Everything I Ever Needed to Know – I Learned in a Jigsaw Puzzle

We are waiting and waiting – still have not started work yet here in Loma Linda and we are trying to stay patient and busy.  Lisa has not heard when she will begin her new job here – but she is getting paid for doing nothing.  In the meantime – we wait.  While waiting I have been working jigsaw puzzles and in doing that remembered an idea I had years ago about lessons jigsaw puzzles can teach us – my “Prayer of Jabez”, if you will. This is something of a first draft of what may need to be expanded.  I would love to hear from you and your thoughts about my ideas here.   Here goes…,


Sturgis Ky. – a little town in western Kentucky with about 2,000 citizens where my grandparents lived and where I spent many weeks during my childhood.  There was not much to do in Sturgis – swing on the front porch, go to church, even made a game of killing black ants on the sidewalk.  It was there my grandmother first introduced me to working jigsaw puzzles.  When all the ants were stomped and the sidewalks rolled up we would gather around her little card table and work jigsaw puzzles.

Puzzles, I have noticed have gotten really fancy.  There are now three-dimensional structures you can put together and some that could be glued together for practical works of art – right up there with the black velvet Elvis prints.  But the puzzles that I am speaking of are those with the pastoral scenes – most of which had a running creek, red barn and wind mill.  My grandmother had a plentiful supply of those and seemed always to be working on one.  It was during those memorable times with her working those puzzles that I began to learn the great lessons they teach about life and who I am.  Allow me to explain.

Life is confusing.

To see all the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle as it is first emptied onto the table is to see a mass of confusion.  In fact, many times I looked at all those pieces and felt a little overwhelmed at the seemingly impossible task of putting it together.  How long will this take?  Will I stick with it long enough?  Will I fail? There are times my life has looked like it was just dumped out of a jigsaw puzzle box with a thousand pieces in complete disarray.  The overwhelming feeling of trying to organize my life – make sense of the craziness is, at times, more than I can take.  So many things in life are out of our control and to step back and see the many pieces needing to be put together – makes us feel like just putting it back in the box.  Pack it in.  Many puzzles that I have attempted to put together were left partially completed or never tried.  We could all agree that we wish, at times, that we could just put our life back in the box and start over with a new one.  The message of redemption and grace that allows second chances is what draws me to the message of Christ.  Show me another religion in the world that offers such radical forgiveness and unending, unchanging forgiveness and I’ll give it a serious look.  Trust me – they don’t exist except in the Christian faith.

We have to start somewhere.

Our life can look like a big pile of pieces – many not even turned over yet to see what they reveal about who we are.  So to work our puzzle we must first turn all the pieces over to reveal what they are and eventually discover where they fit into the big picture.  To look closely at the different pieces of our life may not be easy and certainly not always pretty.  Having worked in public education as a social worker for years I met many who had given up trying to understand those pieces of their lives that made them who they were.  It can be extremely painful to look closely at ourselves and admit those crazy looking pieces with the odd shapes are part of us.  Making excuses and blaming others is far easier.  We can choose to throw away some of those unwanted pieces of our lives – stick them back in the box.  But we have to know our lives will never be complete until we admit they are part of us and put them in their proper place.

Getting started

At times it is even difficult knowing where to begin putting a puzzle together.  My grandmother taught me to work the straight edges first until the border of the puzzle is complete.  I love that part of puzzle making.  Create the border with the straight edges and then you know how big the puzzle will be and build some confidence that you can really get this done.  Some puzzles are actually made without a border – just to add to the challenge.  You can have it!  I need a border.  I discovered years ago that people, particularly young people, really want borders in their lives.  Kids will continuously complain about the limits parents put on them.  But never be fooled to think they don’t actually want limits.  So many middle school children I worked with through the years were never given limits and it is what they craved from their parents the most.  Limits suggest concern and when a child lives without parental concern – their lives turn into a mess.  I love putting the border together for a puzzle and see, for the first time, how big it will actually be.  To not have that sense – I may feel overwhelmed, perhaps not even certain the table will be able to contain its unknown size.  Likewise – I love the idea of dreaming big.  But we may be doing an injustice to children by not helping them to understand their limitations and to be successful within the boundaries of their abilities.

The piece that does not fit

There are pieces to my puzzle that just don’t seem to fit.  They look right – almost fit right but I have to finally admit – they don’t go there.  In fact, they don’t even belong to this puzzle.  This piece I have been struggling with belongs to another puzzle entirely.  It is in the wrong puzzle – it is part of someone elses puzzle.  You get the idea.  But here I am pressing, pushing, bending – whatever I can do to make this alien puzzle piece fit as I think it should.  Finally, exasperated and weary – I admit it does not belong.

I will never be six-foot seven.  That is a reality I have finally had to admit.  But, I am only a foot away so maybe – just maybe – I have a chance.  Nope!  I am 53 years old and I ain’t never gonna be six-foot seven.  In fact – I think I’m getting shorter.  That piece of the puzzle does not fit into this picture.  Real peace in my life had always taken place when I can accept who and what I am – not what I think I should be.  People look back on their lives with too much regret thinking they should have done this or that – should have been this way or that way.  Never really finding peace in who and what they became in life.  I learned in jigsaw puzzle making that some pieces were never designed to fit into your puzzle.  Let me repeat that – some pieces of a puzzle were not designed to fit into your puzzle.  Those pieces were designed for another puzzle – not yours.

Accepting that principal in your life will lead to wonderful peace of mind.

The piece that should not be here

So many times in my puzzle making experience I work with a puzzle piece that looks completely out-of-place.  It doesn’t look like it belongs in my puzzle – has to be a mistake, I think.  But it fits perfectly – it just does not look right.  In fact, the puzzle may be nearly finished before I can make sense of how it is part of the big picture..

In recent days our nation has been shocked and saddened by the senseless death of school children and school staff at the hand of a crazed gunman at their elementary school.  Our minds struggle to find a place to file that one – it just makes no sense.  And so we watch and mourn with the parents and for now – set this aside because we cannot understand what just happened.  This piece to our puzzle just does not look right and even more than that – we don’t want it to.

But it is a part of our puzzle – we grudgingly have to admit.

Not until the puzzle is nearly complete can we begin to see how those strange, unwanted parts fit into our lives.  This may take years and for some it may take us standing before God himself before we fully understand.   I agree with C.S. Lewis who once said, “The loudest sound we will hear in heaven is the sound, ‘Ah-hah!’  That makes sense – because we certainly cannot make sense of some of these things now.

The finished product

There is nothing quite like the feeling of putting that last piece of the puzzle in place.  Finished!  A job well done!  Congratulations!  LIfe is not always easy or understandable and there are times in which we want to quit or grow so frustrated we wish all these pieces of our lives could be boxed up and exchanged for something else’s.  But these pieces – all the tiny parts of different shapes and colors – are who we are.

When we stand before our puzzle maker someday – we can only hope he looks at that finished product and says, “Well done!”




3 thoughts on “Everything I Ever Needed to Know – I Learned in a Jigsaw Puzzle

  1. Wow, Steve. Thank you for giving me insight just when I needed it. Never thought about jigsaw puzzles quite that way, but things have now changed. I’ll be thinking about this one for awhile. By the way, I get a lot of laughs form this blog. God has certainly gifted you with a great sense of humor and the ability to express it well. Have a great day.

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