Is a Puzzlement

I love puzzles. When I was growing up, we often had a jigsaw puzzle set up on the dining room table. We would all take turns working on it until mealtime, when we would throw a sheet over the top to preserve our progress. After the meal, dishes were cleared, the sheet removed, and off we’d go again. Some of the puzzle we did are fixed in my brain: a horribly complicated photomosaic of Mickey Mouse as the Sorcerer’s Apprentice; a replica of a movie poster for “Gone with the Wind;” a puzzle whose outlines followed the curves of the flamenco dancer within.

Puzzles are very popular here at Lutheran Living, too. We have tables set up with puzzles throughout the building and many people–residents, visitors, and even occasionally staff–help put them together. We try not to go larger than 300 pieces in order to accommodate fading eyesight, fingers made less dexterous by arthritis, and the sense of accomplishment that comes from actually finishing the project rather than the frustration when it takes too long. We are constantly rotating our puzzle collection around the building to keep options fresh for the residents.

As our technology has grown, puzzles have grown up, too. You can find puzzle apps alongside coloring apps and match-3 games on almost any platform. My mom, always our greatest family puzzler, spent much time during her later years doing virtual puzzles on her iPad, easier to see and handle following eye surgery. Puzzles have come to a whole new fan base that way, even as others continue to love the tactile quality of those little cardboard pieces.

So why the fascination with puzzles? What is it about solving something that is so built into our human mentality? I think a lot of it has to do with our desire for certainty. Most puzzles come with the colorful pictures right on the box top, so there is a clear guide to what the finished product should look like—and there is nothing more frustrating that discovering that there are more pieces than pictured, except discovering that we are missing a piece! It feels like a betrayal to find that we don’t have everything we need to complete the puzzle.

Puzzles delight and intrigue us at the same time they promise us a happy ending—there is always an answer. Many of us wish life were like that. We want the security of knowing exactly what the picture of our lives is supposed to look like and all we have to do is put the pieces together to make it come out right. But life doesn’t really work that way. There will always be edges that aren’t pictured and pieces that are missing. At those times, it is reassuring to know that there is someone to whom nothing is a puzzle, who knows exactly how our lives fit together, even when pieces seem to be missing. After all, God is the greatest puzzler of all!