July 16, 2020
Dear Calvary family & friends,
One of the ways that I like to decompress on a day off is by working jigsaw puzzles. I get “in the zone” and will finish a 1,000 piece puzzle in a day because I keep thinking “just one more piece and then I’ll take a break” but of course that break never comes. For me, preparation is key in working a puzzle. I study the picture on the box for a few minutes to get the image in my mind, lay all the pieces out face up (sometimes grouping them by color or design), and then pull out the straight edges. It’s tedious, but when I do this prep work it makes the puzzle a bit less puzzling. There’s nothing like getting down to those last 25 pieces and filling in the image quickly until that last ‘snap’ of the final puzzle piece. So gratifying!
My favorite kinds of puzzles though are Liberty Puzzles, made locally in Boulder, CO! This Santa puzzle (pictured from the front and the back) is a classic example of a Liberty. They have fewer pieces than regular jigsaw puzzles, but they are harder to put together (I think) because the pieces are uniquely cut pieces of wood in crazy shapes often with no straight edges. My normal puzzle working method doesn’t work with a Liberty. I really have to train my brain to work a Liberty by thinking about shape and space, not by looking at color or design. This mental switch can be challenging, because there is no obvious choice for what piece to look for. And once I find the piece I think might fit, I often have to try several ways to put it in. Usually it requires looking at the negative space of one piece to find potential pieces/angles that might fill that space. It’s definitely a different way of puzzling. Finishing a Liberty Puzzle is slow going, because the closer I get to the end, the more careful I have to be as I drop in the pieces from above so that they fit just right. The end product though is simply stunning - like a work of art.
Finding my way through this pandemic has been more like working a Liberty Puzzle for me than working a regular jigsaw puzzle. Admittedly, my previous ways of thinking about life, family, friends, church, and pastoring were fairly routine and methodical and most of the pieces were fairly expected albeit some were more difficult to put together than others. My tried and true methods of sorting out what I needed to do and starting with certain preconceived notions (my ‘straight edges’) would allow me to complete the image that I could easily see on the box lid…and the more pieces I put into that puzzle the faster I could go and the more efficient I was. To give a concrete example, I could visualize a worship service (the image on the box), and work my way backwards to put all the pieces together to make that happen fairly quickly and efficiently and some measure of knowing what to expect and how long it would take me.
But COVID-19 is like one big Liberty Puzzle…without any kind of image on a box lid to go off of because none of us knows what this pandemic will look like in the future or how many pieces it has or how long it will last. I feel like every piece of the pandemic puzzle is a different shape and instead of relying on sorting information into some kind of systematic way, it’s much more like trial and error, trying to look at the “negative space” of what is left once social distancing and precautions and guidelines are in place…and see what pieces could creatively fit into that space to create something beautiful. It’s slow going. It’s a lot of trial and error. Yes, it’s frustrating at times. But when a puzzle piece does fit in to just the right spot, it can be a fulfilling experience even though it’s a very different experience than what I’m used to. The challenge provokes creativity and new ways of thinking and seeing. And, it slows me down.
No one kind of puzzle is better than another. They are just different experiences that require different types of puzzling-skills and problem solving and processes. As you reflect on the changes you’ve had to make in your life since March, how has your perspective changed? Different seasons of life require different ways of being, different ways of thinking. Have you been able to patient with yourself and know that it’s okay that the process is slower and bit less unclear and more challenging? I think we’re all longing to put in the final puzzle piece of this pandemic and be done with it. We want a “date” when this will be over so that we can dismantle this puzzling pandemic, box it up, and put it on a shelf to collect dust. But the truth is, this puzzling pandemic is far from over. There is no final image for us to go off of to piece it together. We are in an unpredictable season of life where all our usual reassurances of planning and knowing what to expect are out the window. Some of our methods and ways of living life are still applicable, but many are not.
The longer this puzzling pandemic lasts, I encourage you to continue to be patient with yourself as you work your way through it, day by day, piece by piece. Nothing is wrong with you if you can’t find the next right piece to put it in. Nothing is wrong with you if you can’t see the final image or wonder whose idea it was to work this puzzle in the first place. Nothing is wrong with you if you are angry and cursing the puzzle and want to box it up and be done with it. If that’s you, take a deep breath, step away from the table, and focus on something else…something that feels familiar, anything, no matter how small it seems. You’ll know when you’re ready to engage again. The truth is, we can’t box up this pandemic even if we wanted too. This is our lives right now. It does not define our lives, but it is a challenge in our lives that can become all-consuming if we’re not careful.
Here are the pieces of the puzzle we know will help us get through this: Wear a mask. Stay home or stay 6+ feet apart from others. Wash your hands. Clean. Disinfect. Pray. Relax. Connect with others as you are able to virtually and safely. And - continue to BE the church. Because guess what? Whether times are peachy-keen or pandemic-y, the image that we are always to be holding before us is the image of the kin-dom of God on earth as it is in heaven, an image of people everywhere loving God and loving neighbor. Maybe that’s the puzzle we ought to be focusing our energy on...because that is something we can work on day by day, piece by piece, knowing that every loving action we take is helping to make that image a reality.
Puzzling with you (one piece at a time!),