Let’s face it. As wonderful as the idea of Natural Family Planning (NFP) can sound, the reality for many couples can be far from that beautiful ideal. A common thread amongst frustrated couples trudging their way through the trenches of NFP is that the reality of following the Church teaching against contraception can be far from the picturesque ideal that has been painted for them. When they find themselves entrenched in the NFP lifestyle and the ideal presented to them feels completely unattainable, couples can feel overwhelmed by the reality of it and want to quit – or worse – actually quit.
It’s not uncommon for people who are teaching Catholic couples to “sell” the idea of natural family planning. It’s fairly common knowledge that the overwhelming majority of child-bearing Catholic couples use contraception. That means that the majority of young Catholic couples choose to disregard this vital teaching of the Church. No wonder people try to “sell” the idea of NFP – not many couples have been “buying” the teaching on contraception. But putting too much shine on the idea of using natural family planning can have the unfortunate side effect of couples quitting because it doesn’t live up to their idealistic expectations.
4 Reasons To Keep Going With Natural Family Planning
But, as difficult as it can sometimes be, couples shouldn’t give up on using NFP and here are four reasons why.
- It’s not about earth, it’s about heaven. Sounds a little too simple, right? But the truth is, the focus on using NFP as a way to follow the Church’s teaching on contraception is all too often focused on our earthly lives rather than our heavenly ones. There is a lot of rhetoric surrounding the use of NFP and how it can positively affect marriages by encouraging couples to communicate and cooperate together to plan their families. While this is true for many couples out there who find a great deal of closeness with their spouses while using NFP, it is not true for all couples. Some couples find that NFP presents challenges and causes stress in their marriage that would otherwise not be there. That realization leads to the desire to quit for many couples.
But that desire to quit comes from NFP in regards to our earthly lives. Yes, NFP can be challenging for some couples. Yes, NFP can cause stress in some marriages. But NFP grants couples the ability to help each other become more holy which is precisely what we are called to do in marriage. We would be crazy to quit doing something that so clearly helps us follow Church teaching and has the potential to get ourselves and our spouses to heaven – no matter how hard it might be.
- Going against that grain is the right way to go. The reality about living our beautiful Catholic faith in the modern world is that most of what we do as Catholics is counter-cultural. Choosing not to use contraception and rather to live a chaste married life is perhaps the most counter-cultural thing that many young Catholic couples find themselves doing. Whether cradle Catholic or convert, living in the state of our modern society demands a lot of us as Catholics. It’s far too easy to allow society to sway us away from fully living our Catholic faith. Disdain for many Catholic teachings in the modern world abounds. The choice to abstain from the use of contraception is considered archaic and obsolete by the vast majority of society – by our friends and families outside the Church and possibly even by our friends and family within the Church.
But rather than allow the disapproval of those who are either outside the Church or “in” the Church without following her teachings to sway our decision to follow the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church in a way that glorifies God rather than ourselves, we should use that disapproval as a guidepost. Scripture makes it clear that we are to live in the world but not be of the world and this choice is a clear example of how living that life can be achieved. The world tells couples that it’s irresponsible not to use contraception while NFPers tell the world that it’s irresponsible to use it. And it is. It is irresponsible not to follow Church teaching in regards to the use of contraception – irresponsible for our souls.
- It shifts our focus from our spouse’s body to their soul. The frank reality about sex in the modern broken world is that it has become completely disordered. Of course, sexual sin has been around since the fall. Original sin completely derailed God’s plan for the world He created and the relationship between man and woman has been disordered ever since. The current civilization we live in has twisted sex to a point where the sensible and clear teaching the Church has maintained on sexual sin is deemed offensive to society as a whole. The push to tear down the Church’s teaching, even from some within the Church itself, is a clear indication of how disordered the modern view on sex truly is.
NFP shines a light on that disorder within marriages which is part of why it can be such a challenge. The way most people have been raised and taught by society to view sex is all about self while using NFP can teach us to become more selfless. The Church teaches us that sex should be between us and our spouses, of course, but also between each couple and Him. When we choose to contracept, we are choosing to open ourselves up to our spouse while simultaneously closing ourselves off to God. When you really think about the enormity of that decision you can begin to understand just how disordered our view of sex truly is. And on top of that, we also have to realize that choosing to contracept means that we are not fully open to our spouse either. If we are happy with only giving part of ourselves to our spouse and nothing to God, we can easily see the disorder that exists. NFP can help couples identify and work through much of that disorder.
- Whatever does not kill us
makes us strongerSANCTIFIES US. Of course this is the only reason to continue using NFP rather than contracept that really matters. When it comes right down to it, willingness to follow God in spite of the suffering following Him might cause is how saints are formed. We are all called to be saints and though making such a comment can lead to rolling of the eyes or dismissive laughter in response, it’s true. We are not called to follow the teachings of the Church that are easy and enjoyable while disregarding the teachings that are difficult. God asks us to follow Him and He makes it perfectly clear that doing so will not be easy.
Choosing not to contracept and live chastely within marriage can undoubtedly cause strain within marriages but couples who chose to practice NFP as a way of following Church teaching are choosing to put God first in their lives. Putting God first, especially when it’s difficult to do so, is a surefire way to be sanctified. The use of NFP teaches us how to become more selfless and to deny ourselves bodily pleasure for the sake of our souls. And, even more importantly, deny ourselves bodily pleasure for the sake of our spouse’s soul. The denial of self for the benefit of others is a significant step toward holiness.
So if you are struggling with NFP in your marriage just remember to keep your focus on your spouse’s soul rather than their body. And no matter how difficult it may be, do not give up. Because the truth is, the number of reasons not to give up on NFP are endless. Whether you are one of those couples who finds the beauty in it and grow closer because of it or one of those couples who finds themselves bogged down by it, keep trudging along.
We should always be asking ourselves…are we true followers of Christ? Are we willing to follow Him even if it means tolerating the suffering it might cause us? And perhaps even more importantly, are we willing to follow Him in a way that means embracing the suffering it causes us? If we can reach the point in our faith lives that our focus is truly on our eternal salvation, truly on our Lord Jesus Christ, then we can shift the suffering that NFP may be causing in our married life from our current earthly perspective to our eternal heavenly one. And not just for ourselves but for our spouse as well.
So carry on. Embrace the beauty or embrace the struggle – He will be pleased with your sacrifice either way.
The church teaching on contraception doesn’t need to be glossed over.
Photo by Jessica Rockowitz on Unsplash