Puzzles and the Spiritual Life
I hate puzzles. I know many people who genuinely enjoy the experience of sitting down at a dining room table with a 1,000-piece puzzle and working on it over time. I know one family who leaves their puzzle out for weeks at a time and each family member will return to it when they have time, patiently working to fit the pieces together. People like this relish the experience of being together. They love watching the pieces begin as mass chaos, gradually take the form of an image, and finally become a completed masterpiece. This is not me. And I have tried. I have even suggested after holiday meals that we sit down with a puzzle and begin working on it as a family because I want to like puzzles! It takes me about five minutes to become bored to tears, grumpy, and frustrated.
The truth is that sometimes the spiritual life can be like doing a puzzle. It can feel pointless. It can feel frustrating. It can even feel chaotic. Maybe you have become disillusioned or bored to tears because you are not seeing the results you want to see, in the way you want to see them, in the time frame you want to see them in. The spiritual life requires patience, resilience, and forbearance.
People who are driven by outcomes and bottom lines have a hard time with puzzles, and sometimes people like us have a hard time with the slow, relentless process of spiritual formation. Spiritual formation is the journey we walk through that forms us into the image of Christ. There are seasons and layers to this process but sometimes it can feel like looking at a dining room table with thousands of puzzle pieces that may never come together.
At least, this has been my experience. In this season of spiritual formation I have been particularly aware of my frustration with the process. At times I have wanted to look at the puzzle pieces and violently throw them off the table. At times I have walked by the table, catching the pieces in the corner of my eye and picking up my pace to avoid having to sit down and fuss with the puzzle. But like any good “want-to-be” puzzle doer, I always go back to it.
Jill Briscoe calls this process sitting down “on the steps of our soul” and meeting with God. We can do this in lots of ways. There are practices that, for centuries, have invited Christians to sit down on the steps of their souls. One such practice has been particularly meaningful to me in my “puzzle-piece-throwing” season of life: the spiritual practice of community.
To continue the analogy, who is around your dining room table helping you with your puzzle? I meet with a covenant group each month. This is a very small group comprised of other women in ministry whom I have invited to sit around my table, to look at the pieces, and to help me fit them together. As we do this on a consistent basis, there are themes and images that begin to emerge that give me the direction, care, and energy to keep going. Along with my community of women, my spiritual director is helping me piece the puzzle together. She is my guide. She sees things I don’t. She hears from God and she speaks God’s truth to me.
Who is speaking God’s truth to you? Who is sharing your journey?
It may be time for you to sit back down at the table. No more avoiding it. No more walking briskly past all the issues you want to avoid because it hurts too much. It may be time to say “yes” to the long, tedious process of journeying into your own soul. But this time, invite someone else to pull up a chair, take a look at the picture, and sit right next to you as you work together to fit those pieces together.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of the First Colony Church of Christ.