A Word of Courage in Puzzling Times
When I retired three months ago, one of the gifts I received was a jigsaw puzzle. I found myself quite busy, and had never gotten around to opening it, but all of that changed with social isolation and lots of time at home. I delved into it one afternoon, and the half finished puzzle now sits on our kitchen peninsula, where I work on it for awhile every day. (No need to tidy up these days as no surprise visitors will be arriving!) As I scrutinized it the other day, I thought about how a jigsaw reflects the current situation in our world, and made me ponder lessons I could learn from the process.
Firstly, I am so utterly reliant on the final picture for direction, and I thought how lost I would be without it for guidance. In fact, if that picture was missing, I would have given up a long time ago and written the task off as impossible. Much of our hopelessness and fear in these troubling times lies in the uncertainty of not having the final picture: When will this all end, what path will it take us on, and what will our world look like when it is all over? We feel safe and secure when we are in control, and without the knowledge of exactly where we are going and how we will get there, we become very fearful.
However, as Psalm 119 reminds us “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet” .We are granted just enough light to see where the next few steps are, rather than a spotlight for the entire road ahead- and isn’t that a blessing? How could we carry on if we saw some of the rocks that will be in our path? God spoke to the exiles through Jeremiah and said “I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you”, and like the prophet, we need to trust the future and our path to God.
Secondly, we can feel very small and isolated right now, just like one piece of a jigsaw puzzle. We are not sure how we fit into the big picture, because our vision is very limited and we can only see the other fragments that are close to us. We are used to serving and worshipping and using our talents in certain ways, and those usual avenues are not open to us right now. We can feel helpless and wonder how we can make a difference in the face of such a crisis, but we need to keep our hearts and minds open for new opportunities. Sometimes I become so obsessed with one puzzle piece that I am sure is going to fit in a certain way that I spend many frustrating minutes trying to force it in (come on, admit it-you have done that too!), or else I completely ignore another area of the puzzle with pieces that are ready to fall into place. By narrowing my focus so much, I overlook the pieces right beside me that might fit in a way I hadn’t even thought of, or another area they are meant to be in. Over the last few days I have had emails and phone calls from various people looking for help, and these all provided an opportunity to serve in ways I never would have thought of before: Easter eggs to deliver and give as gifts, cans for the Foodbank from a pantry cleanout, or a card sent by snail-mail to someone without a computer.
In the parable of the talents, two of the servants took risks, and used the talents they had been given. As a result, they reaped many more, and the master was pleased with them. However, he was angry with the servant who had buried his talent, because he was afraid of losing what he had, and he was afraid of failing. As it turns out, his master wanted him to step out and take a risk. Instead of hoarding our talent right now for when times change, God wants us to invest it to develop new talents we can use in novel and creative ways.
Finally, every single piece of a puzzle is important, no matter how odd the shape or how big or small it is. I don’t have to tell you how frustrating it is to finish a jigsaw and find one piece is missing: the picture will never be complete without that one little piece. When the current pandemic is over, the world will be a different place, and the final picture will not look the same as it did before. I do not know what it will look like, but I do know that the final image can never be complete if any one of us is missing from the picture. No matter how small you think your contribution might be, it is vital to the wholeness and future of this world. Paul reminds us how we are all parts of the body of Christ, and how vital each and every member is to the whole body. Although we are worried at this time about ourselves, our families, and our local church and community, we must remember that the big picture includes the whole world and all of God’s creation. As we focus on giving to meet our needs locally let us not forget our global missions such as the Jesse Tree to support those suffering with very limited resources.
We have been through difficult times before, and when our current crisis is over, we will face difficult times in the future. However, we can rest assured that no suffering and no situation can separate us from God’s love, and that any trials we face now are temporal and short lived in the light of God’s eternity. In closing, I will share with you my favourite verse in the Bible, John 16:33. To me, it is the ultimate promise that can overcome any fear.
“In the world you will have trouble. but courage! The victory is mine – I have conquered the world”.
May the One who sees the “big picture” be your guide,