I’ve noticed that a lot of people I meet and talk with are truly handicapped over the missing pieces in their lives. Whatever it is that is not there in their life’s puzzle, they have become obsessed with it, it controls their thought life, and it keeps them from enjoying or appreciating the good things they do have. What about you? Would that be true of you?
I remember talking with a friend who had been married quite a few years, and had always wanted children, but she had not been able to have her own. That’s a painful missing piece, and she was sharing the pain with me. But even though she recognized that an important piece was missing, she hastened to add: “But, Mary, I have so much to be thankful for. My life is still full and meaningful,” and she began to recite the good things—the pieces that are not missing from her life.
I said to her, “Do you realize how unusual you are? While you acknowledge that a key piece is missing from your life, and is likely to always be missing, you are focused on what is not missing.” I can tell you that she never moaned and groaned about this missing piece. While she felt sorrow and pain over it, she accepted that no one has everything, and life is full of missing pieces.
Have the missing pieces of your life become so overwhelming that you cannot see or appreciate what you do have? For ten years I allowed what I thought was a major missing piece in my life to control me. I felt that I had to be married for life to be complete, so I was consumed with pursuing and finding the right person to marry. I’ve shared my testimony many times before of how that obsession with finding the missing piece led me away from the Lord, away from biblical principles, into a life that was self-focused and sinful.
What I’ve come to learn—and am still learning—is that instead of being controlled by the missing pieces, I can be thankful for them. If that sounds a little “too good to be true,” let me assure you that I don’t live on another planet and I have the same feelings and emotions and struggles as everyone else. And I emphasize that I am learning this principle of being thankful for the missing pieces. But as I’ve started to grasp this truth, I’ve found such freedom and contentment.
I’d like to share a poem with you, which really helped me start down this road of being thankful for the missing pieces. I first read it several years ago, and I re-read it quite often; I have it written in my prayer book as a reminder of this important biblical principle, to be thankful for the missing pieces. The poem uses old-fashioned words, but the truth is still very relevant:
An easy thing, O power Divine,
To thank Thee for these gifts of Thine!
For summer’s sunshine, winter’s snow,
For hearts that kindle, thoughts that glow;
But when shall I attain to this:
To thank Thee for the things I miss?
For all young fancy’s early gleams,
The dreamed-of joys that still are dreams,
Hopes unfulfilled, and pleasures known
Through others’ fortunes, not my own,
And blessings seen that are not given,
And ne’er will be – this side of heaven.
Had I, too, shared the joys I see,
Would there have been a heaven for me?
Could I have felt Thy presence near
Had I possessed what I held dear?
My deepest fortune, highest bliss,
Have grown, perchance, from things I miss.
Sometimes there comes an hour of calm;
Grief turns to blessing, pain to balm;
A Power that works above my will
Still leads me onward, upward still;
And then my heart attains to this:
To thank Thee for the things I miss.
-Thomas Wentworth Higginson
When I first read this poem, I began to ask myself, “Where would you be today if you had everything you wanted, if there were no missing pieces in your life?” And it was as though God drew back a curtain to let me see how having everything I wanted could have been disastrous for me. Why? Because I might have been lulled into thinking I was self-sufficient and never seen my true needy state.
I recognized that the missing pieces had eventually driven me back to God, and as a result, God was able to take the brokenness of my life and use even me for his glory. I could see that it was because of the missing pieces I now have the ministry I have and the joy of knowing that there is eternal purpose and meaning in my daily life. And I began, slowly, to thank God for the missing pieces.
Now, let me assure you that God is not expecting us to celebrate the missing pieces, to leap for joy, to throw a party, to pretend it doesn’t hurt or matter. But he is asking us to be thankful even for the missing pieces, to understand that those areas of emptiness and unfulfillment can become instruments of grace in our lives.
