by Father Mark Goldasich
My back has been hurting the past few weeks, and it took me awhile to figure out why.
It’s jigsaw puzzles.
Since the “stay at home” order, I’ve been assembling puzzles to escape for a bit from all of the pandemic news. So, why do they hurt my back? Well, even though I have a special puzzle table, I’ve still got to lean over — a lot — to properly see the pieces.
I started out by doing a Nativity puzzle. That was followed by a street scene from Paris, a front-yard Christmas picture and a nostalgic rendering of a ‘50s drive-in parking lot.
Right now, I’m working on one that shows the interior of an old-fashioned confectionary.
As I’ve rediscovered jigsaw puzzles, I find that they’re pretty good at mirroring life, especially in this strange time. Here are some of the lessons I’ve learned:
• It’s messy. When you begin a new puzzle, it’s disordered. As you dump the pieces out, they don’t all magically flip right side up. They often hide underneath one another — sometimes even fall on the floor — and it’s a chore to get them organized.
• Some are easier than others. Since I hadn’t done puzzles for some time, I started with a few 100-piece ones. I breezed through one depicting Times Square in New York; another of a mountain scene reflected in a lake; and one of Vincent van Gogh’s “Starry Night.” The messiness above still applied, but on a much-reduced scale.
• There’s more than one way to put it together. I usually start out trying to assemble the frame first, but then I get distracted. I’ll see pieces that go together from inside the puzzle and I’ll have a bunch of those partial elements sitting around in various places until I can connect them to the whole.
• It helps to compartmentalize. I use sorting trays to put like pieces with like. It gets them off of the main table and eliminates distractions from my eyes as I’m trying to concentrate on a particular section.
• You have to be patient. You don’t see the whole picture all at once. Some days, the pieces just seem to fly together; other days, if you get one or two pieces to match, you’re doing great. It helps to know that any progress, no matter how small, is moving you to your final goal.
• Prepare to be surprised. Inevitably, as I’m going along, I’ll convince myself that I’m definitely missing a piece of the puzzle because what I think a particular piece should look like, doesn’t. When the “missing piece” actually presents itself, I’m surprised at how it looks and fits into the whole.
• It’s essential to have a guide. As I work my way through a puzzle, I’ll refer to its picture on the box time and time again. That keeps me focused and moving in the right direction.
• There’s a sense of real joy and accomplishment when it’s finished. I’ll take a photo of each puzzle I complete, so I can remember it. (Then, I pass the puzzle on.)
So, these points above illustrate how life often is. It can be messy at times and demands patience. It’s helpful to compartmentalize, to concentrate on one thing at a time. Sometimes, you’ll be surprised at who or what fits together in your life.
Most importantly, we’re lost if we don’t have a guide, and for us Christians, that’s Jesus. He’s the picture that we’re called to pattern our lives after. And when we do, we get a sense of real joy!
One last point is that each life is not really one puzzle, but many. I recently saw a photo of a 40,000-piece puzzle that a family put together. It extended over a huge area and was composed of scenes from many Disney movies.
We’re like that as well. We have a slew of “scenes” that make up our lives — some of those easier than others — but only God sees the entire picture.
Our task is to trust in the Guide and confidently forge ahead, one piece at a time.