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Celebrating Everyday Spirituality

Sunflower Seeds

Celebrating Everyday Spirituality

Why I Like Working Jigsaw Puzzles

I like working jigsaw puzzles. Some of my friends don’t understand why. They say, “You spend hours putting all those pieces together and then you take the puzzle apart again. What’s the point?”

The point is not so much the finished product. The point is the process of putting the puzzle together. There’s something challenging, fun, and even spiritual about searching for a specific puzzle piece, finding it, and putting it precisely where it belongs in the puzzle. If you don’t enjoy that process, you probably won’t enjoy working jigsaw puzzles.

puzzle pieces four

After some reflection, I’ve come up with several reasons why I enjoying working jigsaw puzzles:

1) There is a solution to a jigsaw puzzle—unlike some of the other “puzzles” in life.

2) When working on a puzzle, you see progress no matter how difficult the puzzle may be. You don’t always see progress in the other work you do in life—like raising children, getting an education, growing in the spiritual life.

3) Doing jigsaw puzzles trains your powers of observation and differentiation. At first, all the blue pieces look alike, for instance, but as you study them more closely you begin to see subtle differences in the shades of blue. Hopefully, this honing of the powers of observation and differentiation will carry over into other aspects of our life. We won’t see all teenagers alike, all men alike, all Muslims alike, all lawyers alike, all trees alike. We will grow in differentiating and appreciating diversity and uniqueness.

4) Puzzles teach us patience. Enough said.

Every piece of the puzzle is important.

5) Every piece of the puzzle is important. If one piece is missing, the puzzle isn’t whole. This reminds me that all the “pieces” of my life are important. And all people in my life are important too. All the “pieces” make a vital contribution to the whole.

6) Puzzles reward us for our labor. Many times I have stood up and been ready to walk away from a difficult puzzle. But suddenly I find a piece that fits, I put it in, and I sit down again to put in “just one more piece.” As the old proverb says, “Nothing succeeds like success.”

7) And finally, there’s great satisfaction when you put the final piece in the puzzle. “Ta Da!” I say aloud even if no one

There's nothing quite like putting in the last piece of the puzzle.
There’s nothing quite like putting in the last piece of the puzzle.

is around. At our house we often let the completed puzzle sit on the puzzle table for a day or two so we can admire the whole picture. But soon, we’re ready to take it apart, put it in its box, grab the next puzzle, and start all over again.

Working jigsaw puzzles can lead us to prayer:

God of the whole picture, help me to be patient with all the pieces of my life. Develop my powers of observation and appreciation for the subtle differences I see in life—especially in people. Give me patience with all that is “unsolved” in my life. And help me to entrust the final solution of all the puzzles in my life to your unfathomable wisdom and unending love. Amen.

The song for today is “El Shaddai,” written by Michael Card and sung here by Amy Grant. The words “El Shaddai” in English mean God Almighty or Most High One, one of our many traditional names for God.

What are some of your thoughts on jigsaw puzzles? Do you enjoy them or avoid them?

Do you see any other connections between working jigsaw puzzles and living life?

Did any words or phrases from the song speak to you today?


64 Responses

  1. Yes in the winter I love puzzles. I lost my
    dog this summer & already feel I will
    not be able to continue with that.
    This song made me so want to sing
    & put me at peace with Our Lord, I
    will return to bed woke up from a
    Decision weighing on my mind.
    And know the answer from God
    Thank you for popping into my life
    with these beautiful songs & reflections
    I know someone besides God cares.
    Please pray for me as I do you.
    If you have a cd with these small
    sings on I will pay you for them &
    it would be beautiful to fall alsleep
    to after evening prayer.

    God Bless & Keep You
    Blessings be upon you until we meet
    one day!

    Kathy Kovell


    1. Hi Kathy, I believe you’ll be able to find these songs that Sister posts on You Tube. I keep a running list and play various songs when they seem appropriate to my meditation.

    2. Dear Kathy,
      You can no doubt find them at iTunes for a small fee per song—usually .99 or $1.29. They are easily downloadable, and you can pay for them via a credit card or an iTunes gift card (which you can find in any grocery store as well as online). You can make your own CD on your computer—just search for how to do it for a PC or Mac, depending on what you have. Or you can make your own playlist at iTunes to play on your mobile device. Any kid can help you too! 🙂

  2. Sr. Melannie,

    Sorry to say I am not a fan of jigsaw puzzles. I just don’t have the patience. I can see why you like them and I get the comparisons.

