When we were younger, NFP was more difficult. It was harder to abstain. When young couples hear from a nice 50-something-year-old mother of 27 children than NFP is this lovely thing, they are right to be skeptical.
(Practical tip: Any number greater than 2 is considered “an enormously huge, overwhelming number of children” to a nervous engaged couple with school loans, budding careers, and a religious education received primarily from the New York Times.)
But having lived through the hard-to-abstain years, and still living through the pretty-hard-to-abstain years, my experience is this: NFP is a self-correcting mechanism. It’s like following a diet that causes you to eat only the amount of food you need.
Okay, I know that’s not always true, but let’s get back to that in a second. First let me make my case:
People who worry that NFP is too easy:
You’re doing it wrong. For those who haven’t heard, there’s a sub-culture among practicing Catholics that worries that someone, somewhere, is abstaining-and-enjoying-it. They should be procreating. Instead they’re devoting themselves to
prayer-and-fasting watching cable TV certain days weeks of the month. Because it’s just so easy to share a home with the love of your life, snuggle into bed every evening, and ignore the army of hormones and pheromones and physical urges all working together to keep the species alive.
Here’s what I say to that: Anyone who’s abstaining just for fun? Let ’em. Sheesh. They’ve got a big enough cross as it is.
People who find that NFP is hard:
That’s the point. You’re married. Raising a family is your ‘default mode’. If you’re sitting around every evening wondering what to do with all your extra money and empty bedrooms and overflowing energy . . . how ’bout a nice baby to fill those voids?
For most of us, when we’ve got a problem serious enough to warrant avoiding pregnancy, we’ve got a problem that needs to be solved. A problem that we could be addressing by using the time and energy we would otherwise spend monkeying around in the bedroom a couple hours a night.
I know there are exceptions. You might have a weird health condition that leaves you feeling great most of the time, but could cause you to drop dead during pregnancy. Or there are extra crosses thrown in the road — the wife only interested during the fertile time, repulsed by sex otherwise; the husband who’d rather risk his wife’s life or health than wait until the end of the cycle. It’s a fallen world. Rain falls on the exhausted and the amorous alike.
But in all, NFP is a balancing system.
It’s a motivator for us to devote time and energy to removing the obstacles that keep us from being able to freely welcome more children into the home. It’s an urgent reminder that when all is calm and bright, how about growing the family a little more — or at least have fun trying?
Is NFP good? Yes. The way a healthy diet, or regular exercise, or getting enough sleep at night is good, having the amount of sex that matches our state in life is good. Not always easy. But good.
Jennifer Fitz is the author of the soon-to-be-released Classroom Management for Catechists (Liguori Publications). She blogs at Riparians at the Gate, homeschools her four kids, runs the Catholic Writers Guild blog, and does about ten other things I can’t list here, including writing for Amazing Catechists and CatholicMom.com.