recently completed a puzzle. You have no idea how unusual this accomplishment is: I haven’t worked a puzzle in years, though I sometimes put them out at the Lamson Hall front desk where they’re enjoyed by students waiting for their friends.
For some reason, I did a “test run” on this puzzle at home, which reminded me of why I don’t do this more often. For a while, when I closed my eyes, puzzle images floated by, retinal reminders of how focused I had become on the task at hand and of how where we put our attention lingers on in our lives.
But there were a few other life lessons along the way, too, and I plan to share them at worship this week. As each resident enters, she’ll receive a puzzle piece. I’ll ask if they can tell what the puzzle is about based on their single piece. And hopefully help them to realize that we all need one another, that we need both the pieces that are most like our own, and the ones that are entirely different—that the picture isn’t clear until we come together.
I’ll ask what would help them begin putting this puzzle together, and will count on someone suggesting seeing the box cover. Then we’ll talk about how true that is of the Christian life as well—how we can’t expect to live a Christ-like life unless we look to Christ as our model and inspiration.
I hope someone will suggest that we start with assembling the border, so that we can talk about how important boundaries and guidelines are, and how they set the perimeter of our experience. How it’s so very much easier to determine the small points within once you’ve determined the boundaries without.
I’ll tell them how the 3-D pattern of my puzzle pieces shimmer and shift, making it hard to determine their place. And how our personal perspective can affect how things appear to us in life, too—why the counsel of godly friends and inspired writings are so important in helping us see clearly when our own vantage point can’t be trusted.
I’ll confess to them that when I was nearly done with this puzzle, I found that a piece was missing. Well, not missing, but used elsewhere already—that I’d inadvertently made it fit where it wasn’t meant to fit and had to study the puzzle to find that errant piece before I could complete the picture. And how common it is to do that in life, to make something that doesn’t belong “fit” because we so much want it to, and how with confession God can uproot that piece and restore us to His image once more.
We’ll discuss what draws us to assembling puzzles, the satisfaction in having brought order from chaos, and encourage them that however puzzling their life is at the moment, the same can be true for them. Not to give up, to go back to basics, to check the “picture on the box” and the borders, to consult with inspired writings and trustworthy friends—that it all will be worth it. And we’ll share Bible promises to encourage us through this process.
I’ll set out at the front desk the puzzle from which the handed-out pieces were taken and challenge them to find out where their piece fits, reminding them that the gifts God gave them have a place in the church, and in this world, praying with them that they discover that place, because we need the piece they are meant to contribute. And we’ll pray that together we can portray a clearer portrait of Christ to a world that desperately needs to see Him.
Valerie N. Phillips is associate director of the women’s residence hall at Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Michigan, where she has ministered to collegiate women for more than 25 years.