Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The joy of NFP

Following closely on the heels of Danielle Bean’s refreshing and faithful take on Natural Family Planning, comes Jennifer Fulwiler’s blog post, Bad at NFP and Proud!. These two articles are extremely complementary. Both are notable and truly inspiring because they are perspectives of married women whose fidelity gives rise to an honest engagement with reality in and through the sacrament of matrimony. I cannot help but mention that I am married to a woman whose witness to the beauty of the truth I find even more inspiring because it is a witness I encounter every day.

Fulwiler, I think, makes Bean’s point a bit less ambiguously. As a writer and mother of five children she shares that whenever she makes a joke about being bad at NFP her email box is flooded by well-intentioned people, the very ones who seem have given rise Bean’s article, complaining that she is giving NFP a bad name and making it less likely that more people will employ any of the methods of Natural Family Planning. She accurately observes "that these kinds of comments are not only not harmful, but can sometimes be helpful in getting people to open their minds to giving up artificial contraception. In fact, I think the world could use a few more good 'bad at NFP' jokes." She goes on to give three reasons why, which I encourage you to read for yourself.

There are two points she makes that I would like to reiterate and perhaps elaborate on a bit. The first gets to Bean’s point by succinctly noting “that discussions about the high effectiveness rates of the various natural birth control methods are mostly a waste of time.” Such arguments are not only unconvincing to the already-unconvinced, but are indicative of the kind of reductive, instrumental reasoning that only seeks to foster the already pervasive contraception mindset, which is not faithful to the Church’s teaching as definitively set forth in Humanae Vitae. I went into this particular issue in detail in my previous post, NFP: a faithful reality check.

Mother and Child, by Picasso, ca. 1901

This leads to the real point I want to which I want to draw attention:
We live in a culture where “planned parenthood” is the only acceptable type of parenthood, where unexpected pregnancies are portrayed like a cancer diagnosis, life-ruining experiences that must be avoided at all costs. As long as I clung to this worldview, talking to me about NFP was like talking to a brick wall. My perception of pregnancy and married life had to change fundamentally before I could consider applying the Church’s teaching to my own life—and that’s where the NFP jokes came in
What Jennifer Fulwiler offers is not a discourse, but a witness. How was she able to give witness? She mentions being influenced by what “smart Catholic women” wrote about their own experiences. These women introduced her "to a whole new way of thinking about family life,” helping her to see that pregnancies are not “precarious, once- or twice-in-a-lifetime events that require extensive planning and hand-wringing," but "a natural part of married life." This is what gives rise to the jokes, which reveal joy, not cynicism. What she found really "crazy" was that living this way did not "ruin their lives." "In fact," Fulwiler observed, "they seemed pretty happy! Having spent my whole life in secular culture, this was a revolutionary idea."

It is all too easy to employ what amount to empty phrases, like divorcing sex from procreation, thus seeking to reduce it merely to recreation, both inside and outside of marriage, without fully taking into account what it means to keep them together. I thank God for faithful couples who give witness, not by "embracing the suck" as we used grumble about in the military, but through their joy, which is what makes the jokes both possible and funny.

For the unconvinced and wondering, the various methods of Natural Family Planning are effective at both facilitating and preventing pregnancy. It's just that, unlike artificial methods of contraception, you have to be intentional about your conjugal relations, constantly keeping things in perspective, which means living your marriage with an awareness of your destiny. If, for serious reasons, you do not wish conceive, NFP certainly requires communication and occasional self-restraint. Nonetheless, Fulwiler's point remains, the joy of NFP is, literally, la joie de vivre!

UPDATE: I would also point those interested in to Jennifer's post Does Contraception Make Marriage Easier?, which is another deeply insightful take on marital matters.


  1. The contraceptive mindset:
    It is so pervasive that I think that very few even realize it exists and the extent to which it has formed our nation, and perhaps even the world.

    Recognizing this mindset is only the first step, embracing the mindset of life as gift is the ultimate goal.

    However, getting past that first step is extremely difficult in and of itself. I know that every journey beings with the first step, but I find it hard to have hope that this mindset can ever be changed. The sexual revolution certainly was that; a revolution that changed this nation. I don't know how the war can be won because it that revolution sold us so many lies.

  2. As Pope Benedict has noted, Christianity, because of the Resurrection of Christ, is the only true revolution in human history. Hence, we live what we believe. Our joy is the best argument and, ultimately, only convincing argument.

  3. YES! THAT'S IT! JOY!!!!

    I think that this is the answer to something I have been reflecting on for a while. There are many who are looking for a compelling argument to embrace their faith. Love is the answer, of course. But that love needs the component of Joy.

    Thanks, Scott. This gives me something further to reflect on!


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