Guest Post: The SPIRITUAL Partnership of Natural Family Planning

This post is part three of a three part series on the Physical, Emotional, and Spritual partnerships of NFP. Parts one and two can be found here: PART ONE & PART TWO

As a hopeless animal lover, I was never a mom who adopted dogs “for the kids;” no, they were as much for me as for anyone, and we are all still feeling the loss of our two beloved beagles.  Reflecting on that loss, I was brought back to God referring to Adam as “alone” even though he was surrounded by the animals in Genesis.  I thought that no matter how much we delighted in lavishing affection on our dogs and being immobilized with laughter from their antics, that we were made for something more.  The food, fresh air, and affection that completely satisfied our beloved beagles will never be enough for us.  We’re not just physical and emotional beings, but are also spiritual beings given free will to seek that “something more” rather than being driven by instincts alone.  What we always seek, in a word, is Love.

I cannot think of a place we reveal our spiritual nature more than in seeking to experience love in sexual intimacy; the promise of sex is the experience of something for which the soul deeply longs.  However, in a world obsessed with sex, few know anything more than a form of recreation.  Frankly, we just can’t seem to get enough of what we’re not really looking for; it’s like eating chips and cookies all day and getting temporary satiety but never satisfying the true hunger.  How can we define the experience we long for clearly so we can use our freedom to pursue that which truly satisfies?  Why is Natural Family Planning the ideal gift to help us do this?

What we always seek, in a word, again, is Love.  But, there is luv and there is Love.  “Luv” is a word that, to me, expresses the nice feelings and a sentimentality easily achieved through the bonding hormones of the sexual act, but lacks the depth of true love commensurate to the human person.  It is the study of Love- the study of God Himself- that will reveal what we seek in every part of life, and most necessarily in the vulnerable act of life-giving union and communion in the marriage bed.  For God’s love is not simply nice feelings and sentimentality; it is the gift of sacrifice demonstrated through freedom, totality, fidelity and fruitfulness.  These are the “nutrients” the hunger of our sexual desire seeks and that which the God-sized hold in our hearts seeks to be filled.  Sex is where God hopes, through human love, He can help us experience divine love. 

Natural Family Planning is nothing shy of a stunning way to participate in this sublime gift God offers.    The couple using NFP dismisses the empty promises of contraception seeing that it reduces their marriage bed to a temporary exchange of physical and emotional pleasure, which ultimately will not satisfy and is quite repeatable in other persons and circumstances.  The couple invests, instead, that something more for which they long: a demonstration of freedom, totality, fidelity, and fruitfulness that affirms their dignity and unrepeatability…the experience of the love of heaven through the vehicle of sexual union.

The freedom of the gift is based in self-mastery; my “yes” means something only because I am capable of saying no.  The body was never meant to be reduced to what it offers sexually, and the abstinence period of the cycle is the outward sign of the internal disposition of respect for the other.  Rather than a marriage defined by the offering, “I’d love to have sex with you,” it recognizes it is much different to say, “You’re worth waiting for.”  Practically speaking, the fruit of this divine love is a balancing of what are often differing sexual drives in marriage, as well as the ecstasy and intensity of the “honeymoon” as the courtship phase comes to an end.

The totality of the gift never denies our fertility is a profound part of who we are, and offers it without reservation.  Sadly, a woman confided in me once that she did not want to use hormonal contraception and her husband responded that she would have to “get rid of it” if she got pregnant.  The wife was deeply and personally wounded; it was not just a disagreement, moral or otherwise, about methods of avoiding pregnancy.  The rejection of fertility was rejection of her.  By contrast, friends with a chronically ill child live out the “yes” of their sexual union daily, for the total promise of sex includes that possibility as well as the potential for night feedings, PTA meetings, and tears of joy and grief dropping off children at college.   It offers not just my body temporarily, but offers my future, my hopes, and a life together: a total gift of self. 

The fidelity of the gift always takes upon oneself the goal of acting in the best interest of their spouse specifically in sexual fidelity, but in their overall wellness, too.  Rather than having romantic notions of sexual fidelity being simply based on feelings for the other, the NFP couple strengthens the muscles needed to maintain exclusivity through practicing physical and emotional self-mastery as well as having a courtship phase that deepens attachment.  In NFP, the spouse acts in the best interest of their beloved by dying to themselves at the service of a sexual union that meets the deeper needs of the human soul.  

The fruitfulness of the gift is grounded in the fact that authentic love gives itself away; it is not made solely for self and can do nothing other than burst forth because we are made in the image and likeness of a spring, not a puddle.  The NFP couple has a deep reverence for this design, and allows fertility awareness to be a starting point for a conversation with God in trust of His plan for their family size.  Perhaps in the supreme joy of seeking to achieve a pregnancy and welcoming yet another new life into their home, or through discerning it is time to postpone a pregnancy, they always recognize God’s plan as good and invite Love into their home.   Our culture believes accepting sexual acts that separate life from love is extending a freedom or kindness whereas my experience has been it supports the avoidance of a reality through which God wishes to speak.   In love and humility, the NFP couple and community strives to practice and promote authentic love, albeit imperfectly and always prayerfully.  

My beagles were adorable physical beings, but without spirits.  Angels are wonderful spiritual beings, but have no bodies.  We are embodied spirits, given the gift of our bodies that we might make visible what is invisible, the love of God.  Through my human relationships I can seek something I could never have as much as I loved my pups, and my marriage relationship was given as a gift from God to be a particular sign of His love.  Through sexual intimacy, our bodies are capable of communicating a message deeply needed by our hearts and souls; NFP offers us an opportunity to express our physical and emotional natures to communicate the spiritual. 

Jill Cherrey, the author of this post, is a SymptoPro Instructor from New Jersey.  She also coordinates the NFP program for the Archdiocese of Newark and teams up with her husband to teach Theology of the Body classes to engaged couples.  In her off time, she enjoys driving her Mom Taxi, cooking healthy meals, and reading non-fiction.  She and Jim have been married 27 years, and are the grateful parents of three wonderful teens.