Simcha Fisher’s book, The Sinner’s Guide to Natural Family Planning, is still sitting pretty in the Top 10 on Amazon’s list of Catholic books. The incredible interest in the book isn’t surprising since frank, balanced conversations about natural family planning –- the only method of spacing children approved by the Catholic Church –- are desperately sought after and needed. Add to that Fisher’s place as one of the most popular Catholic writers in the blogosphere and it makes sense that the Sinner’s Guide is selling so well.
As a person with a love/hate relationship with natural family planning (NFP) I was thrilled to hear that Fisher was tackling the subject in a book. Many of the articles she has written on the topic have been poignant, often alternating between making me tear up, laugh out loud, and feel convicted. My read of The Sinner’s Guide did the same thing and a little bit more: it brought about a couple of good conversations with my husband and made me feel… well, normal.
Recently I was able to ask Fisher a few questions regarding her book and NFP.
You talk a lot about how you and Damien have grown and overcome a lot of the struggles you had early on in your marriage. Was here a specific turning point for you? A moment where you said, “Aha! So this is what God wants me to do/say/understand!” If so, when was that moment, and what precipitated it?
No one specific moment, no. There were several “believe so that you may understand” moments, though — when we just decided we were going to grit our teeth and do our best to live with impossible situations . . . and then they cleared up in unexpected ways. It was a lot easier to see God’s gentleness and mercy after we had decided to bow to His law.
We also constantly work on making the shift from “my needs vs. your needs” to “what’s best for our marriage and family?”
I think that even when people do have startling, revolutionary epiphanies in their lives, they usually still have to follow up with a long, gradual process of putting that epiphany into practice.
Some NFP users feel like they were duped, that the truth was twisted and they were lied to during their NFP classes. How do we heal that wound in them and how do we present NFP so that it’s balanced?
It’s vital that we present marriage in general — not just NFP — as a call to love. As long as we try to entice people into using NFP by going on and on about how it’s just as effective as artificial birth control, or how it’s the one sure path to marital bliss, then we are going to, as you say, wound people.
Couples who love each other want to know HOW to love each other. They need to hear that self-sacrifice is necessary, and is something they can reasonably expect from each other. They need to hear that sacrifice is beautiful. They need to hear that most worthwhile things in life don’t come easy, and that marriage, and the joy it can bring, is worth the fight.
Some of your own personal growth as a Christian is documented in the book. Who helped you down that road and what guides did you use then and in the writing of the book to insure your thinking was always in line with the Church’s.
The one thing that made a difference was belonging to an online message board of other faithful Catholics who used NFP. They did help clarify Church teaching; but more importantly, they totally understood what we were going through. Nothing can replace talking to other people who can say, “Oh, yeah, we’ve been through that — we’re doing much better now!” or “I struggled with such-and-such, but now I think of it this way . . . ” This is the experience I hoped to capture in my book: a conversation with an honest, helpful friend who knows the ropes.
As far as the theology in the book itself, I asked two priests and a theologian to make sure it was on the up-and-up. I rely heavily on the Catechism of the Catholic Church — it is such a rich, dense, beautiful work. As I wrote, I discovered that the Church’s teaching on sexuality is far, far more generous and compassionate than I used to believe.
Many of the people for whom NFP is a very real cross feel your book finally brought out into the open many of the frustrations they’ve been able to talk about with only their closest friends. Was that an intention of yours? Were you hoping to speak up for those who really struggle with NFP?
Yes, that’s exactly why I wrote it.
As I say in the introduction, I understand why people paint NFP in rosy tints: because if you go, “Hey, everybody! Who’s up for some redemptive suffering?” then nobody is going to beat down the door of your marriage prep class. But it’s a big mistake to act as if the benefits of NFP are overwhelming and automatic, or to pretend that it’s always easy and super fun. People who are struggling and suffering look at the cheery NFP couple in the brochure, compare it to their own lives, and think, “Well, obviously I’m a loser, a sinner, a pervert, a mess. Why even bother?”
My book has two purposes: to reassure people that they’re not alone, and to give them some tools for making things better.
Will a print version be ready for Christmas?
I wish! I will be able to share the name of the print publisher very soon, and we will make the book available for pre-order as soon as possible.
The audiobook from Audible.com should be ready before Christmas, though. As soon as I have information, I will share it on my blog.
How do you feel about being a sex and NFP expert?
Ha! I feel like people still expect me to do the laundry and dishes around here. But seriously, I’m definitely not an expert. That was kind of the point of the book: to remind people that you don’t need to be an expert — you don’t have to be super holy, or have a degree in theology or psychology — to have insight into your own marriage. What you need is patience, persistence in prayer, hope, and an open heart. Learning to make NFP work in your marriage means learning how to be a gift to your spouse. Anyone can do that.
I am so grateful for Fisher’s time, wisdom, and sense of humor. The Sinner’s Guide for Natural Family Planning was a good read. Real, funny, smart, and much needed. Now what are you waiting for? !