What are the elements of good spiritual writing? First, obviously, a deep and vibrant faith in God, such that the writing fairly glows with His presence.
Second, humility, and a frank admission of one’s own weakness.
Third, fresh ideas and an original, surprising perspective.
Fourth, lively language spiced with arresting turns of phrase.
Finally—perhaps rarest of all—the gift of metaphor: an ability to render the invisible in visual terms.
I recently became aware of a new writer who, I think, has all these qualities. Carson Leith’s debut book is called Wake Up Into My Love: How the Pain of Becoming a Father Unlocked the Grace of Being a Son. The book is in the form of a series of letters to his newborn son. Even the dedication grabbed my attention: For every father who felt these things, but didn’t have the words.
As Christians we’re familiar with the idea of growing into the image of Christ. But what about growing into the image of the Father? How does that happen? Carson Leith tackles this subject with grace and disarming honesty. His prose flows naturally and is full of felicities, as he gives voice and an intriguing perspective to this much-ignored topic. Here are a few excerpts from Wake Up Into My Love by Carson Leith:
There is a picture of your mom and I and you at about four in the morning on the day you were born—just two hours after delivery. (Whose idea was that?) We look dead tired in the photo—your mom is in a wheelchair and I am standing behind her, slightly hunched over, and you are swaddled and asleep. We are both smiling, but you can tell it’s the kind of smile which is mustered up, not brought about by a natural happiness of the heart. She had just been through the biggest feat of her life and was in stitches. I was her deer-in-the-headlights support partner—suffering from a mixture of over-stimulation and extreme sleep-deprivation. And then there was you—our new sleeping son.
And now we both had to be to each other what many before us have endeavored to be: father and son.
* * *
Whenever anybody asked me how it was going being a new dad, I was conflicted. Especially because this usually happened during coffee hour at church, where everyone wanted to know how their new pastor (now also a new dad) was getting along in this great rite of passage. To tell them the truth would have been a conversation killer (while simultaneously putting my character in question):
Them: “So how’s being a dad?”
Me: “Well, it’s going alright.” I smile to let them know I’m kind and caring. “I thought I would feel one hundred percent connected to him—you know, being my son and all—but honestly I feel disconnected and detached half the time. Like a stranger invaded my life and then announced to me that he is taking up residence, and would I now please rearrange my life and schedule to serve his needs?”
Them: Blank stares
Me: “Also, just want to mention that this all makes me very angry, and that troubles me because I never expected to struggle with anger toward my newborn child.”
Them: So…I guess it’s not going so well?
* * *
I once heard that becoming a dad is like becoming a ball boy for a tennis tournament. You’re not the main player anymore; your purpose is to stay on the sidelines until it’s time to jump in, and then when it is your time to shine, a job well done is measured by how well you go unnoticed.
Which explains why I was so depressed.
It is not that you don’t matter anymore. It is that you matter in a way you don’t know how to grapple with yet. No one has taught you that mattering can happen at the same time as hiddenness. No one has explained to you how there is glory in death, honor in suffering, and praise in the quiet.
There is a deep and sacred part of you that has to die so that someone else can be born.
“He must increase and I must decrease.”
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