By CARRIE HUEBNER, Commentary | Published July 21, 2005
When I first met my husband Rick, I was attracted to him by his Patagonia fleece and hiking boots. I thought, “He must like the outdoors.”
As I started to get to know him, I was more attracted to his amazing knowledge of our Catholic faith.
I was a cradle Catholic with 12 years of Catholic school, but I didn’t know much about what I believed as a Catholic. After meeting Rick, I spent the next couple of months diving in and falling in love with our awesome church. The Holy Spirit brought me the perfect complement in Rick—my thirst for knowledge met his passion for education. I became on fire for the Eucharist. I couldn’t believe what I had missed out on for so many years by not knowing what I was really receiving in the Mass.
Life as a Catholic was great until I hit a major roadblock: the church’s teaching on marriage and family. Somewhere in the back of my mind I heard screeching tires.
I can distinctly remember saying, “You mean to tell me the church teaches contraception is wrong? Are they stuck in the Dark Ages? I mean, with all the technological advances, they expect us to use some antiquated thing called Natural Family Planning?”
This became a defining point in our relationship. We began to learn what the church teaches on the use of contraception. We eventually arrived at the topic of Natural Family Planning.
First, we should clear up one misconception: It’s not the rhythm method. There are several different methods of NFP with extensive medical research that shows how NFP is very effective for achieving or avoiding pregnancy.
Secondly, following the church’s teaching does not mean you have to have as many kids as humanly possible. The church teaches responsible stewardship. That means being open to life while considering that there may be sound moral reasons to avoid pregnancy, including financial or health reasons, or you have two kids under the age of 2 and another one right now would be too much to handle.
After learning more about NFP, we decided that this was something we not only could accept but would embrace. We got engaged and started taking NFP classes. I was learning a lot about my own health and was really enjoying learning the method.
However, when it came time for the wedding I became really anxious. I wondered, “What if it doesn’t work? What if we get pregnant right away?” It came down to trust. We eventually had to give our fertility to God and trust Him.
We used to think that NFP was all about the woman making observations and keeping up with fertile days versus non-fertile days. However, NFP is about “us,” not about fertility cycles and charting observations.
Rick’s responsibility is to record my observations on our chart and to be aware of their significance. In fact, his responsibility, according to St. Paul’s often-misunderstood teaching in Ephesians 5, is to love me, his wife, as Christ loved the church. Part of that love is to strengthen our marital bond every day.
One way that NFP helps accomplish this is by strengthening communication. Every night we talk about our sexuality and God’s gift of fertility. We are able to discuss our talks with God concerning our future family as easily as if we were talking about what we would have for dinner. If I am fertile, do we have a reason to avoid pregnancy or not? Almost every night, we discuss our reasons to achieve or avoid pregnancy. This may sound like something that all couples do, but you may be surprised. Our experience is that many married couples have not discussed family planning since the pre-wedding “how many kids do you want?” questions.
Before we started NFP classes, we wouldn’t have thought that charting fertility signs would help us communicate, but it has. We now find that we can easily talk about things like finances or where we should live. I think that if you ask other NFP couples, they will agree that NFP has opened their communication to a level far beyond their pre-NFP days.
In the end, what an amazing leap of faith it turned out to be and what fruits have come from it. Making the decision to not use contraception made such a difference in our faith journey and in our marriage that we really feel called to share our experience.
Unfortunately, society has downplayed the teachings of the Catholic Church on marriage and family or portrayed them negatively as a set of rules and regulations that Catholics have to follow.
NFP isn’t this huge sacrifice that we have to make to live in accordance with the church’s teaching. It’s as if NFP was the ultimate wedding gift from God. It has enriched our own faith journey and, most importantly, it has enriched our marriage. Look at it with an open mind, and you will be surprised at how much the teaching relates to all aspects of the faith, including the Eucharist.
Being a Christian is about loving one another as Christ loved us. Our church’s teaching on love and marriage is one incredible way to live Christ’s love. It’s amazing what God can do with just a little faith and an open heart.
The Huebners belong to St. Michael the Archangel Church, Woodstock, and recently have begun speaking on NFP. For those interested in learning more, some excellent resources are the books “Theology of the Body for Beginners” or “Good News About Sex and Marriage” by Christopher West or “Crossing the Threshold of Love ”by Mary Shivanandan, S.T.D. A good Web site for NFP resources is www.omsoul.com. A free tape or CD is available there by Professor Janet Smith, Ph.D., entitled, “Contraception, Why Not.”