Thursday, May 1, 2014

Thursday's Reflection: Puzzles Are Not for Sissies

There's a jigsaw puzzle in progress on our dining room table. Unlike the 2000 piece puzzle of purple alpine flowers set against a mountain, which a friend sent me recently, this one, an abstract colorful face of a wolf, is more  manageable with only 500 pieces. 

Now that I am more mobile with my boot and a cane, one more step towards complete healing of my broken ankle, I pass through the dining room more often, and each time I stop to plunk in a few pieces. A half hour later I might still be there, telling myself just one more piece--not unlike reading one more chapter or playing one more game of solitaire on my phone or looking at one more home decor blog. Doing a jigsaw puzzle can be seductive. 

Everything in life, it seems to me, has potential as a metaphor, and putting together a jigsaw puzzle is easy fodder for reflection about one's life. 

Creating the Framework
How do you begin putting together a jigsaw puzzle? I like to find all the straight edge pieces, the border pieces, in order to create the frame. I sort through all the pieces, piling the border pieces on the table and tossing all the others into the cover. I want to know the parameters of what I am working with, the boundaries. Then I know how big the puzzle is and am somewhat reassured that completing this puzzle will be possible. This should be no surprise, since when I color, I stay inside the lines. 

I like knowing the boundaries, the expectations, the guidelines, the framework within which I am to move forward.  I want to know how many weeks or months would be normal healing time for my broken ankle. When I see the physical therapist next week for the first time, I will ask how many weeks of physical therapy are in front of me. When we finally sold our house, knowing the closing date helped me plot everything that needed to be done between now and then. Many of those tasks probably could have been accomplished before selling the house, but the end time was unknown. I like knowing how many words an article I am working on needs to be, how long a presentation should be, and what the plan for the day might be. I work well within a framework.

I've noticed, however, when I do a puzzle with young children that they are not concerned about creating the framework. They start by choosing a piece and trying to find another one to fit. They have no plan, but seem to trust their own abilities to put it all together. They just jump in and see what develops. 

Filling in the Pieces
Once the framework is in place, I am a bit more flexible. Sometime I create a pile of similar colors or I begin to gather pieces for a particular area of the picture. In this case I started with the bright lime green of the wolf's nose and that led to his eyes and his mouth and then his ears, but along the way I added pieces in other areas of the puzzle. One piece led to another. Just like life.

Sometimes I hold a piece up to the guiding light of the picture and try to determine where that piece goes. Where does this piece fit? 

When I broke my ankle, I didn't spend any time in the "why me?" pity party, but I did think about, write about, reflect on the reasons something happens or is present in my life. I don't believe God decided I needed to break my ankle because I need to slow down or have a time out, but now that it has happened I look for the lessons and what might be learned. I reflect on the opportunities of this time. I try to fit the pieces together.

I am so grateful, however, to a young friend who pointed out to me that perhaps this happened simply because there was ice under the snow! Yes! It just happened and the only way to have prevented it was to have not been there. 

Still, by going below the surface of an event or interaction, I know I come closer to seeing the movement of the Divine in my life and to understanding who I was created to be. Barbara Brown Taylor writes about exploring a cave in her book, Learning to Walk in the Dark, and she says, "We come to see what's here and to discover who we are in the presence of what we find." (p. 119)

Along with coloring and doing jigsaw puzzles and reading mysteries, I am discovering who I am as I heal. 

Taylor also says, "While I am looking for something large, bright, and unmistakably holy, God slips something small, dark, and apparently negligible in my pocket." (p. 131) Sometimes the pieces I pick don't fit where I think they should, and I need to set them aside and find another piece or wait until the picture is clearer. When that happens, how obvious it sometimes seems. It is a puzzle, after all.  

        Sometimes it's as if truth were like a festering wound, 
        ready to break open and be cleansed. It seems as if the 
        information I am seeking is just there, lying in front of me 
        on the path, asking to be discovered, asking for a kind of  
        solution –or absolution. Then again, it can evade me, like 
        a small splinter that escapes under the skin. Then I have 
        to wait, be patient. I have to wait for it to fester.
                                                       Pardonable Lies, p 238
                                                       A Maisie Dobbs Novel
                                                       Jacqueline Winspear

Completing the Picture
Last night I was joined at the puzzle table. While Peter read aloud to us from his easy reader books, my daughter and granddaughter worked on the puzzle. I realized as they dropped piece after piece into the picture, that I am more interested in the process than in being the one to complete the puzzle. Another piece in my own ongoing jigsaw puzzle life. 

An Invitation
How do you approach a puzzle? What current jigsaw puzzle are you encountering in your own life? I would love to know.


  1. I wonder if there's a connection between Enneagram types and how they do a puzzle!

  2. Ah, something more to explore. In the meantime I return to the puzzle.


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