I read a blog post a few weeks ago titled “3 Things I Secretly Hate About NFP“.
The author’s reasons for hating NFP are that (I’m quoting):
1.) NFP requires a good marriage. It is not enough to desire a good marriage; in order for NFP to work, the marriage must be good to start.
2.) NFP demands too much of men. NFP requires men to become good husbands in the fullest sense of the word, as well as become great lovers.
3.) NFP requires a woman to value her body as good in itself, not merely as a tool for reproduction or male pleasure
The author then sums up that these three reasons truly boil down to one over-arching reason: She “hate[s] that NFP requires self-discipline. [Which] is by definition difficult, and least likely to be had when needed most.”
On one hand, her concerns are legitimate. Like anything, NFP must be used correctly if it is to work, either for achieving pregnancy, postponing pregnancy, or identifying and managing health problems. As Catholics, we also have sexual ethics which our lives are challenged to conform to, sexual ethics which are not always easy to uphold.
However, as Catholics we also have grace and forgiveness extended to us which I find are rarely discussed when NFP is brought up.
Yes, NFP is hard. But I think we go wrong when we start to view NFP as an end, and not a means. NFP is a tool which we can use to help us work with God to make our marriages better. It’s a way for men to learn to communicate to and with their wives. Using NFP can teach a woman about how truly “fearfully and wonderfully [she is] made“. But, like any tool, it has to be used properly. To use NFP properly, I firmly believe that a couple must go to Confession as often as possible. And if only one spouse is Catholic, it is all the more important!
The author is right. It is not enough to simply desire a good marriage. The couple must be willing to work for it too! God requires us to grow and, consequently, so does NFP. We can’t just complain about NFP or our sins. We need to actively seek Christ and place Him at the head of our lives. As Catholics we need to remember that God doesn’t want us to fail. He’s not waiting for us to get tripped up just so that He can laugh at us and damn us to Hell. He’s a merciful and loving God, as well as a just one. And because He is so merciful and loving, He has given us the sacrament of Confession and the Eucharist to nourish us when times are tough.
So when we start to view our bodies as tools for reproduction only, we need to go to Confession and ask for the grace to view our bodies as God does. When we fail as husbands, wives and lovers, we need to go to Confession and ask for the grace to become better spouses/lovers. And when our marriage is on the rocks, we need to go to Confession and ask for the grace to see our marriage as God sees it, and the strength to work to make it better.
I recently went to Confession and when my confession turned toward the NFP realm the priest fell silent. When he looked at me, it was with compassion as he said “Wow, thank you for doing this.” He went on to affirm that NFP can be difficult and to encourage me to continue persevering in following God’s plan for marriage. His response to my failures was exactly how I imagined Christ would have responded: with love, acknowledging that we are trying, yet still firm in saying that we can do better.
Actually, I think NFP is just one more way that God has designed for us to rely on Him more fully. It opens our eyes to our areas of weakness and we know that the only way we can be strengthened is through Him. He won’t let us be blind, but He also doesn’t desire that we fail. And so we practice NFP, we go to Confession and receive the Eucharist, and we go back to the bedroom, fortified with God’s love and grace. We repeat this cycle for the rest of our lives, with the hope, nay, the assurance that when we desire and truly work towards becoming Saints, God will give us the grace to do so, even when it seems like all is lost.