The Missing Pieces


The owners of the vacation home we’d rented clearly liked puzzles. On our first day there, I pulled a used one down from a shelf and started it. On the last night of our stay, a few of us worked late trying to finish it.

But we couldn’t.

Three pieces were missing, and though my kids swept under the kitchen rugs and even pulled up a heating vent cover looking for them, they stayed lost. I finally called a halt to the search, took a picture of our almost-finished puzzle, and sent everyone to bed.

In the months since, I’ve often thought of that puzzle. It’s become a symbol for me of a person and life that are pieced carefully together yet which are still incomplete. It’s become personal, reminding me of the person and life I too often try to construct.

It was easy for me to give up on the actual puzzle; it’s far harder for me to accept my own incompletion. Yet I believe I need to. I’m not saying I won’t continue to seek the full life Christ offers. I’m not saying I won’t pray about and work toward greater good in my marriage, mothering, writing, relationships, studies . . . . 

But, truth is, my life here on earth is guaranteed to be missing some pieces. I will never fully figure myself out, much less the world—or even my household. There will always be areas of my life, be it literal, physical areas or spiritual/emotional issues or relationships, that feel a little out of control, a tad bit nebulous, unsettled or insecure.

One of my daughters particularly hates this kind of instability. She must have a firm answer for everything. She’s not okay with “that’s just the way it is” or the pat answer or even “we can understand this much but not all.”

“It’s good enough” is NOT good enough for her.

It’s both a wonderful and annoying trait, and she comes by it honestly.

I, too, want my “self”—the way I think and react to things—and my life to be tidy and understandable, fitting together like a well-cut puzzle. When they don’t, I want answers. “Why am I struggling with this? Where is this feeling coming from? Why can’t I get a handle on this? Why does this feel so chaotic?”

These are not bad questions—but left unchecked, they feed my perfectionism, my sense that I must handle things and figure things out and fix them. They stoke the damaging belief that I CAN fix myself; that I don’t need full redemption, just some slight tweaks; that if I just get a handle on ______, everything will be all right.

They make me settle for lesser desires. I want my schedule set, my house clean, my mind uncluttered, my relationships ordered. But in settling, I lose joy; I lose the ability to see the beauty flashing through the chaos. I can’t have both a clean house and neighborhood children romping through it with my own younger ones. I can’t have a rigidly set schedule and the willingness to take one of my teenagers to the meeting she forgot to tell me about—a willingness that results in real conversation in our “just us” minutes in the car. I can’t have an uncluttered mind and know the deep needs of my friends and the world. I can’t cross off every item on my to-do list and also pull over for an unplanned ramble through the woods.

I sometimes aim for “tidy and orderly.” But after I get a little ways down that road to craziness/denial/anger/hypocrisy, I realize my missing pieces are actually a gift. They’re good. They check my tendencies toward sterility. They bring me back to need and the deep, true longings of my soul.  

They bring me back to Jesus.

And Jesus, in my experience, doesn’t try to fix things or fix me. In fact, He often brings a little more chaos, a little more need. But He also tells me it’s okay. He tells me that this side of heaven my life and I are simply gonna be missing some bits—and even the rest (the parts I think are fairly well put together) will have these funny lines running through. It’ll never be quite the picture I think I want.

And it truly is ok. Good, even, because when I stop trying to patch up the missing bits and the lines between my puzzle pieces, when I acknowledge my brokenness and allow it to be seen, Jesus fills in.

My gaps give Him space.

Jen Underwood
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