Writer’s note: This is the first in a series of columns giving a fresh perspective on Natural Family Planning, the framework for responsible parenthood supported and promoted by the Catholic Church. Upcoming topics to be covered include: the vocation of parenthood and family size; abstinence and intimacy; the fertility awareness movement and method aids; what do large families have to offer modern society; discipline and discipleship; and the gift of, versus the right to, fertility.
Natural Family Planning can feel like un-Natural Family Planning and even, at times, Natural Family un-Planning. The sacrifices required by couples practicing NFP are often reason enough for others to choose artificial means of birth control. While the Church maintains her timeless tune, and statistics continue to show single-digit percentages of Catholic couples humming along, maybe it’s time to compose a new verse for the next generation.
What if, instead of defining NFP as Natural Family Planning, we moved towards a broader understanding of it as Navigating [life with] Faith Perspective? What if we practiced openness to life less in terms of family size and more in terms of everyday openness to God’s creative action in our lives? My goal with this column is not to cover the numerous, and often contentious, specific family planning topics. Rather, it is an invitation to a perspective over planning approach.
Planning involves ordered steps moving us from Point A to Point B, and can leave us frustrated when a detour forces us to recalculate the route or entertain a new destination altogether. Whereas, perspective involves seeing the relevant parts in a meaningful relationship, encouraging flexibility and even welcoming a change in plans as something to embrace and enjoy. Planning can feel rigid and lead to anxiety, perspective works with the reality of life and opens us to truer peace. Planning tends to be goal oriented; perspective wants to be relationship oriented.
The standard view of NFP focuses, by definition, on planning. Besides planning (or at least trying to) the number and spacing of children, we plan for college and for retirement, plan financially to buy house or go on a vacation to a Family Owned Cabins, plan an outdoor party, etc. And yet, jobs are lost, children change their minds, markets take a turn, illness plagues our families, medical expenses muddle our dreams, loved ones die unexpectedly, and the weather (especially the weather) doesn’t follow the forecast. Even so, with studies estimating nearly 45 percent of all pregnancies in the U.S. are unintended or mistimed, meteorologists seem to have a better success rate than couples.
What, then, of all these changes of plans, unforeseen circumstances and reassessment of priorities? Don’t we often find ourselves benefitting and growing from letting go and letting life happen? Don’t things usually turn out better than expected, even if it takes a while to see the big picture? When we seek and submit to God’s plan, isn’t our experience that his is the perfect plan? Doesn’t the effort to find his creative and fatherly presence through life’s ups and downs leave us with deeper trust in him?
Perspective doesn’t throw planning out the window. Navigating [life with] Faith Perspective sees Natural Family Planning as part of a bigger whole, where God is an active player in the couple’s discernment for the whole of their family life. It’s an attempt to widen the scope from a couple’s pregnancy-specific fertility to a broader spousal and family fruitfulness. In this way, N[lw]FP sets the firm foundation needed on which to build a balanced practice of NFP methods.
Together on the journey, Jenny.
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