I’ve always enjoyed working jigsaw puzzles. When I was younger, I often worked puzzles with cousins or on vacation. Sometimes, I was so intent on finishing a section of the puzzle, I lost track of time or didn’t hear when someone spoke to me.
Often, life feels like a giant jigsaw puzzle. Interlocking challenges come at us in segments, sometimes too many at once. As we struggle to make sense of multiple, jagged-edged pieces that don’t seem to fit together, it’s tempting to give up and view what is happening as hopeless and impossible to resolve.
Here are 5 things to remember to help make sense of life when it feels like a giant jigsaw puzzle:
Flip all the Pieces Face Up
People who work jigsaw puzzles on a regular basis develop methods they feel are most effective and efficient. When you open a puzzle box, all the pieces are jumbled together. Many are upside down. Some that don’t fit together are stuck together, awkwardly linked, so the first step is to flip all the pieces face up and separate the pieces that don’t go together. Then, some jigsaw aficionados sort and group the pieces together by color or shape.
When confronted with problems in life, it’s a good idea to sort through all the pieces and look at them head-on. Often, we try to push problem sections aside and save them for another day. Instead, turn them upright and take inventory. Pull apart anything that doesn’t really apply and only serves to confuse the situation. See what remains and arrange by priority. This provides the first steps toward resolution and allows your mind to begin processing creative solutions.
Construct the Framework First
Once all the puzzle pieces are face up, I like to find all the edge pieces and begin putting them together. That serves as the frame for the picture. A framework is important in many aspects of life. For some, it is a written outline. For others, it is a list of people, steps, or aids. Beginning with the framework provides the support you need to gain overall perspective. Without framework, anything you construct will be unstable and subject to collapse.
Don’t Give Up When a Puzzle Section Seems Hopeless
A friend framed one of the puzzles she and her family worked. It’s a beautiful fall scene that hangs above her mantle. Viewed from a distance, you can’t see the individual puzzle pieces, but as you get closer, they are evident. Because I have walked through various seasons of life with her, and she with me, I know some pieces of her life puzzle were harder to fit in than others.
We all have times in our lives that don’t make sense, periods that are dark and difficult, clouded with anger, confusion, or sadness. Like a monochromatic section of a puzzle, some seasons of life take more concentration, are harder to gain perspective on, and sometimes seem hopeless. During those times, you may need to scale back some activities and commitments and place your energies where they are most needed. Get your eyes and mind on something else for a few days before making a decision that could have a huge impact on your life. Then work on what you are struggling with in small segments as you would a section of a jigsaw puzzle that provides little definition of color or image. With time, and patience, you’ll gain clarity in the same way you eventually discover a swipe of light or a nuance of shading in a hard section of a puzzle. Then, as the pieces slowly come together, you can move forward.
See the Big Picture
When working a jigsaw puzzle, I always keep the box lid within reach. Periodically, I stop and study the picture on the lid so I can assess where I am in the process and remind myself what the finished puzzle should look like.
In life, it’s easy to get bogged down by temporary setbacks, times when we get sidetracked by segments of life that seem to paralyze forward motion. If you’re struggling with feeling you’ve been working on something in your life that you just can’t seem to resolve or come to terms with, now may be a good time to enlarge your scope and take a look at the big picture. Look at what you’ve accomplished thus far. Remember other difficult times, what you did and from whom you sought counsel, as you worked through challenges. All this is woven through your big picture. The jagged edges are there, times when you struggled to find the right piece, but once in place, the correct pieces meshed together to form the whole picture.
Don’t Try to Force a Piece that Doesn’t Fit
Over the years, I’ve spotted pieces that looked like a perfect fit for a hole in a puzzle, but on closer inspection, what seemed right is a misfit. A notch is slightly tilted or there is a jagged edge in an opening that is smooth.
The same is true in life. Often we try to fill emptiness in our lives with something that isn’t the right fit—a job, person, activity, or religious practice that seems to fill what is missing. But as you try to incorporate that element, you discover the fit is slightly askew.
Whether we acknowledge it or not, we all have a God-shaped hole in our life puzzle. We can experiment with lots of ways to fill that vacuum, but all will prove ineffective because the notches just don’t mesh.
When you add the God piece to your life puzzle, all the other pieces begin to fall into place. Difficulties will still come, but your view of the big picture will improve.
“God, pick up the pieces. Put me back together again. You are my praise!” (Jeremiah 17:14 MSG)