Normally, over the course of a year, Cheri and I will plan to have two or three jigsaw puzzles in reserve that we put together the week after Christmas. It’s a fun, brain-stimulating activity, and there are tons to choose from. However, during the CoVid months, especially when things were fairly well shut down in quarantine, for some reason we decided to break the pattern and put jigsaws together in the spring months, which now has stretched to the summer. Our breakfast nook table is just large enough to handle a 1000-piece puzzle, and we work on it for a time, and then step away to rest our eyes and do other, more normal things in a day, and then we find ourselves drifting back to work on the puzzle again. I’m sure the puzzle makers of America are pleased that our family is doing its part to keep them in business, along with toilet paper producers, tie-dye crafters and food delivery folks. What a strange world we find ourselves in these days…
Now, I’m a strong defender of tradition, and keeping things accountable and such, but during this time of ongoing puzzling – our sons refer to us as the “puzzlers” – a new fact of life has come forward, that in my younger years I never would have agreed to respect. Don’t be shocked, but sometimes – sometimes, when we are working on a particularly pernicious puzzle, when we go for an extended period of time without being able to place a single piece in its proper puzzle place – sometimes, my beloved wife and I will look at each other, and come to the same conclusion, which finds itself in a question: Do you want to finish this one? When we find ourselves having moved far away from any kind of pleasure or enjoyment in putting the puzzle together, and instead, have a growing sense of dislike for the thing, we realize that we have become unpaid workers for an inanimate object! We are toiling for the puzzle, instead of letting the puzzle bring us joy.
It doesn’t happen every time – in fact, way more often than not, we drop the final pieces in their places and rub our hands over the finished picture with great satisfaction, making comments like, “That was a fun one,” or “Whew – that was kind of a toughie…” but sometimes, perhaps when the wind is blowing from the wrong direction, or we are simply fatigued, and realize we are not going to change that emotion with this particular puzzle, we agree to crumble up the work we have done, and drop the unfinished puzzle back in its box, perhaps to await another time, but more likely to be handed off to Cheri’s niece, who doesn’t know she can say no to working on a puzzle. The puzzle at that point becomes a deliciously cruel joke, but she’s young and will grow out of it…
I’m not sure how Mom and Dad, or other adult guides in my life would react to our decision to quit instead of persevere. I do know that imprinted into my life’s constitution is the idea of never giving up. “If you plan to start something, then plan to finish it – or don’t start it in the first place.” Carrying through on a project, working toward a goal, making it a matter of the will to complete what commenced – that is the mark of character, of strength of personality. It is what creates a significant life – integrity.
Except, sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes, what we start so well eventually shows itself to have been a good idea once, but is no longer good, or worthwhile, or worth pursuing. It’s not a pejorative word like “quitter,” or “failure,” because it actually carries a stronger, more powerful description: sensible, practical, intentional. We certainly should always intend that what we begin we will pursue and complete, but part of being intentional is to periodically determine whether the goal we once set still have value and purpose. Granted, they are just silly jigsaw puzzles – a pastime instead of world-changing, life-changing commitment – and indeed, if you open the box not really intending to ever put the puzzle together, just as you open a chapter in your life, or you peer down a path to doing a new thing, and you really don’t believe it will bear fruit or really be something you will do, then please, do not waste your time, nor the time of anyone or anything else that would be involved. Be intentional, but also be willing to change and adapt if the world around you has changed before you. Finishing means that you complete the task, but it also means you have completed what you can or are willing to do, with grace, intentionality, and good decisions. Joy comes in living a significant life – not a life of drudgery.
I think I hear Cheri opening a new puzzle – let’s put the border together first…
Word for the day: hemidemisemiquaver. In music, it is a 1/64th note. It is possible the fastest musical note that can be played. An eighth note is known as a “quaver,” a sixteenth note is a semiquaver, a thirty-second note is a demisemiquaver, and the sixty-fourth note carries today’s word. It’s the musical equivalent to “a blink of an eye,” so perhaps you can squeeze it into your conversation and say something like, “All of a sudden, in a hemidemisemiquaver, things changed forever!”
After 43 years of ministry, Randy Cross lived his "fourth life" and shared about retirement, living boldly and intentionally in our world. To be sure, there was some North Dakota thrown in.