My four-year-old stood in footed pajamas with his tattered bunny tucked beneath his arm. He studied a poster on his wall, lifted a finger to it, and recited its contents in singsong. The moment oozed enough whimsy for a greeting card.
But his words didn’t fit the greeting-card image. There were no ABCs on that poster.
“Here are the lanthanoids, Mum. Mum!” he exclaimed, running his finger along a row of the periodic table. “And when we get to helium, we start the noble gases! Argon, krypton, xenon. . . . ”
Out of Sync
God has blessed my husband and me with an asynchronous child. He started reading on his own at three, and can now multiply in his head. He devours books, and loves delving deep into the wonders of God’s world. Yet his intellectual gifts hardly simplify life. Socially and emotionally, he remains four. Outbursts erupt when his fragile four-year-old sensibilities cannot bear the concepts he understands — “Did God forgive Judas when Jesus died?” “Could an asteroid, like what killed the dinosaurs, hit earth again?!”
Sensitivity and anxiety transform the most mundane tasks into an ordeal. He hates scratchy napkins, threads on socks, tags in shirts, TV, flushing toilets, and crowds. Meltdowns occur if we don’t color coordinate his plate and cup. Yet from his car seat, while we drive past a field he will blithely muse, “That reminds me of the Arctic tundra!” He is gifted, marvelous, hilarious . . . and utterly out of sync.
Over the past two years, I have read piles of child psychology books, which have equipped us with crucial insights into the neurobiology driving his challenges. As time passes, however, the lessons I’ve gleaned from this brilliant child extend far beyond brain chemistry. Tactics to calm him and to teach him are invaluable, but not enough. I doubt they are enough for anyone.
The truth is, spiritually, we are all out of sync.
Wanderers on the Earth
This side of the fall, our lives are out of joint. Our lopsidedness may not manifest in periodic tables and napkin phobia, but still it pushes through to ruin our days. I have yet to meet someone on this broken earth who has not felt stranded and misunderstood. We wrestle with shame and guilt and awkwardness. We ruminate over our actions, over-analyze conversations, and regret our words. We wonder why, in a culture saturated with LED screens, tweets, and status updates — when Facebook claims we have 967 friends! — we still feel so alone. As if the pieces of ourselves don’t quite align, and the seams are not flush. As if in this great, vast world, not a single soul truly knows us.
God created us for a different existence than the one in which we now toil. He designed us for an earth unsullied by sin, where all the unique facets of ourselves, exquisite in their diversity, would work in harmony to serve him (Genesis 1:26–31). Before that terrible moment when Adam and Eve craved rebellion, they lived unashamed in their nakedness (Genesis 2:25). Only after their plummet did they scramble for fig leaves to shield their vulnerability (Genesis 3:7). Only after sin crept over the earth like smoke — corrupting the ground, the air, the beasts of the field, and our own hearts — did the world turn menacing, and did we become restless wanderers, forever seeking our way home (Genesis 3:22–24).
Life feels so off-kilter because, this side of the fall, we cannot serve God as he intended (Romans 3:23). Like my son pining for atoms when he cannot yet write, we yearn to know God with all our being, but our broken bodies fail us. Sin binds our hands. We long to faithfully serve, but we falter: “for I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out” (Romans 7:18). Wrenched from the arms of our Creator, we feel the loss in our bones, and endlessly thirst for relief in a world, also groaning, that can offer no solace (Romans 1:19; 8:22; Psalm 42:2). Our troubled souls yearn for wells of peace, but find only trifling gratifications in their place.
Fractured Hearts Healed
Yet we preach Christ crucified (1 Corinthians 1:23). As our mediator and our redeemer, Christ alone can reassemble our fragments. He alone heals our fractured hearts, and bridges the gap that tears us so far from heaven. Through the cross, he justified us before God. The Spirit now sanctifies us, smoothing the shards and cavities that pit our souls. We have the assurance in Christ of a new birth, and while we await Jesus’s return, the Spirit refines us in the present age. As in a Picasso painting, God arranges our stark angles and jagged edges to mold us in ways striking and extraordinary. He works in us, even through our gaping wounds and uneven lines, to work good for his people (Romans 8:28).
As we struggle to reconcile the chasms within ourselves, let us run to the cross. As we pore over psychology books, let us also cling to our hope in the gospel. As we reminisce about periodic tables and pajamas, let us teach one another, especially our children, that all such joys arise from God. Our hope of glimmering, diverse, unified, and sanctified life — life back in sync with its intended purpose — springs only from him.