When NFP shifts perspective



Laura McKenzie

When the topic turns to natural family planning, which is the Church’s teachings on marriage and sexuality, it’s not uncommon to hear (and feel) the sighs and eye rolls around the room. After presenting to local high school students and engaged/married couples in our diocese, there are a variety of responses to this ever-ancient, ever-new teaching of the Church.

“This isn’t your Great Grandma’s rhythm method that we’ll be presenting today. NFP is highly effective (in postponing and achieving pregnancy) where that method was not.” Most haven’t heard of the rhythm method and, to put it mildly, are extremely skeptical about the effectiveness of the current scientific methods. If NFP is so effective and reliable, why do many couples practicing NFP have noticeably, uncommonly large families (according to society’s standards)?

Mike and Ashley Niehaus, parishioners of St. John the Baptist Parish in Newburgh, describe this paradox, illustrating how NFP changes couple's hearts, slowly. They said, “The phrase, ‘When you make plans, God laughs’ quite clearly represents our early relationship in regards to NFP and spacing pregnancies. After three years of marriage, with baby No. 3 on the way, we began to realize we might not be in control as much as we wanted to be. After much soul searching and studying Theology of the Body, we recommitted to being open to God’s plan for our family size and marriage. When we were dating and newly married, our ideal family revolved around what we wanted. It took several years and a surprise or two to realize our ideal family size was the family God had planned for us at that stage of life.”

Matt and Mandy Keener, parishioners of St. John the Evangelist in Daylight, describe their evolution of the “ideal” domestic church, They said, “Before we married, we had more of a preconceived idea of family size. After starting our family, we have felt there is no ideal family size. Each family is a unique, beautiful creation when it surrenders to openness to God’s will. Practicing NFP has changed our perspective by teaching us that, if openness to life means having a large family, that’s OK. This has had its challenges along the way as anything that is counter cultural. But is it worth it? Yes!”

NFP, like any endeavor that calls us to follow His will rather than our own, requires couples to sacrifice, struggle and die to self when giving their fiat; yet, silver linings await too. The Keeners, parents of five boys, know this well. They said, “Having a large family looks crazy and messy, but that is also part of what makes it great! When adding another member to the family, the love does not get divided – it multiplies! The boys have learned how to be a helper/be a friend with siblings of multiple ages. They always have someone to play with, and there is always a lot going on. Most of all, it has helped us develop a healthy outlook on what matters most.”

The Niehaus’, parents to 12, are accustomed to the challenges and unexpected rewards. They said, “We have to work as a team, or the family won’t function well. Also, seeing our older kids love on our little kids is a blessing we never could have imagined. Seeing your toddler run to his big brother squealing with excitement, or learning funny phrases taught by his big sister melts our hearts. When there are 12 children plus your spouse counting on you there is little time for selfishness.”

In that purest form of love, our perspective is given permission to stretch and mature.

“We have always seen children as a blessing and were willing to accept them lovingly...Now, as we are nearing the end of our childbearing years, we look forward to what God has in store for our family. There are no regrets, no what ifs.” The Niehaus’ attest, “each one is a special gift that we feel so blessed to have in our family. It's not about having the right number, it’s more important that we are staying open and listening to God’s will for us as a couple and family.”

Laura McKenzie and her husband Brendan are members of Holy Redeemer Parish in Evansville. They love collaborating with the Holy Family Center for Life and are expecting their 7th child in the spring.