When I was growing up, my mom purchased a jigsaw puzzle for each Christmas holiday. My dad would put a plywood top on a side table in the living room. This allowed whoever was working on the puzzle to be in the room with the rest of the family while assembling the chosen puzzle of the year.
Last summer, my son asked me to purchase a large jigsaw puzzle picturing assorted rocks. We assembled it at one end of the kitchen table. At any given moment, several family members at a time could be found working on that puzzle. When the last piece was settled into place one daughter commented, “This puzzle kept our family together this summer.”
So last month when I my asked me to buy a puzzle to assemble during our days off school, I was quick to comply. He picked a collage of vintage cereal boxes and we once again began assembly of a puzzle at one end of our kitchen table. As I have been carefully piecing together his vintage choice, I keep thinking….
I should put together a puzzle every year as a reminder about how to handle people.
For two weeks now, I have been using spare minutes to piece the puzzle together and meditating on how analogous assembling a puzzle is to developing healthy relationships with people.
1. A puzzle begins as a messy pile next to a picture of the finished product.
Just like people are messy, there’s that overwhelming feeling of where to begin.
I pick up the first puzzle piece.
2. The first step is to carefully sort piece-by-piece to find the straight edges for the border and four corners. This is an easy task, but it can’t be rushed. With this puzzle, my daughter and I finished the border with a few pieces still missing so we needed to go through the messy pile again in search of the truant pieces. If only I had been more careful the first time through.
Ah, careful the first time through. With people, how often do we rush? And do we lay the framework first or do we keep focusing on the finished product and hoping for people to look good more than be good? How often do my children, for example, feel like I am comparing them to the finished product instead of being with them in the process of developing as people?
Time to hold another puzzle piece in my hand and work with this piece first…before the next one.
3. Once the border is finished, it is time to start small piles of similar color combinations and lettering fonts. At one point my son came in and said, “Mom, you can’t really finish the puzzle if you are going to keep all of those piles in the middle.” True that.
How often do I look at a messy life and fail to see that progress is being made?
I pause to take a break, then begin again. I pick up another puzzle piece.
4. The smaller piles are ready for assembly. Cereal boxes start coming together. I begin to recognize Cheerios, then Corn Bursts, Toasties and Cap’n Crunch. Each is still fragmented, but I am starting to see glimpses of the finished product.
How often do I miss the glimpses in search of the finished product? Is that some generosity I see in her? Did some gentleness just rush on by in him? Did I just see someone take a stab at trying to love someone? Am I getting excited and thanking God for each new connected piece, or am I frustrated that the glimpses aren’t stringing together yet into a cohesive pattern of behavior?
Time to pick up another piece. Hold it in my hand. Take care of this piece and handle it well in this moment of time.
5. Some smaller sections start connecting to form larger sections. It’s starting to look like the picture on the box! Wheaties, Grape-Nuts, Kix and Frosty O’s are now connected.
Wow, is my child growing in Christ? Do I now see sections of days with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness and faithfulness strung together as the fruit of the Holy Spirit? Did I wait for that to happen by chance, or have I been carefully caring for every part of her so that God has had room to grow her?
I tell myself to keep picking up the pieces. Don’t quit.
6. Things are going faster now. I can pick up many pieces and recognize which cereal box it belongs to because I am so familiar with the puzzle. My hands have touched nearly ever piece. I am involved, not distant. Each piece is examined with meticulous scrutiny. Is this the shade of red on the Cap’n Crunch box or the red on the “e” of the Life box? Where is the piece that is mostly yellow with the tiniest tip of black on one side?
Do I handle people with such care? When someone is pouring out their heart to me, am I being this meticulous in listening and helping them to unravel root causes? Am I being this careful with my words when they ask for my counsel or are words just flying out of my mouth? Do I know my friends this well? Can I recognize what will work best, or hurt worst, because I am paying attention to the details of their heart and mind?
It’s time to pick up another piece and look at it very carefully. Keep concentrating. Notice those details.
7. The puzzle is coming together. It is not done yet, but it’s moving along and more recognizable as the finished product on the lid each passing day.
Am I looking more like the finished product (Jesus) each year that I blow out birthday candles? Am I helping others strive toward the same? To what box lid am I steering all whom I know?
The puzzle on my kitchen table right now is a good thing. It’s calming me down. Calming me down about people…and the process of people…handling people piece by piece without the frantic push to get them to the finished product.
Yes, people puzzle me…but that’s a good thing.
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