During our time away, I only worked on two things. School and a 1500-piece puzzle. I’ll be honest though - initially I didn’t have much to contribute to that puzzle. It had been years and years and years since I’d attempted to put a puzzle together, so I definitely wasn’t much help other than sorting pieces with similar colors.
However, as the rest of the family began to piece the puzzle together, I found that I was actually really good at finding very specific pieces. One whole section would be just about done, but with a couple missing pieces here and there. My job quickly became to sort through hundreds of pieces to find the specific one needed for that specific spot in the puzzle. Before searching, I considered the unique shape I was looking for, as well as the colors or pattern the missing piece would need in order to fit that spot. Pretty soon, I was finding missing pieces left and right, helping to complete the puzzle in my own unique way.
The process of looking for each specific piece reminded me of the concept we read about in 1 Corinthians 12, about God’s people being one body, but with many different parts. Just as a puzzle piece is uniquely shaped and patterned to fit into the larger puzzle, so it is with the Body of Christ.
An excerpt from 1 Corinthians 12, beginning in verse 12 reads,
12 The human body has many parts, but the many parts make up one whole body. So it is with the body of Christ…
14 Yes, the body has many different parts, not just one part. 15 If the foot says, “I am not a part of the body because I am not a hand,” that does not make it any less a part of the body. 16 And if the ear says, “I am not part of the body because I am not an eye,” would that make it any less a part of the body? 17 If the whole body were an eye, how would you hear? Or if your whole body were an ear, how would you smell anything?
18 But our bodies have many parts, and God has put each part just where he wants it. 19 How strange a body would be if it had only one part! 20 Yes, there are many parts, but only one body. 21 The eye can never say to the hand, “I don’t need you.” The head can’t say to the feet, “I don’t need you.”
…27 All of you together are Christ’s body, and each of you is a part of it.
This image of each of us having a specific, unique place in the overarching picture was both encouraging and convicting for me, and I’d like to share why in the hopes that perhaps it will resonate with you, too.
First, it was encouraging. I often do exactly what the passage from 1 Corinthians describes, thinking that I don’t have much to offer in terms of participating in God’s Kingdom work. There are already plenty of people with gifts similar to mine, doing the work and doing it successfully. What could I possibly add that would be of value? Or I think that parts of who I am couldn’t possibly make a difference, couldn't possibly be of any use. But I’ve been given a unique shape, a specific pattern that fits in perfectly in the grand scheme of God’s Kingdom. And the same is true for you.
Who we are belongs. Who we are adds value. Who we are makes the picture more complete. So we shouldn’t hold back or clam up or ignore. Yes, there is always room to grow and we will continue to grow and transform into the character of Christ. But we are still valuable, even in the middle of the process.
Second, this same puzzle piece picture was also convicting. Because if what I just described about our being created uniquely with a specific role to play is true, then it also must be true of others within the Body of Christ. Even if they are shaped and patterned differently than I am. Even if they fit in a different section of the puzzle. Similar to the 1 Corinthians passage, if we say “I don’t need you because I don’t agree with you or I operate differently than you do” then we are turning a blind eye to the ways in which God’s Spirit can move and work and transform.
Now let me clear - we are all called to the same goal, the same bigger picture. One that reflects the character of Christ. One of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. One that seeks and values life, justice and the dignity of everyone created in the image of God. But the ways in which that fruit blooms is not uniform. The ways in which they are lived out might differ.
I am currently reading several books for school and one of them highlights how our Christian spirituality can be expressed in different ways, depending on our personality, our experience, the way we operate in the world and how we are wired. In his book, Spiritual Theology, Simon Chan says,
“To the extent that they complement each other, different spiritualities are not necessarily a bad thing. Different spiritualities may appeal to Christians of different temperaments or even to the same person at different times…No single type of spirituality satisfies everyone. In fact, diverse Christian spiritualities are a gift of Christ to his church.”
He goes on to offer this simple example:
“An extrovert may have no less love than an introvert but may express the virtue differently.”
I think Chan addresses something we desperately need to be reminded of. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but name-calling, malice, animosity, arrogance and degrading, divisive rhetoric have become the norm. We see it online. We watch it on the news. We listen to conversations being had. I see it within my own heart. And unfortunately, we often see it most clearly within the Body of Christ. We say we want to reflect Christ and build the full picture of the Kingdom of God, but if they don’t fit into our agenda, we’re also happy to toss out plenty of puzzle pieces whenever and however we see fit. And might I suggest that we don’t get to decide who fits and who doesn’t? Or even how someone might fit? The Holy Spirit can work in more ways than one, and I don’t know about you, but I would do well to remember that.
This isn’t an excuse for apathy, avoidance or maintaining the status quo, or a suggestion that anything goes. But the way we respond to and interact with each other matters. That being said, it is a call to a dialogue of decency, seeking out and recognizing what is valuable in each piece of the puzzle. And admitting that maybe we have something to learn and room to grow, too.
Today, if you’re struggling to find value in yourself or in other people, remember, the Holy Spirit can work in more ways than one. You fit uniquely in one specific spot of the puzzle that is God’s Kingdom, and so do your brothers and sisters in Christ. May we live and interact like that is true.