It’s Not About the Puzzle

Almost all retreat houses I’ve been to have jigsaw puzzles available for retreatants. Invariably, around the third day of an eight-day retreat, the pieces of one will appear on one of the big tables in the lounge and people will come and go at various times working on it. (On this retreat the second puzzle was complete sometime during the night.)

I’m not particularly good at jigsaw puzzles and I never have been. Still, I find they can be an amusing pastime if I get downstairs five or ten minutes before the meal bell rings. If no one else is at the puzzle table, I’ll wander over, stare at the board for an inordinately long period of time before managing to connect two or three border pieces together. Sometimes even four.

I’m fine so long as I’m standing there alone. But the minute someone else approaches the table, I feel the disquiet start to arise in me. It is bad enough if it is someone even worse than I am at doing puzzles. But if it is someone with the skill of my sister Maryanne (and there is one of those here on this retreat) – one of those people who can look down at a table with 500 or 1000 pieces for barely a minute before they start putting pieces together (including the non-border ones) with no hesitation, I walk away almost immediately. I’m embarrassed to display my lack of skill before the other person.

The puzzle is not the important thing; it matters not a bit that I can’t do puzzles well. The puzzle is simply representative of my general discomfort with showing my weaknesses to others. I’ve seen it arise in other settings as well. My reluctance to play the accordion in front of others and have them see how not good I am is only one example. (A reluctance usually overcome only after a couple of glasses of wine, which is the worst time I could play.)

As I was thinking about that reluctance, I saw an image of Jesus standing there mocked and beaten – his vulnerability plain for all to see. And I recognize my need to grow in my ability to say: This is who I am. I’ve got strengths in some areas and weaknesses. And the weaknesses are as much a part of who I am as the strengths.

So perhaps I’ll try to stay at the puzzle table the next time I’m there and the puzzle whiz approaches.