at each other in frustration. Why? Because putting a puzzle together without knowing exactly what it is supposed to look like is hard. Putting together a puzzle when you have the end product right in front of you is hard enough but trying when you only have a general idea of what you are working toward is tough.

Life feels like that to me sometimes. In all reality we really are living a jigsaw puzzle life where each day, each hour, each moment is a piece to the final product but we can only see each individual piece fitting together one at a time. We know a general idea of what the puzzle is supposed to look like but we don’t know the details, the actual picture, how each piece falls into perfect place creating this image that is already there, already present but in small, intricate parts that must be formed together.

What part of the puzzle do you start with? The corners, of course. Those pieces that are guarantees. They can’t go anywhere else so it is what you anchor the entire puzzle with. There is no ambiguity with these pieces, they are what they are and you can’t argue with where they go. Then you begin to form the border. These pieces come with a bit more options of their placement and they take some trial and error but eventually you end up with a self-contained rectangle. You have boundaries, a form, something you know you will work within. In my life those corner pieces can only be the Lord. He is the only thing that I can count on to be without ambiguity. Then the border pieces take on the boundaries He has given in my life, His will if you please. It is defined, it is fixed, and it sets up that area in which my life rests. The thing about the border is that it is anchored by each corner piece. The corners determine the shape of the puzzle while the border pieces determine the size. My life is the same way, God determines the shape of it by creating me and then His will determines the size and scope of it by His interaction within my life.

Have you ever looked at a puzzle when it is in progress? Randomness is the best way for me to describe it. You have sections done here and there and you can begin to make out what it might be but there is no clear picture of the overall idea. In fact if you begin to guess at what the picture is you miss out on all the fine detail that comes with each individual piece placed where it belongs. Life feels like that to me. Sometimes I take a step back and look at my life and it just looks random. There are areas that seem somewhat complete or finished but hey have ragged edges. Each section seems so distinct, so separated from the others. But that is because the sections connecting those “distinct” parts of my life haven’t been finished. There are so many puzzle pieces still left to place to complete the picture. If I try and look at my life as complete right now I will be looking at an incomplete picture, a distorted picture, and I will make assumptions about what the unfinished parts will contain.


Have you ever tried to force a puzzle piece to go somewhere it doesn’t belong? I have all too many times. Sometimes I force it because I think it fits there and it is just being stubborn, other times I force it even though I know I’m placing it in the wrong place but I want it to be my way. The problem with this is that we ruin the puzzle piece if we force it too much. We bend it and deform it and it becomes an entirely different shape from what it first was. We also distort the picture by forcing a piece to fit in a place that it doesn’t belong. So not only have we disfigured that one piece of the overall puzzle, we now have a picture that is wrong and flawed. Life is like that also. We try and force things to happen because we are ignorant to the overall picture or we force them out of disobedience because we want them our way. In our zeal to make something occur in our life we can not only do harm to that individual occurrence, but we also muddle the overall picture. I came up with this question recently and need to ask it of myself daily: What am I trying to take from God in my own timing and my own way that He wants to give me in His? What blessing from the Lord am I turning into a curse because I’m hijacking it? The great thing about our lives is that we can’t have a final picture with pieces in the wrong place. And like a parent who comes and corrects a child in their misplacement, God rearranges the puzzle and corrects our “forcing”. Sometimes this occurs with Him moving pieces that we have incorrectly placed, and other times it occurs with him changing those pieces so they fit where they might not have been supposed to go but are now placed (this leads to a whole other topic but rabbit trails are a death sentence to my super long posts so I may tackle this idea later).

Have you ever walked away from a puzzle defeated? I have many times, in fact I’ve gotten so frustrated with puzzles that I’ve broken up all the work I’ve already done and returned them to the box banishing them to a state of incompleteness. It’s too hard I tell myself; it’s taking too much time; I’ll never finish. All these thoughts go through my brain as I rationalize why I’ve given up, why I just don’t want to keep trying. I can’t even begin to relate how often this happens in my life. I get frustrated with not seeing progress, I get beaten down by small increments of completion, and I just want to see the end NOW. But that isn’t how a puzzle or life works. We don’t do them backwards, taking pieces away from the finished product, we have to build them piece by piece and the process is tedious and it is hard and it takes time, even a lifetime to see the final product. But the point is to continue, to pursue each individual piece, to place them with diligence and with passion knowing that the picture will emerge, there will eventually be completion. Sometimes it’s not the final product that you prize the most but it’s the perseverance you gave just getting to that final piece.

Did you use to fight over the final piece as a kid? My sisters and I did. We wanted to be the one to complete the picture, to do the final work. The funny thing is that in our lives we are never the one to place the final piece. In fact if our lives are a puzzle they will always be incomplete by our hands. At least mine will, because that final piece, the last small part that completes our lives is not our work but God’s. It is that last breath, that fleeting moment when we close our eyes for the last time after taking our last glimpse of this fallen world and our fallen state. The final puzzle piece is places as we leave this earth and our lives come to an end. And then the puzzle is complete but we really don’t care because the puzzle isn’t the point anymore. The picture it paints isn’t for us to view; it is for all those who are left behind. We’re not in the puzzle anymore, it is a picture of who we were, what we did, but it is all past tense, it is finished and done, complete within it’s boundaries. The picture is now for those who knew us, those who saw the pieces placed in their spots, even those who represent so many of the pieces. The picture is for them. All that work, all those pieces and we’re not bound by that puzzle anymore. Funny how we forget that about life. I spend so much time worrying about the pieces, how they fit together, and when I’ll know what one section or another will look like, much less the whole image, that I forget that the puzzle is something I live, life is something I go through but it isn’t the goal. It is who I am on this earth, it is who people will remember me as, but the puzzle is just a means to an end. Who I am, what I am actually working toward is beyond those individual pieces. It is in the presence of those corner pieces, in the presence of the Lord.