I’m sure you’ve heard these verses before, but we need to be reminded of what Paul wrote us concerning thankfulness:
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18: Rejoice always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
Ephesians 5:19b-20: Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Please remember that the man who wrote these words had many missing pieces in his life. He was persecuted severely, put in prison, unable to go where he wanted to go—there were many things in his life that were not easy to swallow or understand. Yet, he still says we should give thanks in all circumstances.
If there is some key missing piece in your life right now, you may be thinking, “But I don’t feel like giving thanks for this missing piece.” Well, isn’t it great that Paul didn’t tell us we had to feel like it! In Hebrews 13:15 we read: Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that confess his name. When we don’t feel like being thankful, we can still offer a sacrifice of praise. A sacrifice of praise is, I believe, when we praise and thank God against all our feelings, in spite of our feelings.
How do you do that? You speak words of thankfulness and praise. Words are the fruit of your lips, and this verse in Hebrews tells us to use that fruit as a sacrifice of praise. It’s hard to do that, I know. You feel like a hypocrite when you start saying things you don’t feel, I know. But you are obeying biblical principles by offering a sacrifice of praise.
When I find myself in that predicament, I begin by telling the Lord that I don’t feel like it. But I confirm that I am offering these words of thanksgiving in obedience to Scripture, by faith not by feelings, and then I say those words of thanksgiving, even if they come through clenched teeth! God will honor our willingness to obey him; he will see that sacrifice of praise, and he will be pleased.
Interestingly, once I start to speak the words of thankfulness for the missing pieces in my life, then the feelings usually follow, and though I may not feel happy about those missing pieces, I still can feel thankful, knowing that the God of all the universe is in control of my life and cares about me. And he has promised to turn my ashes into beauty.
You know, all of us have missing pieces in our lives; the issue is, how do you handle them? Several options are open to you:
You can become obsessed with what’s missing and devote all your energy and time to trying to find that missing piece, trying to get what you think is essential for your happiness and fulfillment. When that happens, you become a self-focused person, and if you’ll notice, people who are self-focused are usually pretty miserable. And obviously, that self-centered attitude is sinful and harmful to your spiritual life.
You may become bitter and angry about the missing piece. Has that happened to you? Let me just briefly remind you that bitterness always backfires on you and turns you into an unlovely and unhappy person. When you start to feel that it’s unfair that you don’t have what others have and you’ve been dealt a rotten hand, then you’ve become bitter.
Or you learn to accept the missing piece and focus your life on what you do have and the good things God has done for you. Eventually you can even thank God for the missing piece because you realize that through it you have come to know him better.
I can relate to all three reactions, because I’ve done them all. For ten years I was obsessed with my missing piece, and my whole life revolved around my desire to find what I thought was the key piece missing in my puzzle. Let me tell you, those were ten tough years. I had no peace and little contentment, and the happiness I occasionally found was temporary and unsatisfying. Often I found myself feeling bitter and angry that others, seemingly less deserving, had what I wanted so badly, and it seemed so unfair to me.
But finally, I turned the missing piece over to the Lord, and what appeared as so critical before, became a total side-line issue in my life, something I rarely thought about. Why? Because God gave me so many other things to fill up the space, and has shown me that without that missing piece, I would never know him the way I do.
Jesus told Martha that only one thing was important in life, and Mary had chosen that one thing—to get to know Jesus better and better. When that piece of your life is in the right place, everything else comes into clear focus for you.
I can think of people I know right now who are dealing with the missing pieces of their lives in panic mode, desperately trying to find it. Others are bitter and angry at God because their lives are missing something they consider to be essential. But I can think of a few people who have simply turned over the missing pieces to God, accepted it from his hand, and focused their lives on getting to know him. I think of a man who has lost his eyesight and now totally blind. He went through some years of anger, but now he will tell you that it’s the best thing that could have happened to him. God has given him such a testimony and impact as he joyfully lives with that missing piece.
How are you dealing with the missing pieces in your life? Well, I want to encourage you to start learning to thank God for them. Maybe you need to meditate on what I’ve said, think about it further, and make a decision to be thankful, even for the missing pieces.