A Poem for Good Friday

For the epigraph in my book No Easy Choice, I chose a stanza from Wendell Berry’s poem “The Way of Pain,” and titled the final chapter using one line from that stanza: “The only way is hard.” In that chapter, I wrote:

It’s hard to cope with infertility or the harsh realities of genetic disease. It’s hard to go through emotionally, physically, financially, and morally strenuous procedures such as IVF and PGD. It’s hard to forgo those procedures and the control (or illusion of control) over our procreation that they offer. It’s hard to have a baby, and it’s hard not to have a baby. It’s hard to finally understand that no matter how we become parents—through natural conception, technological reproduction, or adoption—we can never clear the pain of life out of our children’s paths.

Our great solace in all these hard endeavors is the reality of love—the love we have for our children, the love they have for us, and the love that God has for the whole lot of us. Wanting, bearing, and raising children are hard. But we hold up: we even thrive in the midst of parenthood’s struggles and heartbreak only because of love and its many corollaries—grace, forgiveness, redemption, hope.

On this Good Friday, I’d like to share Berry’s poem in its entirety, for what it says about Jesus and sacrifice and grief and the pain of living that we parents accept on our children’s behalf (and our own) when we choose to bear, raise, and love them. (For another take on Jesus’s suffering on the cross, particularly his cry that God has forsaken him, read this excellent essay from Al Hsu.)

The Way of Pain
Wendell Berry

1.
For parents, the only way
is hard. We who give life
give pain. There is no help.
Yet we who give pain
give love; by pain we learn
the extremity of love.

2.
I read of Abraham’s sacrifice
the Voice required of him,
so that he led to the altar
and the knife his only son.
The beloved life was spared
that time, but not the pain.
It was the pain that was required.

3.
I read of Christ crucified,
the only begotten Son
sacrificed to flesh and time
and all our woe. He died
and rose, but who does not tremble
for his pain, his loneliness,
and the darkness of the sixth hour?
Unless we grieve like Mary
at His grave, giving Him up
as lost, no Easter morning comes.

4.
And then I slept, and dreamed
the life of my only son
was required of me, and I
must bring him to the edge
of pain, not knowing why.
I woke, and yet that pain
was true. It brought his life
to the full in me. I bore him
suffering, with love like the sun,
too bright, unsparing, whole.

About Ellen Painter Dollar

Ellen Painter Dollar is a writer focusing on faith, parenting, family, disability, and ethics. She is the author of No Easy Choice: A Story of Disability, Faith, and Parenthood in an Age of Advanced Reproduction (Westminster John Knox, 2012). Visit her web site at http://ellenpainterdollar.com for more on her writing and speaking, and to sign up for a (very) occasional email newsletter.


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