    God bless!


  3. Once again, a meaningful reflection for this Monday morning!

    Always enjoy this song, but more than that, I was taken back many years in my mind to the days when my son was in grade school and having a terrible time with ADD. I struggled, prayed, and cried a lot over that kid!! He couldn’t pay attention in school, but he LOVED doing jigsaw puzzles, particularly at that time, those 3D puzzles were popular. He put together the Titanic, a Star Wars space ship, and one year over Christmas break he put together a 3D puzzle of the Notre Dame cathedral!
    I learned that HE was the puzzle for me, and I just had to trust that God would help it all go together. My son continued to have troubles, dropped out of high school, but eventually got his GED, and today is 26 years old with a good job and he is a blessing to me in many ways.


    1. Thank you for sharing with us the story of your son, Kathy, and how the puzzles helped him. I’m so glad he eventually got his GED and now has a good job. I know one thing for sure: he has a good mother! Sr. Melannie

  4. Now I have answers for my family when they ask why I like to work the puzzles. I had never thought about the spiritual comparisons. Thanks for making a meditation of something I love to do.

  5. I truly enjoyed your analogy of doing a puzzle with daily life. I’ve never enjoyed them the way I see others do, mainly because I’m kind of an “instant pudding” kind of person. However, I have been buying 100 piece puzzles when I can find them, and gradually I’m learning to be still and “puzzle.” Thank you Sr. Melanie for your beautiful reflection today.

  6. Finding the spiritual in each thing we choose to spend time doing or must do in life is what brings us closer to God. I like puzzles, too, and I think it connects me to Creator God. Puzzle on!

  7. My husband is a puzzle fan-me not so much. I haven’t heard El Shaddai in years-THANKS for selecting it!

  8. I love crossword puzzles. I do one everyday finding them very meditative, challenging and relaxing.
    Could find myself in noisy or crowded situations and can still focus completely on the puzzle at hand!

    1. Dear Rose, I love crossword puzzles too. In fact, I wrote about them a year or two ago… You can search for that reflection by typing in “crossword puzzles” in the search box at the right. Sr. Melannie

  9. I, like you, Sister Melanie, love working on jigsaw puzzles. I never understood why I enjoyed these ‘brain enhancers” so much.Thank you for the lovely reflection.

  10. I enjoy jigsaw puzzles for all of the reasons you list, Sr. Melanie. I would like to add two more:
    1. As a community activity. We set up a puzzle in the cafe area where people gather for breakfast after daily Mass. After first, I was the only one adding pieces, but now the group is on to its second puzzle.
    2. To hold off dementia for as long as I can. I know the research is mixed on the effectiveness of jigsaw and crossword puzzles in warding off dementia, but I choose to believe that every bit helps!
    Think I’ll go down the hall and add a couple pieces to the puzzle.

  11. Sr. Melannie,
    I love jigsaw puzzles, too! “The Puzzle” is a special gathering place every summer at our family cabin. House rule is that you get just one look at the picture on the box, then turn it over and work from memory. So admiring the finished puzzle has even more meaning. We have shared memories of the special puzzles we’ve worked together, my sister who took a piece to bed with her when she was young and too little to stay up late and finish it, lots of late nights around the table and the special one-on-one conversations that happened there. So your spiritual reflection on jigsaws touched me in a special way. I thought your prayer pulled it all together beautifully. Thank you. I will share it with my other “puzzlers”.

    1. Dear Mary, Thank you for reminding us that the puzzle is often a “gathering space.” You have some strict rules, however–about looking at the picture only once. I know some people who NEVER look at the picture. They have no idea what they’re working on until the puzzle gets finished. I’m not one of those people. I often “consult” the picture. But no matter which way you work the puzzle, it’s still fun! Sr. Melannie

  12. I started a puzzle Saturday! My husband built a frame that would hold a puzzle, and we change the puzzle seasonally, or when we want a change of scene. It changes my environment and I hope it adds to my mental accuity. Our favorite size is 1000 pieces. Putting a puzzle together is an exercise in patience and slows me down physically and mentally – I don’t do meditation or yoga, but I imagine it’s similar.

