Puzzles and Surrender

Puzzles and Surrender

This summer, our family had the privilege of spending a week at a friend’s house on the lake.  I was excited to find a 1000-piece puzzle of a cottage lake scene in their collection of games in the living room.  I hadn’t pieced together a puzzle larger than 24 pieces since my little ones were born. Upon opening the box filled with a broken picture, my brain lit up like a Christmas tree. The challenge of 1000 pieces of chaos seemed intoxicating as the pieces summoned me to transform them into a coherent whole.  I quickly fell into the puzzle trance (come on, puzzlers, you know what I’m talking about), and within a day or two, the chaos resolved into a beautiful portrait of peace and calm.


Thus began my puzzle addiction.  Since that vacation,  I have set up a card table in our living room, having a complicated puzzle in the works at all times.  And for me, the more complicated, the better.  I tried a 2000-piece puzzle, but I couldn’t find a surface in the house large enough to accommodate its expansive dimensions. I really love the picture-mosaic puzzles, where the larger images are composed of thousands of tiny pictures.  This complexity adds an extra layer of challenge and adds about a day or two to the course of completion.

Now, aside from keeping my brain agile and engaged, I think that for me puzzle-doing holds something more symbolic than just a time-consuming activity.

My life seems like chaos.  My brain feels like scrambled eggs.  My medical situation feels like that 2000 piece-puzzle that I can’t seem to find a surface large enough to complete.  Not only does it feel like that 2000-piece-puzzle, but it feels like 2000 pieces from 2000 separate puzzles that will never fit together.

And it’s not just my medical situation.  It is my scrambled, jumbled, broken history that seems like it will never make sense in the present.  It is my chaotic regimen of medications that alleviate a few symptoms but create their own awful set of side-effects that sometimes seem infinitely worse than the symptoms that they treat: Side-effects that alter my personality, my mental state, my ability to remain sane and stable.  It is enough to make my brain feel like it is going to ooze out of my ears in a pharmaceutical-enduced alphabet soup.   It is the endless questions about my future and the future of my family, as we navigate life in its insecure complexity.

The puzzle of my life seems like it will never in a million years create any kind of cohesive whole, let alone a beautiful portrait.  So, I work on puzzles that make sense. The puzzles that have edge pieces, corners, patterns, and colors that fit together.  No matter how chaotic it seems when you open the box, you can trust that in a day or so, you will be gazing at an orderly, well-formed, complete masterpiece.

But here’s the thing about life:  It may not make sense on this side of heaven.  We may not have a complete picture while we are still breathing air here on this broken ball of earth.

And here’s the thing about God:  We also will not be able to put together the puzzle of the Master-Creator on this side of heaven.  God refuses to fit in our “box,” and so will not fit together like one of my clear-cut puzzles.

My intellectual human brain likes concepts that fit neatly in a cohesive whole.  I like questions that have complete and clear-cut answers.  I like to feel larger than ideas and questions, and in order to feel larger than ideas,  I have to be able to fully wrap my mind around them. I am larger than the puzzles that I create.  I can be “creator” and “master” of the puzzle.

No matter how popular Henley’s “Invictus” poem might be, I am not “creator” and “master” of my life.  I am also not “creator” and “master” of God.  In surrender,  I release the need to fully understand.  I let go of the drive to put every piece together in order to fully wrap my mind around my past and present.  I release the need to be able to predict and control my future.  This process of surrender is counter-intuitive.  It goes against my desperate drive for control and mastery.  It tramples on my self-sufficient pride.  And I am confident that it is the only way to peace and wholeness.

Ironically, the only path toward growth and wholeness is surrender.  What if I took the pieces of my chaotic puzzles in my hands and lifted them, handing them over in sweet abandon to the Creator who actually knows what He is doing?  What if I stopped asking “why” and started seeking the face of the One who intimately knows me, past, present, and future?  What if I left my puzzle-master pursuit to the cardboard cut-out pieces on my card table in my living room? What if in doing so,  I could sincerely sing “Whatever my lot, He has taught me to say, ‘It is well, it is well with my soul‘”?

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When we are stripped down to nothing, and see everything more clearly

When we are stripped down to nothing, and see everything more clearly

Some lessons take a long time to learn.

