I see them when I close my eyes. Small, irregularly-shaped pieces of laminated cardboard. Some with bright, identifying colors, some a solid and challenging white. Puzzle dust settles in the corners of my mind like drifting snow. I can even smell it. I lie awake, placing pieces in my imagination.
So far I have completed one puzzle in my COVID-19 confinement. That’s right. One. That’s not very many. It was, however, quite large, though the number of pieces is not listed. I’m guessing 1,000-ish, given the size of it. It was also quite difficult, as it was a picture of a Millefiori paperweight, which means “a thousand flowers” in Italian, and it depicts probably not a thousand but a whole lot of stylized flowers. It also didn’t help that pretty much I was the only family member working on it. I had a couple other helpers for like a total of 45 minutes. Tops.
I would have pulled out another puzzle — we have several — but then the card table was requisitioned as mask-making central for our house (kudos to Katie, or seamstress extraordinaire). Suddenly, instead of puzzle pieces falling on the floor, there were pins and wee bits of thread and a very puzzling ancient sewing machine, which caused more stress than the puzzle ever did.
In the meantime, I bought another puzzle, because I couldn’t resist. It depicts a whole bunch of teacups, which is my current obsession. So, when the sewing machine went back into hibernation, I proudly produced the new puzzle.
No one was impressed. In fact, no one has helped at all. Other than my 13-year-old, who walks past occasionally, picks up a piece that catches her eye and sets it in place in that mysterious way that sometimes happens when random people walk past puzzle tables, confounding the avid puzzler with their supernatural puzzle abilities.
The other night I couldn’t sleep, so I got up and sat down at the puzzle table. I had gone to bed, stymied by one teacup in particular, which just simply didn’t fit right. I was convinced that something was wrong. A mistake in manufacturing had been made. How else could I explain how it was that the darn teacup didn’t fit where it was supposed to? Clearly, someone other than I had messed up.
And then, in a blaze of sleep-repressed understanding, it came to me: that one side piece, which didn’t fit anywhere, which I’d set aside, figuring it was a very straight-edged interior piece. My eyes went straight to it. I picked it up. I looked at the perplexing teacup and I saw that, diabolically, the cut of its left edge was exactly the match for the cut of an edge piece that had already been fit into place.
I unhooked two edge pieces. I set the previously rejected piece into place. Voila. The Case of the Tricky Teacup was solved.
I went back to bed an hour later. Such exhilaration wakes a person up.
The next night I lay awake, thinking about how puzzling fits into theology. Because that’s how my mind works. It didn’t take me too long to reach the overwhelming thought that here I am, a little person in a little part of the universe, and somewhere out there, supreme over all yet also knowing and loving me fully, is God.
If that isn’t a puzzle to mystify you, then I don’t know what is. How can the God of the universe, of all time, of all everything, love us? And why, for goodness sake, should he?
That thought brought me to Isaiah 55:9. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
God doesn’t have to explain himself to me, and even if he did, I likely couldn’t grasp it. The way God thinks is a puzzle to me. The way he loves is a puzzle, too. But he does. And that’s all that matters. Someday, when we stand before him, that one last puzzle piece will slip into place and the picture will be complete. His profound and confounding love will make sense.
Until that day I’ll just keep working on my little bit of the puzzle, trusting that he’s got control of the big picture.
Gretchen O’Donnell is a freelance writer who lives in Worthington with her husband and three children. She has a master’s degree from Bethel Seminary and enjoys writing about the things she sees and applying theological truths to everyday situations. Her column, The Disheveled Theologian, is published weekly. Her email is email@example.com.