My sister was supposed to visit last year. She asked, as usual, what I wanted her to bring me. I requested a jigsaw puzzle – 500-1000 pieces. I love them. It is both fun and satisfying to make sense out of a pile of pieces. With the picture on the box, I know what it will look like in the end, I just have to put each piece in the right spot.
In life and work, as well, I like to be given a big picture and work out the details. For me, the analogy holds true for everything from driving directions to planning a project to cooking Thanksgiving dinner.
Often the whole picture is not for me to know. God knows the big picture, and he fits pieces together – one of which may be mine, and the other pieces are filled in by his work in other people.
Before my sister’s trip (with my jigsaw puzzle) was cancelled, we watched from Kenya as other countries tried to manage handfuls of virus cases without implementing restrictions on the general population. And we saw that all of them later took drastic measures. So when a single case was verified in Nairobi, it wasn’t long before the newspaper headline was one very large word: SHUTDOWN.
At first, the people around us reacted strongly. They reasoned that if the government is shutting things down because of a disease, then we are all going to die. It is in the air we breathe. Our days are numbered.
But that’s not what happened. Over a year later, many people don’t know a single person who has tested positive for COVID. The effect of the pandemic here, in this county, is not so much sickness as unemployment, increased poverty with no way out until more jobs are available again. Those who are most severely affected are, of course, those who were most vulnerable to begin with.
People who were already struggling to survive are now struggling even more. What can we do? My husband and I wrestled with the questions that I’m sure others in our position also had to consider. We came up with new guidelines for making the decisions of whom to help and how. We are to be faithfully generous and hospitable to those we encounter. It doesn’t seem like enough. But we’re not the only ones doing something. We are just one little piece of the puzzle.
In The Ministry of Ordinary Places, Shannan Martin wrote, “Making the world better for one person makes the world better.”
I agree, and yet I want to know how things are being made better on the larger scale, too – maybe not for the entire world, or even an entire country, but at least for the county and community we live in. Every now and then God gives me the gift of a glimpse of the larger picture and how he is piecing it together with people around me.
A friend of mine has been able to keep working (and being paid) throughout the pandemic. She said that she has always tried to put money into savings in order to be prepared for whatever unexpected things may come up. The past year, she has been using her savings, but not for her own needs. She said, “How can I save for something in the future when people have desperate needs today?” She is able to help her loved ones with the specific needs that they bring to her.
Then, there is a local company who show up in farming communities every time there is a drought, and they are showing up now, too. If you drive through the countryside, you will see their trucks delivering food. They keep a regular rotation through villages they identify as particularly affected. They don’t publicize this and are never in the news, but people know when to expect the truck. What each family receives may not be much, but it is something they can count on.
Another friend started a group this year to advocate for other women. She and the women she helps were all widowed or deserted by their husbands, in some cases ostracized by their families, in all cases left to raise kids on their own. Once she got her feet under her, she turned around to help other women in the same situation. The widows are a very vulnerable demographic (as are their children), and the advocates know from their own firsthand experience.
None of these, not even the big corporation, can solve all of the problems or help everyone. They are making the world better for one person at a time. Each one is one piece of the puzzle of God’s big picture. I may not know what that picture looks like, and I don’t expect to see it completed in this lifetime. But I’ve seen enough to know it is beautiful.
Do you also like to work out the details for yourself? How have you seen God putting together his big picture around you?