I have always believed that i don’t have to be productive to be valuable, or at least I claimed to believe it. I don’t know how many times I have heard that we are “human beings”, not “human doings”.

But we live in this culture that stresses achievement above all other qualities.  Even the church says out of one side of our mouth, “You are valuable no matter what,”  and on the other side, we sound frighteningly similar to the “do, do, do” mandate of our culture.  If we are not producing, we question our worth.  If we are not accomplishing something, we feel like our time has been wasted.  If, heaven forbid, we watch an entire day lapse where we don’t crank out projects or achieve something, we thrash ourselves to a pulp and feel restless and pointless.  At least, this is my experience.

For me, simply hearing that I am intrinsically valuable has not been sufficient for actual heart change.  I still place unrealistic demands on myself .  I get to the end of my day and tally up what I have accomplished.  My self-worth often depends on the evidence of my productivity for the day.

Last week was one of those weeks that made me question the point of my life.  My kids and husband went to VBS each evening, leaving me home, bed-bound, watching Netflix.  My illnesses were flaring full-force, and I was unable to even think, let alone try to accomplish anything.  I couldn’t manage to call a friend. I couldn’t even read or write. I couldn’t rest because I was in too much pain.   I just vegged out in my bed, with the TV on, trying to distract myself from the pain.

In my highly driven, type-A brain, this was unacceptable.  If I am not accomplishing something,  reaching out to someone, writing a blog post, or enhancing someone else’s life in some way, I might as well not exist.  I know this is extreme, but I have this driving need to “earn my keep”.

VBS spanned Monday through Friday.  By Friday night,  I was sobbing, stricken with self-hate and condemnation.  I had a friend who was also stuck at home, recovering from a surgery, but I still felt too sick to even let my husband drive me to visit her.  I felt like I failed her, my family, the rest of the world, and God.

If you are following this line of faulty beliefs, you have picked up on my distorted self-perception by now.  Or, you can really relate with my works-based sense of self.

Last week, God said clearly that He had more to teach me through my illnesses.  It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to connect the dots here and realize that He has some major things to teach me about my value as His beloved child.

It is so easy to say that you are a precious daughter of God when you are “performing” in ways that seem appropriate.  But what about when you are lying in bed, a couple days behind in hygiene,  with dishes piled high in your sink, and a husband who is working like a horse taking care of your children?  This is a situation where I have had to come to terms with my true sense of worth.

Am I just as valuable here, in 2017, with no job and no ability to physically serve others, as I was in 2013, when I was working, generating an income, helping to lead worship at our church, running five miles a day, and actively engaged in mutually beneficial relationships?  It seems so counterintuitive to think that I still have a right to breathe the same air, take up space on this earth, and be loved by God and others.  When I can’t contribute in the ways that I once did, am I still just as valuable?

And yet, God still whispers to my heart that He loves me, that He is delighted in me, that He has made me worthy and valuable.  Can I grasp this?  Can I accept it? Can I see that I am loved and accepted just as I am, with a brain that doesn’t function the way that it once functioned, with legs that don’t always work the way that they are supposed to, as a person on disability who is not actively contributing to the betterment of society in a quantifiable way?

My intrinsic value is one of the most difficult things for me to accept, and I don’t know that I would really be able to learn that God loves me for me if I were not so incapacitated.  I am extremely stubborn and bull-headed.  I obviously need dire situations to learn valuable lessons, and this lie of works-based self-worth needs to be extracted at it’s roots.

This week, if I am stuck in bed,  I choose to lie in bed, resting in the awareness that I am loved and cherished for who I am, not for what I can accomplish.  God created me fearfully and wonderfully, even when I am sick, even when I am stripped down to just me.  There is no place for pretense or performance.  Simply me.  And God says, somehow, that He is proud to call me His child.

We are His masterpieces, no matter what our capacity.   We are His beloved children every day, even on the days when we feel like a waste of space. He loves the able-bodied and the disabled equally, with His overwhelmingly unstoppable, unquenchable love. We know that His eye is on the tiniest sparrow.  Our worth is determined by God’s name for us, not by the name that we make for ourselves. 

So here I am, simply Megan, telling you that God loves me for me, and He loves you for you.