Saturday, April 15, 2017

Laying Down My Life: Talking to God about NFP

“Imagine a large circle and in the center of it rays of light that spread out to the circumference. The light in the center is God; each of us is a ray. The closer the rays are to the center, the closer the rays are to one another. The closer we live to God, the closer we are bound to our neighbor; the farther we are from God, the farther we are from one another. The more each ray departs from its center, the weaker it becomes; and the closer it gets to the center, the stronger it becomes.” 


In the onset of restlessness, I tried to sleep. "Why? God! Why is this Your will?"
I turned over and stared at the dark form of my husband Joseph, whose back was to me, and watched the rise and fall of his chest and left shoulder.  I knew he wasn't asleep yet. I had hurt him again. He felt rejected, even though he understood that this was how it had to be, and I didn't know how to soothe him.

I closed my eyes, and eventually my mind stopped accusing, begging and lamenting enough for me to drift into a fitful sleep.

It was light when I awoke, and for some reason unbeknownst to me at the time, I was faced with French doors and a balcony. Curious, I stepped out onto a balcony, overlooking an old city. Coffee awaited me, though my husband slept peacefully in white sheets in the hotel room behind me. The light brown heads of four sons peeked out from cots, placed in a row at the foot of our bed.

On the balcony, sat Him. Taking in the city and the surroundings, I shouldn't have been surprised.
This was not the Him I would throw myself down on the ground in awe of, or the Him I would picture in prayer. No, this was the Him I could sit with face to face. His face earnest and inviting and waiting for me to speak. I closed the balcony door so that my family wouldn't hear and wake up.

He motioned for me to sit down and have coffee with Him at the small table.
"What can I do for you?" He asked, his voice familiar and safe.
"Okay, so this is the thing," I said, getting comfortable in the large wicker papasan  that sat near the table, "he's hurting again, and it's not my fault! I just don't want to have another baby, and the moral thing to do is not have sex."

Boom. Weird. I'd just said "sex" to Jesus in my dreams. But this was Jesus my friend and confidant, so he wasn't weirded out by it.

"I didn't mean to make him feel outright rejected, but I'm ovulating right now, so I'm very susceptible to taking things further than I meant to. I thought I was saving him from pain by saying we should just sleep." I paused, as He raised an eyebrow, looking at me like He knew I had more to say.

"I admit, I could be nicer about it, but he KNOWS the teaching of the Church. He gets it. This is why we only have four kids and I'm not pregnant as we speak! I'm just trying to do what's best for us."

I looked away, partly ashamed that I excused my behavior toward Joseph by blaming him, and partly because I hadn't opened up like this so directly to God himself before.

Touching my shoulder and leaning in, motioning that I should look at Him, He said, "What are you afraid of?"

Taken aback, I just looked at Him, my eyes starting to dampen. Afraid they might spill over if I didn't speak, I said,

"Everything."

Pause.

I'm talking about the teaching of the Catholic Church that says that contraception is immoral. I ardently believe and support this teaching, so Joseph and I practice a Natural Family Planning which is tracking my fertility in order to avoid pregnancy, or sometimes, make a baby. This is something Catholic couples are permitted to do, and it means that when we don't feel we can have another baby, we abstain from sex in times of fertility, which is not always easy or as simple as it sounds. This is a post about how it has gone for us in eight years of marriage with four sons born in that time, and how we're coming to terms with what it means for us in the future. 

"Tell me," He said, sitting back and sipping His coffee.

"Well, I'm afraid to get pregnant again. I'm afraid that we won't have enough time or money for another child. I just feel like if I'm already drowning, how could I have another baby?

"Not to mention that I have hemorrhaged more and more blood with each birth, just cementing my fear of birthing another baby and leaving the kids without a mother, and my husband to care for five.

"I'm afraid that my marriage will fail because of this fear. When it's been three months of abstaining, it is so tempting to just contracept. We know that you gave us reason and free will, so it's difficult to think it could be so wrong when we just want to be that close to each other, but can't foresee caring for another child.

"I want to be able to abandon myself to intimacy with my husband, but I can't, because I'm afraid of what will happen if I do. He's mad that I don't trust him on that front, and I suppose, rightfully so.

"He's also mad that I'm wired so that when I'm ovulating - like prime baby-making time - that's the time when I have the most desire. All other times, it's a little more work to build up that same desire. 

"Come to think of it, I'm mad about that too. Why can I only enjoy sex as much as I could possibly enjoy it, if at this point in my life, I'm almost 100% guaranteed a baby? And he's wired to basically be up for sex all the time. We are so frustrated during this time that we fight, and we argue, even though after eight years, we know what's going on!

