Some things that are very overwhelming about using NFP are: how much I don’t know how to use it, how much you have to abstain if you are really trying to avoid having children, and how hard it is post-partum. I have talked to many who are in the same boat, and are wishing someone would have warned them on how challenging it is instead of painting it as a romantic walk on the beach during a sunset.
Sleep-deprived and overwhelmed with 2 kids in just about as many years of marriage, I was angry at the idea of NFP as my husband and I seemed like we were on different planets. Now, a few years later, I have more kids and (at least until #4 arrives) a little more sleep, so I am able to reflect more on the gift of NFP, and how I can hate it and love it at the same time.
Our oldest is 5 years old. He was conceived on our honeymoon and we were thrust into parenting before we really knew how to even live together and while my husband was starting up a new business. Money was tight and I was working for the Church. Somehow, by the grace of the Sacrament of Marriage and saying yes to God’s plan (not my own!) through NFP, we have been blessed with a growing business and more incredibly cute kids. Our oldest can ride a two-wheeler, he is learning to read and to swim, and he recently started showering all by himself (so independent!). With each milestone, I am so proud of him and proud to be his mom. I have never once looked at my son and thought, “Wow, we should have abstained more on our honeymoon.” Instead, I look at him and am thankful for NFP, and that God saw we could be parents before we thought we were ready. And with each subsequent child, they have been a gift that has stretched us unimaginably, but given us blessings a hundredfold.
So many couples say the benefit to NFP is planning their family on their own time. Well, actually you are planning your family in God’s time, because he is the Author of life, and in NFP, we invite God into that decision.
I know people on all ends of the spectrum – those who are angry that after years they still can’t have children, and those who are angry they think they have more children than they can handle. I don’t pretend to have the wisdom of God in each of these situations. But I do trust God, and so if you have those children, consider your gift. And if you don’t have children, read this blog post here.
NFP is not some magic recipe that, because you are not taking contraception, means you automatically have an amazing relationship. It’s like having amazing biceps or abs – you worked hard to get those! You took time every day to work out, knowing you’d be sore but that it would be worth it in the end. You sacrificed that piece of cake for the good of your body. You ate your vegetables even though you didn’t really want to because you knew it was good for you.
NFP is a lot like working out your spiritual muscles of virtue. It is ordered towards growing in love, which requires a lot of patience, temperance, fortitude, and chastity. If we truly want to grow in love, we have to realize that love requires a lot of self-sacrifice. Sometimes that sacrifice means abstaining when you really don’t want to because of the good of your family. Sometimes that sacrifice means giving yourself wholly to your spouse even though you are too tired or too terrified of having another child, because maybe God has a plan and you should participate in that plan. But these decisions aren’t made lightly, and they aren’t made by just you. They are made as a team- you, your spouse, and God. And by communicating each day about whether or not to have a child, but sharing your innermost fears and desires with your spouse, this is how you grow in union and intimacy.
One thing is for sure, whether you are trying to conceive or avoid, NFP doesn’t allow you to take sex for granted the way contraception does. You are forced to value your fertility and the sacredness of the sexual act. And sometimes, you are forced to find other ways to love each other, being able to become “fluent in ALL the languages of love,” as my dad once explained it. Sometimes, for example, we organize and clean the house together, we watch movies or do online bible studies. We spend time dreaming of our future, playing games, and doing house projects. All these things help us to be well-rounded in our relationship which is good for us in the end.
So I hate NFP for the times is stretches me and stretches my relationship with my husband. I hate it for the times I have to be vulnernable and die to self and pray about what being open to life means for us. But I love NFP for the way that it has gifted us with children and, over time, it has drawn us into a deeper realm of love. I love it for the way that is has helped us to respect each other, and for the virtues it has grown in us.