Life is like a puzzle

I am sure you’ve heard the phrase “life is like a puzzle,” and I hope it brings you happy memories of doing puzzles as a kid. 

But I want to make one small change to that “life is like a puzzle” imagery.

“Life is like a puzzle, but you don’t get to see the box.”

See, when I did (and do) puzzles, there would always be a box that would show the completed image. I would take all the pieces, start by connecting the edges, sort the colors, and work my way through the puzzle; when I got stuck, I would look at the box as a guide or answer key, so I knew which piece went where. 

But in life, there is no box. Only God knows what the final image looks like. We just have what we are given: the pieces.

So, just for fun, I decided to do a puzzle without ever looking at the final image or box. I had my sister pour out the 750-piece puzzle for me on a table, and I told her I never wanted to see the box. And I began slowly working on the puzzle.

Here are four things I took away from the experience:

  1. Pieces you thought fit together sometimes don’t actually fit; you try to force it, but it still doesn’t fit.

When working on the puzzle, there were times I was so sure a piece fit, but it ended up not fitting. Or a piece would kind of fit, and in my head I knew it didn’t, but I just left the pieces “together” anyway because I wanted to believe it would fit.

When I came to college I didn’t know what I wanted to study. I came in undecided, and it wasn’t until my sophomore year that I settled on majoring in PPE (Philosophy, Politics, and Economics), and, honestly, I chose that because it seemed like an option for someone figuring things out. It’s tough not knowing what you want to do at Penn when it seems like everyone has their life and career planned out (fun fact: many don’t). So through my college years, I tried out different things: I dabbled in marketing, in consulting, in politics, but just like the wrong puzzle piece, nothing seemed to quite fit.

Romans 8:28 

 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.

This is a verse I held onto during my freshman year. When I couldn’t see the bigger picture, I trusted that God was orchestrating a masterpiece, and the things that I tried, whether they fit or not, were bringing me closer to His purpose.

  1. There will be stretches of time when you stare at the puzzle for thirty minutes, and you can’t get a single piece to fit, which makes you want to quit. However, there will also be times where pieces just seem to fall into place one after another.

Guys. The puzzle was hard. It took me almost a year to complete. Granted, I was away at school most of the time, but still. There were times I thought of giving up.

My sophomore year I hit a slump—I still had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. I was struggling with some difficult questions about my faith and felt like giving up on many things. This is the verse that carried me through:

James 1:12

Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.

There are times when you may feel stuck. That your life isn’t going anywhere. That you try piece after piece and nothing seems to fit. That you begin to wonder if you will ever see the final picture. Keep going.

  1. People along the way can help you put in the right pieces; don’t do the puzzle alone.

When I first started working on this puzzle, I was like “I’m going to do this all alone, and this will be my accomplishment.” I quickly found out how helpful a fresh pair of eyes could be. Someone else can help you put the right pieces together or tell you the piece you’re trying to force clearly doesn’t go there. They can also give their thoughts on what the picture forming looks like to them, and you might learn something from it.

When COVID hit last semester, it was tough for me, as an introvert, to reach out and stay connected with others. I would set up calls every now and then, and as the call approached I would regret it and wanted to just live in my own world. Still, after each call, I would feel incredibly thankful for it and for the people in my life. Don’t go through the struggles alone, and, when you can, be there to encourage those around you.

Hebrews 10:24-25

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

  1. No matter how lost you feel, there is a beautiful picture at the end.

For the majority of the time I was working on the puzzle, I had no idea what it was a picture of. Was it a house? A barn? A shed? (It turned out to be none of those). It’s only piece by piece that the picture becomes clear, and even then, sometimes it just takes until you have that aha! moment. Nonetheless, even if you feel at a loss of what the final picture will be, sometimes we just have to trust that the designer knew what they were doing. 

College has been a wild journey. From discovering new interests to exploring future careers, from navigating new relationships to the death of a friend, it has been four years of laughter, discoveries, confusion, and growth. Everything has built me up to where I am now. For the first three and a half years of college, I desperately tried to figure out what God’s career plan for me was. It’s only now, as I prepare to serve in public education, that I am sure that this is what God has been preparing me to do all along. 

Jeremiah 29:11

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.

Maybe I took the puzzle analogy a bit too far. Or maybe it hasn’t gone far enough (you think you’re missing a piece until you realize you had it in front of you all along; pieces connect to parts you don’t expect; when you get stuck on one section, work on a different area). 

But, to summarize everything in four points…

  1. Not everything is a fit for you. Just because it fits for your friends or society, or your parents tells you it fits, it might not fit.
  2. Don’t give up. There are times of growth, and there are times of being stuck. It’s just the way life is.
  3. Bring your friends to help. Help out your friends when you can. It’s better this way.
  4. It may feel you are working towards nothing. However, there is an inherent design in every single piece, and when it all comes together, it will create something beautiful.

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