For those of you who have been reading my blog for awhile, you know that my husband and I have practiced Natural Family Planning (NFP) ever since we got married. I’ve written a number of posts about the system and why we chose it, but in case you missed them here is a brief description:
Rather than avoid pregnancy through the use of contraceptive pills or other artificial contraceptive means, NFP teaches couples to learn the physical signs of a woman’s fertility and abstain from sex when it is more likely to result in pregnancy. The reasons for this practice are two-fold: Couples not only avoid the potential abortive effects of some contraceptive pills, but they also aim to reflect God’s original design for marital intimacy, believing that sex is itself a reflection of God’s character and self-giving love.
There is much, much more to it than that, but that is a little taste of the method and motives behind it. Ike and I first considered the practice because of our pro-life beliefs, but after taking a class at a local Catholic church (which I HIGHLY recommend if you intend to try it) we were further affirmed by the theological reasons behind the practice.
Now that we’ve been married about a year and a half, I thought I would update you on how it’s going. There is a lot of fear surrounding the practice (I can’t tell you how many people “warned” us that we would get pregnant right away!) and the topic raises a lot of questions about how Christians talk about life. I’ve covered those issues in other posts that you can read here and here, but today I want to share with you how the practice has shaped my views on having children.
This past Fall was a very special time in my life because several of my best friends had babies. My heart has been so full of joy to watch these amazing women transition into motherhood with such grace and ease, and I will never forget the words of one friend about a week after she’d given birth. I asked her what it was like to finally meet her daughter and she replied, “It’s like she’s always been a part of us. It’s almost as if I can’t remember what life was like without her.”
I don’t know if most new mothers feel this way, but what she said was a profound theological statement. Whenever we think of our future children or even our future spouse, it’s often a blurry, abstract notion that is difficult to conceive in concrete terms. As a result of this distance, it’s easy to talk about them in disconnected, non-relational ways. We have lists of attributes we want in a husband (ie. he’s going to be tall, blond, play the guitar and like dogs) or we have timetables for our kids. In short, we talk about these future individuals the way we talk about purchasing a new car or planning a vacation.
The chronological distance also results in life choices that are, in a sense, disrespectful to our future loved ones. We give too much of ourselves away to other lovers before we get married, or we cement bad habits that are not conducive to good parenting. Only in hindsight do we look back and wish we could tell our younger selves, “You’re going to regret this! This behavior will hurt your future husband and it will damage your credibility with your kids!”
But we don’t have that benefit. So we live as if those future loved ones don’t exist. Because to us, they don’t.
However, God is not bound by the same limited vision. In fact, He isn’t bound by time at all. He knew Ike was my husband before either one of us was born. And if I am meant to have children, God already knows them, and their children too.
What does this have to do with NFP? As Ike and I continue to reflect on the theological reasons behind our choice, I am challenged to guard my language about having children. NFP encourages you to maintain a posture of openness to life whenever it comes, and that is a perspective I really need in a world that puts everything, even precious babies, on a self-determined schedule.
That is not to say that we aren’t trying to be good stewards of our time and money as we pray through the best time to start a family. But NFP does help me to maintain a healthy balance. It discourages me from talking about my children in a way that sounds more like a hair appointment than a human who bears the image of God, a human who is very much alive in the mind of God.
And while this may seem like nothing more than semantics, let me reassure you that there is much more at stake. From the very example of God we see that words matter. God used words to speak creation into existence, and our language has the same power to create, as well as destroy. The way we talk about children shapes our cultural and spiritual imagination. We might claim to be pro-life, but our language can lead our hearts and minds toward a more culturally-determined perspective.
As Ike and I continue down this path, God continues His faithfulness to us in it. We have learned so much about each other, about marriage, love, intimacy, self-discipline, and family planning. Not only is NFP still an expression of our Christian faith, but it is also teaching us to be good parents.