My eyes scan across the table, back and forth, back and forth, looking for that piece. It’s green with some blue on one side and has a little bit of an odd-shaped ‘arm’. It’s out there somewhere and I’m gonna be the one to… Oh! There it is! Ugh, never mind.
I have a strange addiction to jigsaw puzzles. You can ask Tim – whenever we’re on vacation in North Carolina or visiting my Grandma’s house in Vermont, he has to physically drag me away from finding “Just one more!” I love all the designs, colors, and, of course, the feeling of accomplishment when you place that final piece!
Last summer, the puzzle on the table at Grandma’s house was a tough one. It had been started in February, but was so difficult that in July it was still less than halfway complete! I took this as a challenge and vowed I would get that last piece in before heading back to Pennsylvania.
The thing with this puzzle was that the pieces were all very similar in shape and the colors were nearly impossible to differentiate from one section to another. There were times where we sat for 15-20 minutes and and enjoyed only one tiny piece-fitting victory!
Human relationships can be just as puzzling. Though similar in our basic structure, functions, senses, and abilities – there are drastic shades of difference in our experiences, cultures, personalities, and opinions. Even those of us who are born into the same families often find it hard to fit in together!
Our incredible uniqueness is God’s masterpiece. Unfortunately, instead of allowing His artwork to amaze us, we tend to let it frustrate us. In theory, we like that we’re not all the same, but in reality, not so much.
Part of the problem is that we love the completed puzzle. We love scanning through the crowds to find “our people” who match up and agree with us – and then securing them right to our side. We love it when all the pieces are present, easy to find, and fit together to make that perfect rectangle.
But rather than that completed picture, an incomplete array of various mismatched pieces is what we’re often faced with. In a world where we are allowed to have opinions and are given the freedom to express them, disagreements are inevitable. And not just the ones about where to get the best pizza in town or what Netflix show you should waste your time watching this weekend – the ones that reach to our depths of our values and convictions of our souls.
When we do puzzles in our family, there are several reactions to the difficulty. Some of us try a few pieces unsuccessfully and then give up. Some of us try to jam the pieces into places they don’t fit because, “It looks like it goes there!” And some of us get angry and tear apart what everyone else has worked so hard to put together! (I won’t tell you who’s who!)
When our differences are revealed, the feelings are strong. We SO want everyone to agree with us and can’t imagine how they could possibly believe any different than we do! The patterns of our world give us some clear strategies for dealing with this difficulty: Give up and walk away from the relationship, argue and try to force the other person to change their mind, or get angry and find any and every way to tear them down.
In the first 11 chapters of his letter to the Romans, Paul sums up for the believers what God has done for them in Christ. He reminds them that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus” (3:23-24), that because of this great act of love, “we have peace with God” (5:1) and “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (8:1), that God is “for us” (8:31) and that His Spirit “helps us in our weakness” (8:26).
Then, beginning in chapter 12, he shows the believers how their lives should be different now because of what God has done. In verse 2 he says: “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind”. The presence of Christ in our hearts and minds results in transformation – specifically, as Paul points out in the rest of the chapter, in how we treat people who are different from us.
Verses 3-8 deal with differences in our gifts. Because, “just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function…We have different gifts” (v. 4-6) and should think of ourselves “with sober judgment” (v. 3). All of our varying passions, abilities, and interests are necessary to the health of the church!
But verses 9-21 extend to the bigger picture of all relationships – especially the difficult ones. Paul was convinced that it was possible to “Hate what is evil” and “cling to what is good” while still loving people sincerely (v. 9). He believed, and showed by his life, that a “transformed” mind could genuinely “Bless those who persecute you” rather than curse them (v. 14). And He concluded that because we trust in a God who “in all things…works for the good of those who love him” (8:28), there was never a need to “repay anyone evil for evil” (v. 17).
Our differences can be difficult, but as ‘renewed’ followers of Jesus, we have the ability to lead the charge of embracing differences the way He did. We can “honor one another” (v. 10) by engaging in mature conversation instead of following the world’s patterns of avoidance, gossip, and lashing out on social media. Even if we believe with our whole heart that someone is wrong, we can put aside our pride and “live in harmony” (v. 16) – agreeing to disagree and trusting in the work of the Holy Spirit in the other person’s (or our own) life.
As you may have guessed from the picture above, we did finally complete the puzzle – well, except for that missing piece, of course (Aaarghh!!) Putting those final pieces in was exhilarating and my Grandma was so happy to finally regain her table space!
Our victory was sweet, but as long as human beings are human, putting together a perfect puzzle in our relationships is going to elude us. Because even when we do the right thing, that doesn’t guarantee us a happy ending. All God is asking, though, is that, “if it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (v. 18) and then trust Him with the rest.
What does that look like for you today?