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For Your Marriage

Katie and Tommy met after he read a blog she posted and messaged her on Facebook. They married in 2016.

NFP: “Not Freaking Practical” at Times…but Worth It in the End

When we got married, I knew a few “absolutes.” Tommy was going to snore (I’d heard him do so during naps on the couch), we would probably fight on the honeymoon, there’d be a bit of a learning curve when it came to living together, and we needed to figure out NFP (Natural Family Planning). Snoring I can handle: there are breathe-right strips and earplugs aplenty. As far as fighting on the honeymoon: who cares who’s right or wrong…we’re literally living in a postcard for a week. And living together: thank God we have two bathrooms and separate closets!

But Natural Family Planning…go ahead and throw up a few thousand Hail Mary’s for us! A few months into our marriage, we’ve realized that NFP sometimes stands for “Not Freaking Practical.”

Let me preface everything you’re about to read with this simple and truthful statement: my husband and I learned NFP, are practicing NFP, and are discovering the tangible benefits and grace-filled gifts of NFP. We are committed to NFP because we know it is a good and truthful practice. But, and I cannot stress this enough: NFP is easily one of the most difficult parts of our married life so far, and I wish we had been better prepared for its challenges.

This, just like every other blog we’ve shared, is a small, honest snapshot of our lives (first engaged, now newly married). We practice NFP because we believe it’s what is best, but we quickly discovered it can also be a pretty heavy cross.

NFP has been difficult for us because it requires intentional routine at certain points of the day. I have to check certain symptoms of my fertility. The information has to be logged; I have to fill Tommy in; we have to purposefully talk about and pray together about whether the timing is right for children. That takes time, diligence, and intentionality. Frankly, in the midst of teaching, grad school assignments, traveling, and everything else, the last thing either of us wants to do is sit down and have a little chat about my cervical mucus.

NFP has been hard because sometimes my fertility symptoms are ambiguous, so the “I don’t know, should we risk it?” back and forth begins. Pretty stressful.

NFP is a struggle for us because were told by many people that it led to wonderful dialogue and peaceful moments of prayer. Imagine our shock when we discovered we were more confused and frustrated than anything else. So were we bad Catholics who didn’t love each other enough to make this work? Were we just not doing NFP right?

Finally, NFP has been difficult because after being chaste before marriage, waiting our whole lives for each other, now there are a few days each month we have to keep waiting if we discern not trying to conceive at that time. Like I said…Not. Freaking. Practical.

Here’s an idea: maybe we can change the conversation. Let’s stop leading with “NFP is beautiful and wonderful and awesome,” and instead honestly say, “NFP can be hard and challenging, a little confusing, sometimes disheartening and frustrating, occasionally a romance zapper, but in the end, worth it.”

The joys and benefits of NFP are evident: a couple must discern the will of God together, which gives an opening for needed conversations; there are no nasty side effects from artificial contraceptives; etc. But, if we just leave it there, we’re selling NFP short. We have to be real about the challenges, too. We don’t do young couples any favors by saying just, “NFP will bring you closer together.” I think couples would be well served by hearing, “NFP can be difficult, you might fight and sometimes cry and want to throw your chart and phone across the room because you are confused.” Only then, after couples hear some of the honest-to-goodness difficulties entailed, will they be open to the growth that can come from it, and the benefits it can have for a marriage.

The fact is, NFP is not the best part of our marriage. Far from it. The best parts of our marriage are our immense faith and trust in God’s greater plan, which have only deepened since our long-distance courtship and marriage; our honesty with each other and willingness to call each other out when we’re not seeing something clearly; and our unfailing commitment to communicate. We openly discuss, for hours if need be, the big and little things. Truly, the very best part of our marriage is our desire to grow in holiness together. We are in it to win it: we want to get each other to Heaven.

NFP is just one experience within our marriage where the best parts of our marriage are lived and practiced. NFP is a burden, at times, but it’s taken us a few months to realize that the practice of Natural Family Planning is, in some ways, supposed to be impractical – because so too is our faith.

It wasn’t necessarily practical for the Father to send His only son into the world to reveal the plan of our salvation. A simple memo sent down on a cloud probably would’ve been fine. It wasn’t practical for the Son to be born of a Virgin, arriving as a baby, helpless, weak, and in need of potty training. It wasn’t practical for Jesus to change bread into His flesh and wine into His Blood. It wasn’t practical for Him to be arrested, tried for blasphemy, and sentenced to death. It wasn’t practical for Him to defeat death three days later, and then to leave a fisherman in charge of His entire Church.

It wasn’t practical for Jesus to come here in the first place, and then die. But, He did, because it is what we needed. NFP doesn’t always seem practical to us because we’re very conscious of the myriad difficulties and annoyances, and there seems to be a far easier route. But we choose to practice it because it is a training ground for the best parts of our marriage. It is a sanctifier within our married life, one that isn’t always practical, but definitely always needed.

Our entire faith is anything but practical, it seems. The Cross is heavy and the path to Heaven isn’t paved with rose petals. We struggle. We fight. We endure trials. We don’t understand it all and we sometimes throw our hands up in confusion. But, at the end of the day, we are called to trust. We trust in the greater plan and divine providence of the One who knows us better than we know ourselves. We believe in His perfect wisdom and understanding, which far surpass our own. We hold fast to His enduring promises and rely on His unfailing help. We revel in the joy He gives us, knowing that His goodness outweighs any temporary pain we may endure. NFP is a practice within our marriage that allows us – forces us – to grow in faith and remain steadfast in our trust of each other and the Lord. NFP is a daily sacrifice, a weekly struggle, and occasionally a monthly toss-up, but no matter how impractical we may feel it can be, NFP has proven to be a remarkably practical way to practice becoming holy, and for that, we are grateful.