My Love-Hate Relationship with Natural Family Planning (Part 2)
Just over a year ago, I thought that I was pregnant. Again. For the fourth time in four years. I was freaked out. Mike and I had learned a new method of NFP (the Marquette Method) and were diligently following the rules to space out the conception of another child. We had talked and prayed and discerned that with two full time youth ministry programs, a side ministry of Mike and Annie Talk, the exhaustion of having three toddlers/babies at home, and the mental and physical wear and tear on my body from another quick pregnancy, we had legitimate reasons to add a bit of space before Baby #4. So when I thought that I was pregnant again, my first honest thought was WHAT THE HELL?! All I could picture were the next nine months of varicose veins, an aching body, and anxiety while trying to be a good mother to my other children and continuing to be an effective Youth Minister. I literally cried out, “Lord, how will we ever manage?”
No sooner was “how will we ever manage” off my lips than another prayer welled up inside me:
“Jesus, how many times do I have to say, ‘I trust in You,’ before I actually do?”
That prayer came straight from the Holy Spirit to my heart. It did not come from my human weakness, but was an answer to my human weakness. It’s so easy to trust Jesus when things are going according to my plan, what about when He throws a curveball? Will I still trust? And so began my three-week lesson in trust brought about by NFP as I waited to see whether I really was pregnant.
Every time in my life that I have faced a difficulty, God has seen me through. Every. Single. Time. But then, when the next difficulty comes my way, I react in fear instead of in trust. Each new difficulty is a new lesson in trust. In the case of my fertility, if I were using birth control, I would be under the mistaken impression that I am, in fact, in control. I would avoid pregnancy or achieve pregnancy with the help of a few pills. NFP teaches me to let go of control and learn to trust and submit my life to the plan of Divine Providence. While birth control might afford me the “freedom” to plan my family exactly to my specifications, I fear it would turn my understanding of my children from gift to commodity. My children would become, in my mind, less a human person and more a thing to be demanded or rejected depending on my personal plan.
And I wish I could say that I learned the lesson of trust perfectly after getting pregnant quickly for the second time, and have been completely trusting ever since; but that’s unfortunately not true. For me, trust is a lesson that I’ve had to learn again and again and yet again.
During those weeks of not knowing whether or not I was pregnant, Mike and my prayer vacillated between “WTH” and “Thy Will be Done.” As one priest told us, isn’t that always the case with a prayer of trust? It is usually an uncertain and unexpected event that causes us honestly re-evaluate whether we truly trust in a divine plan. No matter what the event, whether a child is diagnosed with a terminal illness, or a spouse loses a job, or a couple is faced with infertility; all of these moments, or serious moments like them, are an opportunity to once again say “Thy will be done.” No, not just SAY it, but MEAN it. I’ve come to see that trust is an interior attitude of the heart that doesn’t open itself to negativity or anxiety or doubt. When those negative thoughts and worries creep into our minds, we can banish them by re-affirming our trust in a greater plan. This will give us an interior freedom to face whatever may come our way and not be completely shaken by it.
One reason that it is so hard for us to instantly react to difficult moments in trust is that we can’t see the big picture. We can’t see exactly how things will turn out, and so we tend to fixate on the immediate difficulties. But God doesn’t promise us knowledge of the future. In fact, He taught us to pray give us “this day our daily bread.” Not “give us today the next month’s worth of bread.” But instead to daily ask for the daily needs. When we gave birth to our third child, my in-laws gave us their minivan. Our daily bread. An old friend sent us a generous gift card out of the blue. Our daily bread. My pastor allowed me to adjust my schedule enabling me to continue in Youth Ministry. Our daily bread. A parishioner called to see if we needed an extra crib, despite not knowing our situation. Our daily bread. When we trust, we see how HE provides as we release control.
Once in Confession, I spoke with the priest about my worries that NFP was the opposite of trust. I feared that it allowed for too much control on my part and not enough abandonment to Divine Providence. He affirmed NFP and said that it teaches us to do what we can to space pregnancies using our human reason and knowledge of our bodies, and that trust enters after that. Trust is what is built during the times of the unknown. So I learned that NFP is not just “Catholic birth control,” but an awareness that teaches you about yourself and about your spouse and stretches you to be a more selfless and trusting person as you offer your family planning to the Author of Life.
It turned out that I wasn’t pregnant at that time. But those weeks of not knowing were such a blessing (dressed in a great disguise.) They forced me to give up a little bit more of the illusion of my own control. They allowed me to resign myself a little bit more to the will of God – The One who sees the big picture and provides for my needs day by day. Natural Family Planning has taught me that trust is a lesson we learn again and again…and again…and again…