Let me start off by saying that I am in no way minimizing anyone’s frustration with Natural Family Planning (NFP). I only hope to provide some insights and encouragement during those times of struggle. We’ve been there, so we get it!
Earlier this week, I wrote about 3 difficult truths regarding NFP and reasons why it’s still worth it. And I think a good follow-up to that is what to do when we’re becoming resentful about NFP. Because let’s be real, sometimes it’s really, really hard. I have some thoughts…
Sex is not everything in a marriage.
It’s important, absolutely, but it’s not everything! And it’s really easy to forget that. The beauty of NFP is that it forces you (or it should) to be intimate in other ways – which is just as important. When Jesus said “the two become one flesh,” he meant it physically, but also emotionally, spiritually, and in every other kind of way. Those periods of abstinence give you the perfect opportunity to work on that. And contrary to what the world tell us, we don’t need sex. Just look at all of the awesome celibate priests and religious!
We will not find fulfillment in our spouse.
This realization hit me during our most difficult period of using NFP last year. We should be seeking fulfillment in God. If we’re looking for our spouse to fulfill our needs, we will always be disappointed. God, on the other hand, does not disappoint.
“To you they cried, and were saved; in you they trusted, and were not disappointed.” – Psalm 22:5 (RSV-2CE)
Reevaluate why you’re using NFP.
This is going to be an unpopular thought, perhaps, but it is one of the biggest parts of NFP. We shouldn’t decide to use NFP to either avoid or achieve a pregnancy and then not discuss it with our spouse again until months later. NFP requires constant discernment!
We’re using NFP because we are still open to another baby if God is asking that of us…or even be willing to wait to have a baby if that is what we’ve discerned is best. What may be a valid reason to avoid a pregnancy now may not be a valid reason in a year or two, and vice versa. Now that leads me to the most important part…
Prayer and NFP: the Forgotten Component
We cannot discern what God is asking of us without prayer. A couple should be constantly praying about this, individually and together. God may be asking us to be open to another baby. Or he may be asking us to wait. Or he might be asking us to bear fruit in other ways!
There have been times when we’ve discerned that it is not a good time for me to get pregnant. But there have also been times where we felt God prompting us to be open even though we did not feel completely ready. Is it terrifying? Absolutely. I have difficult pregnancies, and the first year with a baby is also difficult for us.
But God knows what we can handle better than we do. A big part of NFP is trusting that God will plan our family better than we can ourselves. Even though Logan and I both don’t want to have a dozen kids (or even half that), we also know our circumstances could change. So we are open to change, and that’s only possible through prayer and God’s grace.
Ask yourself these questions
If you think your family is complete, ask yourself: Am I constantly praying about this? Are my spouse and I praying about it together? Do I see my fertility as a gift? Are we open to God’s will, even though we don’t necessarily understand it?
If you’re thinking about having another child, ask yourself: Is my marriage doing well? Am I giving enough to my spouse and children? Do we already feel stretched thin – emotionally, physically, and financially? Is God asking us to bear fruit in other ways?
It’s possible that God may be asking you to be open to a baby, despite less than ideal circumstances. It’s also possible that God may be asking you to wait, even though you don’t really understand why. Both scenarios are okay! The important thing is to bring it to prayer.
Check your motivation
A big question that we should also ask ourselves: Are we being motivated by selfishness?
Many people assume that those couples avoiding pregnancy are being selfish. First of all, we can never assume to know what’s going on in another couple’s hearts or marriage. And trying to achieve a pregnancy can be selfish, depending on your circumstances. That’s why it’s so important to pray about it constantly!
If we are feeling resentment towards NFP, it may mean we have some more discerning to do. God doesn’t want us to be resentful – he wants us to be at peace.
If NFP is your cross
For the couples who are using NFP to avoid pregnancy for extended periods or even indefinitely because of circumstances out of their control (i.e. pregnancy causing too much risk to the mother’s health and baby), pray for the grace to embrace your cross. Know that God sees you, loves you, and your suffering is not in vain.
But do know that prayer is still a vital component of using NFP. Even if God is not asking you to be open to a biological child, is he asking you to be fruitful in other ways? Adoption is one beautiful way, but there are plenty of other ways that your marriage can bear fruit. Bring it to prayer and ask for the Holy Spirit to guide you both.
Contraception is not a solution
It’s also important to remember that the alternative – using contraceptives – would not make everything easier. Contraception is unhealthy for us physically, spiritually, and emotionally. Separating the unitive aspect from the procreative aspect of the conjugal act impedes our marriage vows because God created sex to be both unitive and procreative.
”These two meanings or values of marriage cannot be separated without altering the couple’s spiritual life and compromising the goods of marriage and the future of the family.” – Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 2363
Dietrich von Hildebrand also makes an excellent point “that we cannot tailor the will of God to human desires or permit a sin just because avoiding it entails great sacrifice” (from the intro of his book Love, Marriage, and the Catholic Conscience). NFP can be difficult because of abstinence, but you’re still being faithful to God’s design for married love.
Just like striving for holiness isn’t easy (remember the narrow gate?), NFP isn’t always easy. You also may not see the fruits right away. But trust that using NFP is the best option for your marriage and your family…because it is.