Christ Centred Marriage
by Carrie Handy
used with permission
Hello fellow Catholic families-living-in-the-domestic-church;
On the subject of NFP, trusting God, and living out your vocation, let me throw out an idea:
When it comes to marital relations, I believe that in a Christ-centered marriage, both partners will strive to be attendant to the needs and concerns of the other. When the wife is exhausted from the demands of mothering little ones all day, for example, the husband will not push her into sexual relations. At the same time, a wife will not for selfish reasons turn away her husband at a time he reaches out to her. I'm sure you can all think of personal examples or hypothetical situations where each member of a couple has an opportunity to "give" to the other by setting the need for intimacy aside in favor of greater needs, or the other way around. You don't always just follow "natural" desire. For example, in my marriage,if we were intimate every time DH felt a natural desire, we would probably be at it more than I would like. If we were intimate only at those times I feel natural desire, then DH would probably feel deprived. So, we use our brains and our love for one another (and the grace of God) to strike a balance between the two extremes.
Are you with me so far?
I believe that in this Christ-centered marriage, the couple would each be following the promptings of the Holy Spirit and the good and natural desires we experience as sexual human beings. The ebb and flow of life circumstances and natural desire, in a framework of love and concern for one another, and responsiveness to God's call, would allow our marital intimacy to be "coreographed" by God. We would not be intimate at times when doing so might be harmful to us in some way, and we *would* welcome intimacy at other times. God would do His work with us, and send us children in His time.
Sometimes I wonder if some (not all!!!) couples who have a baby every 11 or 12 months year after year, are really allowing God's timing to take over, or if they're responding to one member's needs over another's. (This is just musing; not meant to point fingers at anyone here!)
I think it can be possible for a member of a married couple to be very selfish in his or her pursuit of sexual intimacy at times, just as it can be possible to be selfish in one's avoidance of intimacy. With NFP, I think many couples have their first introduction to putting God at the head of the marriage,to trying to meet their partner's needs, and to prayerfully considering their reasons and motivation for being intimate or avoiding intimacy. It helps them practice looking out for the other's needs, and to looking inward to the promptings of the Holy Spirit. Our natural yearnings respond to spiritual guidance because we seek God's will in all things. Some couples develop this "naturally," without the use of a method like NFP, but many of us benefit from starting with a framework like this.
It can be awkward, but if it sets us on the road to a more Christ-centered marriage, then it is a good way to begin. I think some people who learn NFP with the idea of "controlling" their fertility wind up with a completely different mindset: that of responding to their fertility as a gift from God, in a framework of love and compassion for their spouse.
Those of us who have practiced NFP in our marriages, especially when one member of the couple has been somewhat reluctant at the outset, know what a learning and growing experience this can be. I firmly believe that by allowing us to understand and use our physical cycles in this way, God has given us a gift that can lead us to better know and seek His will for us. I have said in past discussions of NFP that I believe God gives us many cues and signals that may lead us to intimacy (or to avoid it), and that if we're using a method like NFP, we ought to be very clued in to these cues and signals. After a while, knowledge of NFP is more a way to know what is happening than to necessarily "control" it.
I for one am extremely grateful for the grace and knowledge that have flowed into my marriage as a result of practicing NFP. I think it has hastened our growth into a more God-centered marriage. I would like to tell you that we started out as a prayerful, God-centered couple, but that would not be entirely true. We have had to grow into it, with the love and grace of God, and this beautiful gift of understanding our fertility through the practice of NFP.
I think it is possible that some people think abandoning NFP in favor of "totally trusting" God means constantly responding to one member's need for sexual intimacy. I would like to think that it really means that both members of a couple are able to totally commit themselves to meeting the other's needs and answering God's call in their marriage, and recognizing that sometimes God may even call us to put intimacy aside in favor of another good. When this happens, we stop "needing" to know when we are fertile or not because we totally trust God to guide us in our intimate life.
I know NFP can be misused just like anything else. I just wanted to write these thoughts to present a perspective on some of the very positive aspects of NFP.
Your Friend in Christ,