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Solving the Puzzles in Our Everyday Challenges

Updated: Jan 24, 2023

By Brenda Riojas, I Start Wondering Columnist

Every winter break my father brought home a new 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle. As children we spent hours piecing together the edges, sorting the colors, and distinguishing the details of the image on the box. My father also liked to ask us questions, and pose riddles for us to solve.

Little did I know at the time, my father was preparing us to be problem-solvers in the day-to-day challenges life presents us.

Our attention at the time was on finishing the puzzle. One year it was a waterfall, another year a forest landscape. We each worked on different sections, and offered each other pieces we thought fit better on the portion the other was completing. We worked alone and as a team. We took breaks and came back later to see what a rested mind and eyes could find. We looked at the pieces from different angles.

Possibilities Abound

Recently as I confront some of the conundrums and challenges before me, I find the analogy of working on puzzles helpful. To start, it focuses my attitude to one of possibility rather than one of despair.

photo by Pierre Bamin on UpSplash
photo by Pierre Bamin on UpSplash

I think we can all acknowledge that the pandemic presented us with some unexpected challenges. And just when we think we have solved one situation, another challenge presents itself. It can be overwhelming at times. In Spanish, the word for puzzle is rompecabezas, which literally translates to head breaker.

Whether it is navigating the best care for a loved one, worrying about an adult child who may be on the wrong course, or focusing on our own health, we need first to maintain a disposition of hope. We need to incline ourselves to what we can do.

Begin Small–and Stay Together

The second step in navigating life’s puzzle reminds me that it is helpful to pause and to look at the different pieces. What can be sorted and worked on in small sections? Maybe we start with the borders. Maybe we focus on what is clearer and work our way to the tricky parts. As much as we wish it could be, we can’t always solve a puzzle in one sitting.

Third, it reminds us we don’t have to handle every situation alone. While the pandemic pushed many of us to feel extreme isolation, the truth is that we are meant to live in the community.

St. Catherine of Siena said it best, God wants us to need each other. As women, we live our lives serving others, helping them with their puzzles. But sometimes we don’t have all the puzzle pieces. We need one another to unscramble the bits and put the pieces together. We should not be afraid to reach out to another and ask for help as well. Maybe another person can look at the puzzle in our lives and offer an approach or suggestion we had not considered.

The team at I Start Wondering continually provides some fresh ideas and resources addressing different situations. For example, I reconsidered how to move through my day after reading Jenni de Jong’s column about slowing down “in both movement and thought.” Asking for help is not easy, but I find myself doing so more and more, thanks to Rhonda Collins’ column, which offers seven reasons why don’t have to do everything by ourselves.

Patience, Creativity, and Prayer

Photo By Jennie Razumnaya on UpSplash
Photo By Jennie Razumnaya on UpSplash

The fourth step in putting together the pieces involves pacing yourself. Be patient. Each puzzle comes with its own approach and time scale. While not all challenges bear equal weight and some feel like boulders, we should maintain hope that there is a solution ahead. It just may take a while to disentangle or resolve.

Also, leave space for creativity (which is the fifth factor). Have you ever worked on a puzzle only to discover the last piece or two were missing? It happened on Thanksgiving weekend. Luckily my daughter-in-law thought to search for the robotic Roomba, which swallowed the piece that fell to the floor. However, before we found the piece, we each offered a variety of alternatives that could serve as a solution.

And my sixth lesson, which really is first above all else to me as a woman of faith, came from my mother, and that is prayer. “Pray without ceasing,” she said, quoting 1 Thessalonians 5:17. On that note, I offer this prayer for Mary, Undoer of Knots, to help you find grace as you unravel life’s knots:

Prayer To Our Lady, Undoer of Knots

O Virgin Mary,

Mother who never refuses to come to the help of your children in need, Mother whose hands never stop working for the welfare of your children, moved as they are by the loving mercy and kindness that exists in your Immaculate Heart, cast your compassionate and merciful eyes on me and see the snarl of knots that exists in my life. Oh, Mother! You know the difficulties, sorrow, and pain that I’ve had because of them. O loving Mother, I place the ribbon of my life and this knot (these knots) into your loving hands, hands which can undo even the most difficult knot. Most holy Mother, come to my aid and intercede for me before God with your prayers. I cast this knot into your hands (mention your intention/need) and beg you to undo it, in the name of your son, Jesus Christ, and for the glory of God, once and for all. Our Lady, Undoer of Knots, pray for us!—

What puzzle pieces do you struggle within your life? What approaches have you used to find a way to determine where they fit?

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