  13. This great one of my favorite pastimes. In fact I’m doing a bird one now. It is part way worked on a bit more to go. It can take a long time but as I find pieces to fit it becomes joyful as you suddenly realize it’s complete what started out as pieces suddenly becomes a beautiful picture to admire glue and frame or just take a part and do over. Like life we once were a tiny baby and as we grew and learned about life through our parents the pieces of our lives came together. The parts we didn’t like were tossed and what fit perfectly were kept. All was created by God just the way he wanted us to be. He sees are whole picture and we should give thanks to God.

  14. There is a certain writer of Spiritual books I know, who loves working puzzles with others BUT also has a propensity for stealing one piece so she can be the one to complete the puzzle. I think you know her very well, Melannie! Thanks for this lovely reflection!

    1. This comment gives me a chuckle at the close of a day that has been its own kind of jigsaw puzzle!!! I feel more puzzled than “put together” today!

  15. A friend sent me this article on jigsaw puzzles because my 92-year mother works on her puzzles everyday! They are not easy puzzles that she does but she has the patience. Having this as a hobby is not only good for your spiritual life but also keeps your mind active and using higher level brain functions.
    Thank you for this article on the benefits of puzzles!

  16. I like puzzles, although I don’t always make time to do them, which is kind of surprising because I am NOT the most patient person. But I like the mental challenge of working out the spacial relations that a puzzle presents. And non of those internet puzzles for me – it has to be the actual thing with the smell of cardboard and ink. (P.S. We used to have a number of very active cats, who loved to play with the pieces. How frustrating to get to what we thought was the LAST PIECE and then realize that there’s STILL ONE MORE out there somewhere!)
    I love your analogy & your prayer – very appropriate in these times when many aspects of our lives seem like a puzzle with no solution. Thank you!

  17. Completing at least one jigsaw puzzle is on my bucket list. Hopefully your reflection on its spiritual significance will be my motivation.

  18. When I am stressed I love to work jigsaw puzzles: I get so involved in looking for the piece that my stress level goes down. Also, I often say: I can’t figure out the pieces of life, but all the pieces will go together in a puzzle.

  19. Yes, I like the jig saw puzzles too. I never look at the cover. I get a great pleasure when I find a place for a whole section. I was given a 3,000 piece aquariam one for my 80th birthday. It took 6 weeks and covered the dinning room table. I like to make them during the holidays.

    Love and prayers,
    Aunt Mary Ann & Maggie Mae

  20. My husband was an avid puzzler and saved everyone he ever made by gluing them onto a piece of cardboard and even used both sides of the cardboard. I wish I had taken the time to count them all. Some dated back to his childhood. I only recently started doing “magic puzzles” on my iPad. Nice because you can choose the picture you want to do and how many pieces you want it to be. You may choose to do it as 100 pieces one day, and then do the same puzzle in 1000 pieces another time. The best part is not having to store it anywhere and being able to go back to it right where you left off the next day or weeks later. And you can easily take it with you wherever you go too. Hope you give it a try sometime.
    Thanks for your beautiful reflections every week.

  21. Sr. Melanine:
    My husband, Ralph, loves jigsaw puzzles. He could spend hours sitting still and finding the pieces that fit together. It is like life…..complex, yet finding where we fit and what fits us best.

    Thank you for your article this week. Perhaps it is time for me to slow down and take time to help with the puzzle.

  22. Dear Sister Melannie,
    I’ve also enjoyed jigsaw puzzles since I was a teenager. I didn’t appreciate then that I enjoy how concentration stills my mind and spirit, and time seems to drop away. This kind of creating is very different from our daily chores. Through the quiet rhythm of creating, whether puzzling, painting, sewing, writing, or planting, I see God as Creator Father, and realize humbly my smallness, yet still a co-creator His mighty hand has made. Praise God.

    Thank you, Sister Melannie. Peace, Joanne

    1. Dear Joanne, Thank you for broadening the topic to include all kinds of creating. What you say about being a co-creator with God is beautiful! Thanks for writing! Peace to you too. Sr. Melannie

  23. Dear Sister Melannie,
    I read your reflection every week. Every reflection has something in it that resonates with me. I too, am a puzzle fanatic! I kept nodding my head “yes” after reading each reason you do them. I also tell people that when my life seems to be stressed to the max and falling apart, putting a puzzle piece in place gives me hope that things will be alright. Today the card table goes up and puzzle time begins again! Thank you for sharing your writing talents and insights!

