On Sunday, I started a 1000-piece puzzle. The last puzzle I put together, I think, was a Barbie puzzle that my sister and I had when we were children. There were only twelve pieces.
I bought the 1000-piece puzzle because I liked the picture on the box. It features twenty profiles of cute, brightly-colored birds that are lined up like the members of the Partridge Family in the theme song that introduces the show. My favorite bird, a yellow one with a mischievous gleam in her eye, reminds me of my pet bird Lily that has a cheerful disposition.
When I sat on my bedroom floor, ripped open the bag of puzzle pieces and dumped them into a large tray, I thought for the first time, “What have I gotten myself into? This will require so much work. I only bought this because I like the picture.” I considered giving up, but I had paid for the puzzle.
My first strategy was to sort the bright orange pieces because I was pretty sure I knew which bird they would form. Then, I realized this was not the best plan. “What’s the first step in puzzling?” I thought. Then, I remembered: the edges. I separated the edges from the rest of the pieces and started to form the border.
As I went through this process, the Lord began to speak to me about the similarities between puzzles and the Christian life. Often, we choose to follow Christ because something about him attracts us, similar to my attraction to the picture on the puzzle box. Perhaps it is the kindness and unearthly love of Christ that draw us to him, his servant nature, or his promise of a life in which we ultimately triumph over evil and our sins. Sometime after we choose to follow Christ, there is a shift in which reality sets in. We do not realize that we would still encounter so many struggles. That it would be so difficult follow Christ regardless of the cost. That people would persecute us and mock our faith. That we would have to follow Christ even when our friends and family did not understand. We do not realize that our problems would not disappear. Sometimes, we consider turning back.
The metaphor of the puzzle offers us encouragement. We begin with the knowledge that our lives are finite, and that within the time we are awarded on earth, there is a limit to what can be accomplished. Like the puzzle, our lives have finite edges; there is a time when we are born and a time when we die.
In between life and death, a picture is created. The picture representing each life is different in both its image and its complexity. Some pictures are of landscapes, while others are of people, or nations. Some pictures require 1,000 puzzle pieces. Others require 10,000.
As we walk with Christ, the picture begins to emerge. Sometimes, puzzle pieces find their places quickly, and an entire section is built in a matter of months. During these times, we flourish in our spiritual, familial, and professional lives. Other times, it is difficult just to find one puzzle piece, representing a period of waiting or trial when promises are not fulfilled and struggles emerge in our relationships and our professions. We search for a specific puzzle piece for years, or even decades, wondering if it is forever lost or if the answer is right before us, but we have overlooked it in our bewilderment, anger or frantic searching.
The Christian life is an interesting mix of triumph and trial, but the journey is worth continuing because we are confident in what we strive toward. I know that when I finally complete this puzzle, it will be a life-size version of what’s on the puzzle box. Likewise, when we follow Christ, we know the end before we begin the journey. We know that Christ is victorious in the end. We know that the Lord has promised good things for those who steadfastly believe in him and run the race with endurance. We may not know the exact picture the Lord is creating with our lives, but we know that the outcome is good and perfect and has kingdom purposes. As we journey through life, we pray for endurance, choose joy consistently along the way, and take heart that Christ is accomplishing a good work in us.