The first brochures my then-fiance and I received pertaining to Natural Family Planning featured images of couples holding hands, embracing, and walking through a field of sunflowers, looking simply joyful. The text inside told us how NFP would be the best part of our marriage. It would make us grow in knowledge of each other, of ourselves, and in self-sacrificial love.
After over a year of marriage and two years of charting, I can definitely say that NFP has certainly done all those things for my husband and I.
But those introductory brochures failed to capture the reality of how difficult, frustrating, and just plain awful NFP can often be.
NFP is (Not Usually) Fun
I recall discussing NFP with a friend after I had been charting for a few months and the frustration was beginning to set in. My friend was positively giddy about NFP. “Our instructor just makes NFP so much fun!”
My mind reeled. Fun? This is supposed be fun? What’s wrong with me? Because I’m really not having fun when my observations tell me nothing and I throw my chart across the room out of frustration.
A Bad Catholic?
I concluded that maybe I was just a bad Catholic because my husband and I didn’t look like the picture-perfect couples on those NFP brochures, and we certainly weren’t having “fun” with NFP. Instead, it was a huge, looming, burdensome cross that made me feel inadequate every single time I looked at my mess of a chart.
More often than not, NFP doesn’t work out the way we hope it will. For some, it’s a minor inconvenience. For others, it’s a cross, but a bearable one. And for the rest of us, it’s a much heavier cross than anyone ever told us it would be for one reason or another; and more often than not, our knees buckle from the weight of it.
How to Embrace the Cross When NFP is a Struggle
Whatever your struggle, you should know this: If you’re struggling with NFP, you’re not alone, and you’re not a bad Catholic. There are ways to embrace and carry this cross, even when it feels like you can’t carry it another step.
If you are struggling with NFP, the first step is to take it to prayer. And I don’t just mean, “Jesus, help me carry this cross.” I mean brutally honest prayer.
In the depths of my despair with NFP, my prayer looked more like, “Jesus, I hate using NFP. Why won’t it work for me? Why must I carry this cross? Can’t it just be easy? I need help, in some way or another. I can’t keep doing this.”
And, the gentle Lord that He is, He has not only continually given me the grace to press on and see my suffering as a gift that could help others, but He also brought patient people, previously unexplored treatment options to my health issues, and solutions into my life to help me begin to resolve the struggles I was having with charting.
Jesus Can Handle It
Jesus can handle your anger and frustration. In fact, I think He likes hearing from us when we are upset and despairing. He wants all of us, even those feelings of anger and frustration with our choice to adhere to Church teaching and use NFP. Doing so takes humility to come before the Lord as you are, frustrations and all. Don’t be afraid to lay everything—even your frustration or anger with NFP—at the foot of His Cross.
Stop Pretending It’s Supposed to Be Fun
Acknowledge the reality of your situation with NFP. In my case, it often seems like no matter what I try, my chart is different every single month. Because of inexplicable hormonal issues, it is sometimes very near impossible to understand what my chart is telling me. That, combined with horrendous PMS symptoms, NFP often feels like a constant battle. And it’s one that I am definitely losing.
Half of the battle, though, has been realizing that it’s okay to hate it. It’s okay to cry over it, and be a little irritated at how everyone presented NFP as this saving grace of marriage.
The truth is that it’s really not the best part of my marriage. It’s a very important part, though. It’s one that has taught and continues to teach me how to sacrifice, love rightly and deeply, and how to appreciate God’s plan for human sexuality. And for those reasons I will always defend it and proclaim it to be superior than any artificial contraception. But the truth is it’s not always fun and it’s hardly ever easy.
Don’t Give Up
It’s so easy to get passive in the struggle. It’s easy to assume that “this is just how it’s supposed to be” whether you’re struggling with conceiving, with charting, with severe PMS symptoms, or something else. If something isn’t working for you when it comes to NFP, ask for help. Don’t give up looking for answers from your doctors and NFP instructors. And if you’re not satisfied, find a second opinion or consider learning a new method that may work better for you.
At the very least, find someone to share your struggle. If you’re married, lean on your spouse. If you’re single, seek out community of other women who practice NFP. Doing so will help you find solidarity. Never underestimate how beneficial it is to simply share your struggle with another, even if they don’t completely understand what you’re going through.
Remember Why You’re Using NFP
Ultimately, remember why you’ve made the choice to practice natural family planning. Sure, there are the more immediate reasons: to try to achieve or avoid a pregnancy, space children, or gain greater insight into your fertility.
But on a larger scale, you’ve likely chosen NFP because you want to be faithful to the teachings of the Church. Remember that the Church does not tell us to not use artificial contraception because she wants to “oppress” us and make us miserable. But rather because the Church, as our Mother, knows what is best for us. And even despite the struggle, most of us can step back and say that, in some way, NFP is what is best for us.
Embracing the Cross
As strange as it sounds, our struggles are ultimately for our own good. Our sufferings can bring us closer to Christ, if we embrace them.
But embracing the cross of NFP doesn’t mean we have to necessarily like NFP or even find it “fun.” It means uniting our suffering to that of Christ. It means asking Jesus—plainly, simply, and honestly—to show us how to carry our crosses well, and to acknowledge that Jesus has given us this struggle for the benefit of our eternal soul. It means placing our fear, anger, hurt, frustration, and confusion in His capable Hands and trusting Him to turn it into something beautiful.
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Sarah Coffey is a freelance writer and copyeditor and also works for the Archdiocese of St. Louis. She and her husband, Jesse, both converted to Catholicism in college, and they reside in the St. Louis area with their cats, Stella and Cayden. You can find out more about her here.