  24. This made me think maybe this is how God thinks about us – each one unique, each one necessary. It reminded me how the Good Shepherd searches out that one lost lamb and rejoices when it is found. Also, it is a good metaphor for thinking about my own life – how I may not understand what is going on, but someday it will all come together and it will make sense. Like the tapestry Corrie ten Boom spoke of. Thank you for adding a deeper thought quality to my life, Sister. Have a beautiful day!

    1. Dear Ellen, Thank you for writing and reminding us of Corrie ten Boom’s image of the tapestry–and how we see the underside now, but someday we’ll see the front side and the beautiful patterns our life has made. Sr. Melannie

  25. Sr. Melannie,
    I do love jig saw puzzles, mostly in the winter time. And I have found that I should do them after Christmas because I always want to find “one more piece”. If I keep searching for that one more piece, all of my Christmas preparations take a back seat. My three sons, who are all married now, at some point, would work on the puzzles with me. My favorite memory is my youngest son as a teenager sitting up at night after me, putting the last pieces in, but leaving the very last piece for me. We started to do that with each other and it became a fun little tradition. I now put the smaller 100 piece puzzles together with my grandchildren when they visit. I really enjoyed the prayer you wrote at the end of your reflection, It fits with my life perfectly as I watch my mom live her days with dementia. It is definitely a puzzle I cannot solve. “And help me to entrust the final solution of all the puzzles in my life to your unfathomable wisdom and unending love”. Yes, a perfect prayer for my life. Thank You.

  26. Thanks Sister Melanie
    Y0u always give me a lift just when I need it. You are definitely my spiritual guru! I haven’t heard “El Shaddai,” in such a long time. Thanks to you, I plan to share it this Sunday with our PSR parents.

    We have just returned to Florida . I am looking for a contemplative prayer group. It is here somewhere.

  27. I always liked the IDEA of jigsaw puzzles, but never seemed to have the space to lay a puzzle out and my birds loved to walk off with a piece or two, or at least, chew on them. Then I found a jigsaw puzzle app for my iPad. Perhaps for some it is not quite as fulfilling, but I have found it helpful. When I’m “puzzling” and pondering something in my own life, the puzzle app helps me to work on an actual puzzle while my brain can work on the “life puzzle” on the back burner, so to speak. I find that I work on puzzles every day for at least a little bit. I know that the app offers hints, will give you an entire row of assistance if it’s needed, but I don’t use any of these. The struggle to find the pieces and the joy of finding the perfect fit, is my reward.

    You outline the points of doing jigsaw puzzles very clearly and well – and I can identify with every single one of them. Your writing it down helps me to realize the value in continuing to do what I’m doing. Thanks!

  28. You hit the nail on the head, as usual! I love working jigsaw puzzles! Happy to hear reasons they are such a great activity. Your blogs are fantastic!
    Thanks for your sharing each week!

  29. Finally got to this reflection today. I save them all!

    The music incredibly blessed me today!! And…I’m getting my puzzles out again! love and blessings, Skip Meadows

  30. Dear Sister Melannie,
    Yes, I love doing puzzles. I am doing one right now. It passes time & also gives perseverance & patience thru life I believe.
    It makes you think a lot & gives you insite to other happenings. You can consecrate on other things & sometimes work them out.

    God Bless Your Work…

  31. I loved the song El Shaddai. It touched me spiritually as I felt my spirit soften and fill with God’s love and understanding. I love piecing puzzles. Recently I bought a 1000 piece Starry Night puzzle, and one piece was missing from the foundation frame. I felt so much anguish. I felt like Life is not complete until you find that missing piece. The pieces were all the same size, and it was hard to distinguish where to connect the correct piece because many pieces fit in the same spot, but they were not the right piece. So frustrating. I returned it totally disappointed.

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Hi and welcome to my blog! I’m Sister Melannie, a Sister of Notre Dame residing in Chardon, Ohio, USA. I’ve been very lucky! I was raised in a loving family on a small farm in northeast Ohio. I also entered the SNDs right after high school. Over the years, my ministries have included high school and college teaching, novice director, congregational leadership, spiritual direction, retreat facilitating, and writing. I hope you enjoy “Sunflower Seeds” and will consider subscribing below. I’d love to have you in our “sunflower community.” Thank you!

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