The funny thing about talking shop about NFP (Natural Family Planning) with other users is that the conversation, either online or in person, usually goes one of two ways.
Exhibit A: NFP blows. Meet my fourth daughter, Maria Guadalupe Faustina, miraculously conceived 13 days post peak. She’s our 5th child in 6 years. Still, be it done unto me according to my chart…
Exhibit B: NFP is so magical. It will change your life, divorce-proof your marriage, and guarantee smoldering, ecstatic sex almost every day of the month (except for a teeny tiny window, if you’re seeking to avoid pregnancy.) You’re an idiot if you find it challenging. Because science.
I guess I fall somewhere in between there. And I’d guess that many of us do.
I had the opportunity to speak to a group of beautiful mamas at my own parish yesterday (talk about humbling) and it was just so refreshing to be able to speak openly and honestly about the beauty AND the struggle of NFP. Because, like so much else about love and marriage, it’s not always easy and it’s not always clear. Because sometimes it’s cloudy. Or cloudy-clear.
Aaaaaanyway, the thing is we aren’t doing ourselves any favors as a Church or as couples in desperate need of support, fellowship, and wisdom from other families in the trenches if we don’t speak openly about this thing that we’re all expected to do (wink, wink) but that few of us are actually doing. And those of us who are doing it? Well, we’re idiots. And sometimes we believe that to be true.
It’s not easy being open to life in a culture so utterly opposed to it.
Our neighbors think we’re weirdos. Our parents think we’re irresponsible. Our bosses think we don’t know what causes that. And our cashiers at the grocery store wonder if we know where the condoms are stocked.
Here’s the thing though; Jesus doesn’t promise convenience, lack of suffering, or predictability. There was something about a cross and lifting it upright and, you know the rest.
We live in a time and a place where convenience is the highest good. I think some of us actually worship it. I think of this most often when I’m doing the microwave dance, reheating my morning coffee, wondering how 28 seconds can pass so slowly and if I stare intently at this glowing box, will it heat any faster?
But Christianity is not convenient.
Forgoing contraception and having difficult, meaningful, frustrating conversations about love and eternity with your spouse month after month after month…is not convenient. Having a baby 11 months after the last one was delivered, or facing down months and maybe even years of abstinence due to a medical diagnosis is not convenient. Learning to practice temperance, self control, and chastity within – yes, within marriage – is not convenient.
But convenience doesn’t guarantee happiness. Or rather, it doesn’t guarantee joy.
Using NFP will not make you happy. It will not earn you a free ticket to heaven or a front-row seat at a papal audience. It’s not a panacea for marital woes, and it’s definitely not some baptized, back-assward Church-approved method of contraception.
It’s more than that. But also less.
NFP is, first and foremost, a tool. It’s something the Church, backed by scientific research, offers to her children as a means to understanding the mysterious and often confounding gift of human fertility.
Contraception, on the other hand, is the deliberate dismantling of fertility. Rather than seeking to understand, it shuts down, short circuits, or disables it.
NFP and contraception have something in common in that both can be used to avoid pregnancy. But only so much as both an umbrella and a nuclear bomb can shelter you from the rain. One works within reality, the other creates an alternate reality. And it’s not pretty, though it might be very effective at keeping you dry.
NFP isn’t Catholic contraception.
But as long as those of us who bow our heads and bend our knees to the teachings of Christ and His Church on the matter try to compare it as such, whether in our mirrors or in conversions with each other, we’re going to come up short.
Contraception offers apparent freedom and happiness to couples longing for love. But it doesn’t deliver. It can’t. It cuts off love at the root, making small what could grow into something grand and majestic.
NFP isn’t a failsafe, foolproof guarantee against marital unhappiness. But it isn’t self destructive, either. It’s actually morally neutral; we inform the morality by our own use of it, and the choices we make.
So let’s have this conversation, shall we? Let’s admit that yes, living the Church’s teachings on sex and marriage is difficult, insanely difficult in some circumstances. Especially in this culture, in this moment in history, in this climate of me-ness and mine-ness and all the nesses. But let’s go further. Let’s let people in for a glimpse at the messy, the chaotic, the honest, and the beautiful. Because for everything this culture lays claim to, beauty is not a credible option. We are starved for beauty, searching for meaning, and desperate to find – and to be – love.
And marriages that are truly open to life have a depth and a sincerity to them, even in the difficult moments, that is wildly attractive. That’s the real reason people can’t stop talking about it. Sure, some people are legitimately disgusted by the sight of more than a couple children trailing a simliar-looking adult in a crowded shopping center. But they’re the minority.
People are naturally drawn to what is true, good, and beautiful – so let’s draw them in. And let’s not be afraid to look them square in the eye and say, yes, you’re right, my hands are full, and somebody just pissed on my foot in the Chipotle bathroom a few minutes ago…but I’m still going to keep them.