I have a 1,000 piece puzzle spread out on my dining room table right now. The picture on the box made it look simple enough. It is just a picture of Mickey Mouse and his trusty sidekick, Pluto. It is one of the puzzles that I picked up at Disney World when we were there in April. It was simple enough until I dumped it out of the box and got all the pieces turned right side up. It is then that I realized there were basically for colors in the entire puzzle. Red, black, a shade of yellow/tan, and white.
I love puzzles. The more difficult they are, the more I enjoy them. But this one started out particularly difficult. As I was trying to make some headway with it the other night, I said something to my husband about how hard it was and that it really wasn’t coming together. That is what it seemed like until I stood up and looked at what I had done. To my amazement it was nearly 3/4 done. It is amazing what sticking with it and putting one small piece together with one other small piece will do. Before you know it, what started out as an overwhelming thing suddenly seems so much more manageable. The endless pieces of red, black, yellow, and white start to look like something. And then soon, the completed puzzle will look like the big picture on the box.
It struck me today that a puzzle is a pretty near perfect allegory for life. We know the big picture. The Gospel of John tells us what it is. John 14:2-3 says, “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.” (NRSV) The big picture of life – our hop and God’s promise – is an eternal home in God’s heavenly kingdom. We can turn to other places in Scripture like the book of Revelation to get a better picture of what has been revealed about that place to humankind, but this is the big picture. It is the picture on the puzzle box. Yet, there are a lot of pieces that must be put together while we are in this place before our lives look anything like what the big picture reveals to us. Sometimes, the puzzle is a simple affair. Yet more often then not, I think, it is more like the puzzle spread out on my table. A thousand little pieces. A bit (or a lot) overwhelming. A bunch of craziness. No idea really where to start. A sense that it will never really come together.
In all of that, though, there is hope. Any jigsaw puzzle aficionado will tell you, when all else fails start with the edge pieces. That is, start with the obvious. Work one straight piece at a time until something happens. Then, when the edge is complete, go to the next most obvious. Work all the red pieces because they can only be Mickey’s shorts or Pluto’s tongue. Work from the most obvious to the most obscure. One day, perhaps as suddenly as my puzzle did for me, things will fall into place and life will begin to resemble the big picture.
As Christians we have obvious pieces to our faith puzzle. The Gospels are the edge pieces. I think that is rather fitting since there are four of them and most puzzles have four sides. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John tell us about the work of Jesus in the human world. These pieces start to frame what a life of Christian discipleship looks like for us. But the edges don’t form the whole picture. We need more. We need more Scripture. The book of James is a really good one for the nuts and bolts of Christian life. We need prayer. This is how we communicate with God. We need worship, where we come to have our tanks filled with God’s love and grace. And we need community. We need each other. The Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes tells us, “Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up the other; but woe to one who is alone and falls and does not have another to help. Again, if two lie together, they keep warm; but how can one keep warm alone? And though one might prevail against another, two will withstand one. A threefold cord is not quickly broken.” (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12, NRSV). Christian fellowship is vital. But so are all the other pieces.
If you are a puzzler, you know the frustration of a missing piece. That one piece is the one that you are constantly looking for. It is the one you yearn for. The picture is incomplete without it. The final product is disappointing. It resembles the big picture, but it is not right. It is the same with our spiritual life. We need all the pieces or we will be disappointed and constantly yearning for what is missing.
Brothers and sisters, I encourage you to dump all the pieces out, turn them over, and get started. One baby step at a time. Our spiritual lives will come together, sometimes slowly and sometimes more quickly. But remember, it takes all the pieces if we want our puzzle of life to look like the big picture laid out in the fourteenth chapter of John. Act like Jesus. Read Scripture. Pray. Go to church. Hang out with church people. When we keep at it, we will be amazed at the big picture that Jesus has in store for us.