"We live in a world where nobody understands this. We get that we need not be holding ourselves to the standard of a "sex-all-the-time and birth control" culture, where so many people are happy to tell me exactly what they think about my having four children. I don't care what people in the grocery store think of me, but it's a reflection of the society.

"I know You want greater for us than our world does, Jesus, but this is so hard to navigate.  I know there are worse things than being fertile and making a lot of children. I know we could be better at communicating and loving each other and our kids, but sometimes I feel like it's too much. The rest of my fertile years are looking bleak, Jesus, very bleak."

I looked from Jesus' face to my sleeping husband's form. I looked at the four sleeping heads - the children we made as a result of our love. Miracles, each one of them. They'd come to us as a result of what I saw as three miscalculations of my chart and fertility signs combined with our desire for one another, and one - the last one - a result of a planned and calculated act.

"Do you trust me?" Jesus asked.

I looked down, sadly shaking my head. Then, when I looked into His eyes, which surprisingly, held understanding, I said,

"I really want to."

"Why do you doubt me?"

I thought for a moment, "I guess because things haven't turned out the way we thought they would. It's just been harder than we thought."

"I know. I have been here all along as you wrestle with this difficult task. I am with you. I know you doubt me, but you know, I never break my promises."

I looked at Him and nodded. He was right. I have called on Him, and time and time again and He has answered me. Maybe not in the way that I thought, but all the same, I've gotten assurance that as long as I stick close to Him, He won't fail me.  I don't regret a single day with any of my sons. I don't regret carrying them and feeling their little movements inside my body. I don't regret being a vessel of life for each of them, the pain of childbirth, or the sleep I've lost. We've been the shepherds of four little souls; our own little flock to guide and nourish and keep safe. My life has been full and beautiful, in spite of the hardships and plans gone by the wayside.

"You, my beautiful friend, have come so far. Don't you see how much closer you've come to me because your plans went awry? It pains me to see you suffer, but it edifies me when you ask me for help. You are weary, I can tell, but in this, your selfishness and your pride are being replaced by beauty and love.

"Your marriage is the cross I ask you to take up. You must carry it for one another and with one another. You must look and see how it sanctifies you and makes you holy. And your children, they are your crown. They make you stretch yourselves beyond what you ever imagined, but they make you reach for greatness."

With tears in my eyes I nodded.

You see, I had forgotten that my life is not mine. I had gotten caught up in the lie that says I deserve all the pleasure and ease and comfort that I could possibly obtain. I had forgotten that the purpose of our marriage was to bear fruit, not simply to consume and obtain and take pleasure and seek happiness. I forgot that in the sacrament of matrimony, I not only bound myself to Joseph but that we bound ourselves also to God.

"I'm sorry," I whispered, "I doubted you. I didn't trust you."

Then, with one last look at His face - His face that seemed to understand so much of what I was feeling - I woke up.

This dream I had is a work of fiction, though I really wish that Jesus would talk to this plainly, and let me rant to his face about all of my cares. I wish He would tell me it will be alright, especially when it comes to NFP.  This Good Friday, Joseph and I were encouraged to take this struggle to the cross.

Our reality is that we are a fertile couple, which is such an extraordinary gift, considering that many of our friends have not been so blessed. We see it as a gift, but sometimes when we are considering each month whether we could have another child and let my fertile time slowly pass by, it is truly a cross.

We know some couples who have not practiced NFP at all.  It seems like it works for them, and I suppose I simply fear I can't handle it physically, mentally or emotionally. In truth, practicing NFP, and realizing our power as woman and man to create new lives has made me more open to the possibility of a fifth, sixth, seventh (and beyond) child. It has allowed me to realize that my ways are not God's ways, and that if I allow Him to work in that part of my life and give Him the gift of a new soul, I am doing the most amazing thing I could ever do. I can't think of something more amazing than giving someone life, can you?

As we brought our four children to venerate the cross yesterday on Good Friday, we walked slowly to the front of the church.  I looked at my four sons, and marveled at their uniqueness. One of them simply laid on the floor, tired from the long time he had been sitting restlessly, and I picked him up.
In these troubled times, whenever I pick up one of my children, I think about how far I might be able to run with them, to save them from whatever harm may come to them.

Yesterday I thought about that, but when we got to the foot of the cross - a crucifix laid on a table for us to touch or kiss or simply revere - I thought only one word: "Life." I also saw how much happiness we have in our marriage, in giving our lives to each other.

We can give life in an abundance of ways. We have the power to help and heal and speak to the hurt of the world. I feel helpless with the weight of our world's troubles to protect my children and carry them away from the dangers that await. I often feel so unimportant in my journey as a mother - but this encounter with the cross reminded me of the life-giving role I have in His creation.  So yesterday, I walked away from the cross full of God's promise to give me life as I lay mine at His feet.

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