17 Comments:

Blogger Stephanie said...

Katie: Beautifully put. You know, it's encouraging to hear this. Just yesterday, my family was challenging my faith: and I had to really think about what keeps me going everyday, and remind myself that God has made it very clear that He's in charge these days. He wants to help me place my puzzle pieces in the right points in my life, rather than my shoving and squishing them in places they don't belong.

My cousin said to me yesterday: "You are a free-spirit, and your church is stifling that in you. They keep you confined in a box." ... and now I think, very possibly. But that box's corners- what keeps it sturdy, rather, it's foundation- is Jesus Christ: and I'd rather be in that box figuring out my life than anywhere else in this world.

10/24/2005 1:14 PM  
Blogger Katie said...

Stephanie your last sentence is a perfect addition to this post. Just think what the puzzle would be like without corners, we would have no idea where it goes, how far it reaches out, there would always be unfinished pieces jutting out everywhere and we would wonder if we missed a piece or lost a piece that fits there . Being "in the box" is always viewed as stifling to those not in it.

It is only in the box that you realize it is an inifinite place in the Father's love and will. He is infinite, He is the only true free-spirit (did I just call God a free-spirit? Yep, I did and He is - ok a post within a comment - God is really the only one FREE (we are all bound by sin, by time, by space) and He is the only real Spirit (we are all created beings given spirit by Him) - hmmm deep stuff - but back to the comment) and we are only truly free in Him. So the puzzle (or box with Him as the foundation) is only the only free and Spirit filled place. It is outside this "box" that we are bound by our sin and absent of spirit.

Be encouraged my friend, many may not understand, and many may not listen, but your life is a testament to God's love, His freedom, and the Holy Spirit dwelling and working inside of you.

10/24/2005 1:23 PM  
Blogger steve said...

can I just say "Amen" and have that be enough?

That was perfect

10/24/2005 2:13 PM  
Blogger Katie said...

Steve - thank you, your comment humbles me because I know that I am far from perfect and my words and thoughts are most definetly not perfect.

Now if I could put the "idea" of this into verse and add a bit of music then it might be perfect. But alas, I would fall so short in that endeavor.

10/24/2005 2:19 PM  
Blogger steve said...

Great! That means I can use this idea for a song then! Sa-weeeeet!

10/24/2005 2:25 PM  
Blogger Amstaff Mom said...

Perfect analogy K-T. Perfect. It definitely made sense to me!

Missed you last night. sniff. :(

10/24/2005 2:29 PM  
Blogger Katie said...

Steve - you have permission to use anything you find of worth from my blog (although I'm not sure you will find much and you do quite fine on your own - 5 minutes to write the lyrics to a song, 10 mintues to put it to music, perform it the same night as all this - like you need anything else).

Oh but I do want a shout out on the liner notes if it makes the CD. Yep, a shout out will be payment enough. Oh and an autographed CD, and backstage passes. Ok that might do it. And when you become big and famous that you promise not to forget the little people like me back in Texas.

10/24/2005 2:45 PM  
Blogger Katie said...

JCol - I got your message, sorry I was sleeping. Not a good thing when you almost fall asleep twice while driving at only 4:30 in the afternoon. I figured Tom might be a bit annoyed if I nodded off while sitting so close.

10/24/2005 2:47 PM  
Blogger Amstaff Mom said...

Glad you got some much needed rest then!

Catch ya next week!

10/24/2005 2:53 PM  
Blogger Nunzia said...

really great post. thanks for sharing that.

10/24/2005 3:46 PM  
Blogger Eric said...

That is a good analogy and the obseravtions are good reminders.

I wonder what brought the whole thing on in the first place?

10/24/2005 3:53 PM  
Blogger Katie said...

Thanks Nunzia.

Eric - you ask a great question and one that I have no answer for. Ha ha, I seem to be "thinking" all the time, and sometimes those thoughts end up in this form and I think 'what the heck' I might as well post it. Ok so maybe that was an answer but probably not the one you were looking for.

10/24/2005 4:03 PM  
Blogger Jayleigh said...

God Bless you Katie, and thank you for posting this today.

10/24/2005 6:02 PM  
Blogger Ben said...

I'm puzzled.

lol.

(I can't believe anybody else didn't say that.)

Once again... great post katie... I am amazed that you could come up with so many analogies for life with a puzzle.

The Lord has given you the gift of writing... you need to write a book.

10/24/2005 8:53 PM  
Blogger Chad said...

You just reminded me of many hours I spent with my grandmother putting puzzles together on a piece of plywood.

Those were some of my greatest memories of my grand parents and uncle, all of whom have passed.

Thanks for the reminder.

10/25/2005 12:51 AM  
Blogger Tony Myles said...

Very cool... I used the metaphor of a puzzle in a message recently. I spoke about how in life we need to be aggressive (like the parts of a piece that poke out) and submissive (like the hole areas on pieces). This was to a church that is going through some division issues... it seemed to fit (pun intended) quite well.

I like your angle, though... very cool.

10/26/2005 12:40 AM  
Blogger Ben said...

I miss the introspective Kpinion posts. Love your writing Katie.

6/06/2006 10:56 AM  

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