Here’s a story: Long ago, in a faraway land not very far from here, a Wise Man once gave a puzzle to his kids. Not just any puzzle – when solved, it showed the most beautiful picture ever seen, a deep beauty that could scarcely be imagined – to look upon this picture would be joy itself. However, this amazing puzzle was also horribly complex… seeing how the pieces fit together, discerning what matched with what seemed to be beyond the kids’ abilities, even at their brightest moments. The puzzle was as complicated to solve as it was beautiful when solved. Many of the pieces were dark – one could hardly even see that they were there… even to hold them in one’s hand gave a sense of discomfort, of gloom, even impending doom. Others were bright, so bright you couldn’t even see the edges of them to know where they fit in.
There were so many pieces, not all of them seemed to fit or belong… they seemed so different, so disconnected, looking at the pieces didn’t give any sense at all of what the whole was supposed to look like (or even whether the “whole picture” actually existed). As with any good puzzle, there was only one correct solution. Sometimes, one of the kids would think they had an idea of what should fit that wasn’t really correct. So, while trying hard to solve the problem on their own, they often would damage some of the pieces.
Of course the father, being very wise, had anticipated this. And because the Wise Man was a loving father who enjoyed seeing his children thrive and learn and experience joy, he told them not to worry. He promised that, as they worked on the puzzle, he would be there, his hand upon theirs as they went through the process of solving it, making it an incredible opportunity to enjoy each other, to spend ‘quality time together.’ This puzzle was an incredible gift; pursuing its solution provided unique opportunities to experience and share the father’s wisdom, heart, and love.
But the kids wanted to solve it on their own, all by themselves. “I don’t need help. That’s insulting. I can figure it out my own way.” That pursuit, while very engaging, brought the solution no closer, and made the mess of pieces on the table even more chaotic.
One of the kids persisted in this and then threw her arms up in exasperation. “There is no way. This puzzle can’t possibly be solved. I give up. Forget it. I’m just going to stop trying.”
One of the siblings grew quite angry. “I just want to see the beautiful picture. Screw this puzzle-solving crap. If Father really loved us, he’d just show us the picture, if it’s really so great, and just be done with it. I’m not going to waste my time any more on this puzzle. It’s not worth the effort.”
The other child said very little, but just cried in the corner. “I’m just not smart enough. This is horrible. And, actually, I think I might have lost some of the pieces as I was trying to work it out. I’m such a dope. Why would Father ask something of me that can’t be done?”
Jesus said that he came to give abundant life, a life that is “rich and satisfying.” God is good. He is the Creator – our creator – who created everything good. And he wants the best for us.
But we have taken our own life (our own “puzzle”) into our own hands, telling God that we don’t need Him. We have taken over the role that God wishes to play in our lives.
We are certain that we were made for more, for something better, something different than life as it presents itself to us. But we need to admit that we need help to do what we cannot (and were never intended to) do on our own. If we ask the father for help, our puzzle remains before us in pieces… but we experience Father’s guiding hand as pieces come together, observe in stages, by glimpses, the beauty of the solution that is coming… and experience Father’s love and joy as he works together with us.
More or mightier struggle will never bring the experience of the completed puzzle to any of the father’s children. What’s needed is a new approach, a new mindset. The gospel writers used the word, “metanoia”: literally, a new mind. We need to do more than just admit that the puzzle might or can be solved. We need to ask the puzzle maker, “Help me solve it, please!”
We don’t really receive a present when the postman brings it, but when we open the box. We don’t really sing a song when we look at the notes, but when our voices are heard. We don’t travel when standing at the bus stop, but when we board the bus. Similarly, we need to respond directly and practically to the God who wants to lead us away from our own confusion and pain and into His wisdom and life.
This “repentance” doesn’t make all pain and difficulty disappear… having the wise father help work the puzzle doesn’t turn all the pieces into happy sky blue… But it does put us on the pathway to the Kingdom. That is what can give us victory – Jesus can walk with us through sorrow into joy… he’s already done that! At a pivotal moment in Jesus’ talk to his disciples before his arrest and trial which would so horribly disappoint and confuse them, he describes how we can have joy now (by identifying with Jesus) and later (when we see Jesus victorious over death)… and that such joy no one can take away.
Jesus assures us, his followers, that those who DO believe receive the Spirit, which is like having a fountain of living water, springing up joyfully from within your heart.
At this time of year, many people struggle with “putting all the pieces together.” Some keep trying, trying harder… others get angry, some despair, either that they will find the solution to life’s puzzle or that such a solution even exists.
We pray that, wherever you find yourself this season, you will experience the refreshing of the “new mind” that comes from the life of the Spirit arising within you… Maybe take a step away from life’s puzzle pieces that you find so vexing… and turn in openness to the One who can walk with you through brokenness into wholeness.