Whether you love it or not, everyone agrees that it takes sacrifice to abide by the principles of NFP.
But is that a bad thing?
“Temperatures, charts and abstinence…Oh my!” goes the caricature of a couple huddling together (or sleeping in separate rooms) through the forest of each month anxiously gathering information, waiting for the ‘right time’ to pursue conjugal relations all the while trying to resist the pull of nature (if abstaining for sufficiently serious reasons, of course) completely un-helped by our immediate-gratification centered culture.
And truth be told, it is tough at times to practice NFP. Wait…you mean following God’s will can be challenging? Since when? (tongue in cheek)
Mostly when people air their discontent with NFP it’s because of the periodic monthly abstinence when postponing pregnancy (which, again, should be the exception not the rule of marriage) or it's because of difficulty interpreting fertility signs, or it's the trudge work of the data collection aspect of the method. But considering the bigger picture can rescue us from dwelling on the dismay of “holding off” with our spouses and having to be rather scientific with our bodies and our record keeping each month.
Big picture reality check #1: consider the murky alternative.
I don’t know, maybe it’s because a third of my generation has been aborted, or because I grew up in a contraceptive-mentality, pornography-saturated culture, or perhaps watching several friends and family struggle with fertility and become diagnosed with cancer very young has swayed me, but I believe strongly that NFP is literally a God-send to humanity.
And it has nothing to do with being some sort of “special” person who has been granted a subdued or muted personality suited to NFP. I am not very demure at all and my husband and I are just like every other fertile couple out there who are not immune the effects of the other’s nearness. More revolting to us, however, (and I consider this an act of Grace) is the murky alternative. Cancer? A distorted conscience? Hell? No thanks...for me and my house, we’ll just abstain for awhile each month and then proceed to have completely natural relations. Again, I concur that abstinence is hard but not as hard a living the alternative…that all sounds really impossibly difficult.
Big picture reality check #2 God has a plan and it involves natural law.
Let me say from get-go, that complete openness to God’s plan for one’s family size, i.e. throwing out any notion of ‘planning’ (whatever that means) is absolutely awesome. I’ve learned that this is called “Providentialism” (the couples who just go-with-it, ‘Providentialists’) and Providence we are told in scripture, never fails. With this in mind, we can also make the link that, in the case of sufficiently serious reasons, God, in all His Providence has also given us the most effective method known to science (and endorsed by the Church) with which we can indeed manage how many kids we have: the symptom thermo method i.e, NFP. In other words, practitioners of NFP are Providentialists also.
But, there’s more than just household size management at stake, isn’t there? Souls and the ‘soul’ of society are on the line. God’s plan and the entire architecture of Natural Law requires adherence to higher principles which, if followed, bring us into contact with how God envisioned and continues to invite all humanity to live in regards to how we express covenantal love in marriage with our bodies.
To the engaged couples who come and listen to our NFP talk I emphasize that the hardest thing about NFP is that it requires an entire paradigm shift in how we view marriage, fertility and children. Gaudium et Spes teaches us that children are "really the supreme gift of marriage and contribute very substantially to the welfare of their parents "(50). In other words we are called to reject the cultural ethos that treats pregnancy like a once or twice in a lifetime terminal diagnosis, and 'surprise' pregnancies as a failure of some sort.
Instead, the practice of NFP has the potential of helping couples to a.) cease regarding fertility as something to be feared, medicated or cured b.) view children, born or pre-born, as possessing inherent worth whether or not they are ‘wanted’ or ‘planned’ (they are always planned and wanted by God,) and c.) dismiss the notion that unlimited sexual access to your spouse is the measure of a healthy marriage. It's quality over quantity with NFP, but if you were wondering if NFPers have less sex than contracepting couples, the answer is no. NFP couples meet if not the exceed the national monthly coitus average, which is 8, if you were curious.
Not to mention that sexual satisfaction is more potent if we are not overly-saturated with it, even within marriage. It’s also immeasurably more fulfilling when you can anticipate the “green light” time with a spouse whose other attributes, such as their faith, character and dedication to family life, you’ve grown in awe and appreciation for. Images of classic courtship tales where knights woo a tower-bound maiden, who both must 'want, but not yet have,' remain timeless for a reason. We all wish to be desired, not just conquered.
Big picture reality check #3: NFP is effective.
It is very effective, in fact, when executed properly. The last part is the catch. To do something correctly takes practice and NFP is no exception to this. Like anything genuinely worthwhile or 'of God' this means: an exercise in patience, occasional frustration, “failure” (I dislike that word used in this context because it often means a child has been conceived) persistence, and spiritual growth. Ouch. And yet, thank God, I say! NFP therefore remains genuinely useful not only in postponing and achieving pregnancy: it’s effective in changing you – you are more sacrificial, you grow more trusting of Providence, you are more counter-cultural in your faith witness and able to do more crazy things, like, I don’t know, get rid of the NFP altogether. NFP’s whole aim seems to be to eventually eliminate the 'demand' or need for itself to which I say, Bravo!
NFP, which has a built in expectation of bodily and spiritual sacrifice, encourages creativity in love and selflessness which can only ever add to personal character formation. There is also no inherent contradiction present in NFP as there is with contraceptives– mom and dad aren’t saying “I accept you for all you are” publicly and then “I accept you for all you are except for your fertility” in private. Consistent self giving and total acceptance of your spouse in conjugal love inevitably extends into other areas of married life which leads to stronger marriages if not a recovery of what marriage truly is. That, I believe, is the big picture that we can all embrace and NFP, regarded realistically and in the context of today's need for stronger families, offers us.