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Lent Devotion #5 - The Square Peg and the Round Hole

I have been thinking of square pegs and round holes all week. More accurately, I have been thinking about an old phrase that claims, “you can’t put a square peg in a round hole.” If you are wondering what this could have to do with peace in this Lenten season, join the club. At first, I thought the phrase had to do with carpentry prior to the invention of nails and screws to hold things together. But when I looked it up, I discovered that some very fine woodworking is done putting square pegs into round holes. As it turns out, it is a very strong way of connecting pieces of wood into a single unit. So where did that phrase come from?


Over 2 centuries ago Sydney Smith made the claim that people are rarely perfectly fit for the occupation they pursue. I think what he was trying to say is that we can only do the best we can with the gifts we have been given, which can sometimes be a struggle. His attempt to cut us some slack was later misused to say that misshapen people (according to our standards) don’t fit into our social settings. The intent being that they need to be removed from our midst. Who knew that the woke crowd and cancel culture had been with us for so long? No wonder peace is hard to find these days.


It occurs to me that the Biblical story suggests that the most important people in our midst are often those who don’t seem to fit in. Think of Moses, Jeremiah and all the prophets, even Jesus and his disciples. All were outcasts at some point. Their social structures thought they needed to shun them to find peace. But they were wrong. Smith was only echoing Paul’s conclusion that all have sinned and fallen short. So, if you feel like you don’t fit the mold others expect you to fill, know that square pegs in round holes are strong and they hold things together. Remember also that each one of us is a part of a big puzzle designed by God. And each piece is crucial to the filling of the space for which it was created, no matter what shape it has. Pass it on. 


“…the doer and the thing done, seldom fit so exactly, that we can say they were almost made for each other.”[2]   Smith, Sydney, Elementary Sketches of Moral Philosophy, Delivered at the Royal Institution, in the Years 1804, 1805, and 1806 (London, 1850), p. 111, quoted in Bell, Alan, Sydney Smith: A Life (Oxford, Oxford UP, 1980), p. 58.

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