Commitments Beyond Our Lifetime

“Nothing worth doing is completed in our lifetime, therefore we must be saved by hope,” says 20th century theologian, Reinhold Niebuhr.  His words came to mind in the days after I read about jigsaw puzzles on ferries in Washington State–not to say that puzzles reach the level of importance to which Niebuhr was referring.

Evidently ferries on the Salish Sea, north of Puget Sound, provide 1000-piece puzzles for passengers to work during their commute.  Passengers work on them as they’re able, and trust the next part of the puzzle to those who take their place.  “Had [the current] puzzle been completed ten times or not even once?  People who do puzzles on ferry boats make peace with not knowing.  They do what they can, then move on” (Getting There Is Just a Piece of the Puzzle, William Yardley, 9/99/2011, The New York Times).

Washington State ferry puzzles rattled around in the back of my mind last week as I read depressing headlines, grew irritated at the slow pace of change in church and world, and struggled (again!) to rebuild my stamina.  I needed something to remind me that life is bigger than just what I can see today, and the puzzles did it.  The idea of people’s taking turns working towards the same goal–even if it’s just a puzzle–gave me hope.  I’ll keep doing what I can, and will trust that others will do their part.

All the important things in life take time, dedication and persistence.  Friendship; love; finding a cure for disease; starting a business; bringing about justice; reducing hunger; teaching children; discovering our gifts, talents and passions; learning skills; changing our life and helping others change theirs–none of these happens with the snap of our fingers.  Nor is any of them a solo effort, no matter how introverted we might be.  Others are always part of creating our puzzle, just as we are part of others’ puzzles.

So, I’ll continue to give my energy to sorting the pieces of my life and relationships, and doing my part in the larger puzzle of the world.

As Reinhold Niebuhr once said:

“Nothing worth doing is completed in our lifetime; therefore we must be saved by hope.  Nothing true or beautiful or good makes complete sense in any immediate context of history; therefore we must be saved by faith.  Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone; therefore, we are saved by love.”

2 thoughts on “Commitments Beyond Our Lifetime

  1. Frances

    I use as a similar focus Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Neither lived to see the fruit of their lives’ work (universal women’s suffrage) but that fruit would not have arrived when it did had they stopped striving. We do what we can, operate often as “the loyal opposition” and work to make sure we are not the cause of damage but of movement toward light. That’s all we have, but it’s a lot.

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  2. Sandi Schwarm

    We are all one. There are (were!) on going puzzles in the radiology waiting room where I fought my last cancer. Those waiting their turn under the killing rays, and those dear ones waiting to drive us home from the ordeal all worked on the puzzles. When we lost one sweet lady to the big “C” no one would touch the puzzle she helped sort out during her last fight. Those puzzles were hallowed testimony to the faith and hope we shared with strangers and dear friends.

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