Living out God's plan for me and my wife in marriage is the most difficult thing I have ever attempted and stuck with. Practicing NFP isn't an easy thing, and it hasn't been easy in my marriage from day -120 the beginning of our 4 month engagement when we started learning the Creighton Method. Picking up a box of pills or getting my wife a shot of depo provera looks like it would be a whole lot easier. We had at least 8 sessions with our teacher before the wedding, and we were told we really didn't start early enough because we weren't going to be fully trained in time for the wedding.
The honeymoon was a brutal call to mortification. It turns out my wife isn't the text book model case of NFP. She had irregular cycles, strange mucus, later it turned out a progesterone cycle imbalance and the 6 or 7 days of abstinence per month that I expected turned out to be something like 20 or so initially. And the Honeymoon. 10 days, and not one "green" (definitely non-fertile) day. Not what I had planned for my honeymoon.
Not having intercourse on my honeymoon probably saved my marriage. If it hadn't been for NFP, and our uncompromising Creighton Method teacher I honestly believe my marriage would have ended years ago. I would have caused my marriage to fail because without NFP I would have not learned what marriage was about. In my selfishness and my pornographic mentality I would have used and abused my wife as an object.
Bear with me for a minute.
Our most basic human need is a relationship with our Creator. There is nothing we can obtain, possess, experience or receive that will satisfy this need. The very heart of the fall is the precisely the weakness of "falling for" the deceit that something out there will increase our happiness. We become driven to search for more, seeking to increase ourselves, our dominion and our comfort. It also takes the form of attempting assuage our insecurity, fears and uncertainty through reliance on creation and our own cunning and manipulation instead of God.
None of us is ever entirely free from this disease of the soul. Saints and truly holy servants of God practice mortification of the flesh. By abandonment to the Divine Providence, acts of the will, and the corporal works of mercy they seek to be fulfilled in relationship to God. They practice rejecting the lie that some better satisfaction can be found in any other way.
When I refuse to mortify my passions, I lay myself open to the slavery of sin. Quite literally refusing to mortify my desires for more pleasure, security, and comfort coupled with holding onto my fears is the source of all my addictions and my bondage to selfishness. No matter how hard I pursue satisfaction through anything other than God I will always need more and I will always be unsatisfied.
Yet, even though I already know the truth.. It is still easy for me to slip into the belief that just a little indulgence will be better than actually trusting in God. Whenever I find myself in the middle of any one of the 7 deadly sins - that is why I am there. I believe for that moment that I can get more peace and satisfaction and comfort from gluttony, or pride, or lust than God will give me if I just trust in Him. And in the end I will always find that I've been chasing the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. There is nothing there.
The path to holiness cannot in any circumstances be found in anything except conforming my will to God's will. Marriage is my vocation, and the path to holiness for myself and my wife. We have promised to love each other, and through our love glorify God and help each other to grow in sanctity. That means that my marriage and family is the primary venue in my life for mortifying my disordered desires and coming to trust more fully in God.
Here's a quote from in article on the Huffington Post blog from just today (my emphasis):
Nobody likes abortion. That is not the question being debated. Prevention, not abortion, is the vastly preferred method of family planning. Abortion is an invasive surgical technique, physically and psychologically traumatic, expensive, and potentially dangerous. Whereas responsible adult sex should be as frequent as desired, unwanted pregnancy should be exceptional rather than routine. Part of the adult responsibility commensurate with having an active sex life is prudent and careful use of contraception. Abortion should not be viewed as a contraceptive given the procedures emotional and physical complications. However, if an unwanted pregnancy occurs, a women's right to choose her own reproductive destiny must be protected.The abortion issue is ancillary to this discourse, but I leave it in because it makes good context. The only "responsibility" is to try to avoid unwanted consequences - children.
There is the essence of a "contraceptive mentality" (I use the quotes because this is a term we'll need to deal with in a later post). I should have an unrestricted right to enjoy sex and avoid any undesired consequences. It may sound course and extreme and I am positive a nice contracepting Catholic will argue that they love their spouse as much as I love mine and that ..... But that is the deceit. That is the lie. Look at the truth. As I ended Part 2 of this series borrowing from Boettger's Blog:
Contraception was NOT invented to prevent pregnancy as there was already a fully effective way to prevent it which, again, I’m confident all of you are practicing as you read this column: abstinence. Contraception was invented to sterilize the fertile period so that if the urge to have sex were to arise during that period, neither the man nor the woman would need to muster up the energy to deny that urge in the fear of pregnancy.Contraception serves one and only one purpose: allowing adult sex to be as "frequent as desired" without those pesky unwanted pregnancies. And even this promise is hollow because contraception fails and abortion is necessary as a backup.
Once again, the lie of contraception is that "my marriage will be happier and more satisfying if my spouse and I can enjoy sex at will while managing to avoid the responsibility of having more children." And this is a lie because it is precisely the path of avoiding mortification, seeking to wrest our own happiness and satisfaction from the world and denying ourselves the opportunity to trust in God to provide for us. This is not simply because we should want another child or be open to life. It is primarily because we insist on having it both ways. We refuse to trust God to provide us the capacity to love and raise a child and we refuse to accept that we can live a satisfactory life by mortifying our sexual appetites and seeking to trust in God. This in the end denies the primary purpose of marriage - the rearing and education of children, and the secondary purpose of marriage - helping each other to grow in holiness. To contraception of the conjugal act is to "fall for" the lie of the serpent and believe that there is something better than God.
Back to My Honeymoon
Although I'd fully accepted the Church and had become a pretty active Catholic who accepted the authority of the Magisterium and I was seeking to trust in and follow God's law, I still had (and still have) a lot of growing to do. I'd begun the process of getting free from pornography and everything that goes with it, but I wasn't completely free. With 3 years of sobriety from alcohol and drugs I still hadn't learned much about surrendering my selfishness.
I still had a self centered pornographic mentality with regards to marital sex and my wife. Our Honeymoon forced me, yes forced me to confront that mentality - even though I didn't know it. I remember praying in my frustration, and the thought coming: "Why did you marry this woman?"
Surprise! Surprise! SURPRISE! I didn't marry my wife to have Sex! That's right. I didn't marry my wife to have sex. I married my wife because I love her, and I want to be with her. And no matter how hard things are, it is her that I want to struggle through it with. If something were to happen to my wife or me today that made sex impossible for the rest of our lives, it wouldn't change anything.
I had to learn to trust God in a lot of ways. I learned to trust God that I didn't need to have sex. I learned to trust God that there wasn't some better way to get satisfaction.
It took a while, but I had to learn that my wife is not an object for me to use for my pleasure. In the first few months I did continue to attempt to mold her into my pornographic sex life. It failed miserably. If it hadn't been for NFP I wouldn't have been able to know better, and I would have destroyed my marriage trying to make my wife live up to the fantasies I'd poisoned myself with.
The first three years of our marriage NFP was constantly frustrating. Together we discussed our options, and I certainly thought about the alternatives myself. That moment from the 8th day of our honeymoon stuck with me. Having learned about NFP, and knowing that it is possible to identify when a woman is fertile it became impossible for me to make my wife unnaturally and synthetically sterilize herself so I could use her body without accepting that God had designed her to bring life into our marriage.