My second year of boarding school, I was deeply depressed. I cried many times a day. Life seemed to difficult to bear. I was harming myself. Yet my journal entries always read, "I'm so happy, because happiness is doing the will of God, so even if I don't always feel it, I'm happy because I'm in Your will."
That's how I feel reading this week's spate of blog posts in which people admit how hard it is to practice the Church's moral teaching. None of this is any news to me -- not only have I lived it, but I hang around in the secret parts of the internet where we've been admitting it for years. It's HARD. And not lifting-weights hard, but single-handedly-hosting-Thanksgiving-with-walking-pneumonia hard. The kind of hard that doesn't make you stronger, but wears you out.
Some people find NFP difficult because their marriage is struggling, their spouse isn't really on board, he's turning to porn because he isn't willing to abstain as much as the method requires. Some people find it hard because they can't figure out what their body is doing -- I know people who abstain for months in a row because their body isn't doing what the method said it should. Some people find it hard because their method is impossible for them -- like the way my kids steal my thermometer from under my pillow or crawl in bed with me at three a.m. so that by the time I get up in the morning, I'm an oven. Some people find it hard because they're poor, and it's pretty miserable to realize that you can't afford to be intimate with your spouse because it would mean having to buy a van instead of repairing the hazards in your house.
Whatever the reason, it's just seriously rough. NFP fails a lot, not because the methods don't work, but because people have trouble following the methods. So you see a lot of people in poverty with six kids who have to constantly deal with being told they're irresponsible, when in reality they were trying to be responsible, the only way the Church allows. Or a woman whose uterus has severe damage from multiple c-sections, being chastised by her doctor because she's risking her life -- she knows that! There's getting pregnant with one baby before the post-partum depression has worn off from the last one. There's spending a whole pregnancy in tears because you don't know how you'll manage -- I've experienced that one.
And it's not just personal suffering, which you can sometimes brush off -- it's the knowledge that you're failing your kids. Seeing their needs -- healthy food, medical care, speech therapy, more time with you, more time with dad, a place to sleep -- and knowing that you can't actually take care of them all. You don't want to brush these things off because you want to care. It's your job to care. But you can't fix it.
My forums always re-run the same questions, over and over. There's "How can I get the baby to sleep when I have a noisy toddler?" (I wish I knew.) And, "One of my kids is acting out, I know more attention would help, but I don't have that. What ELSE can I try?" And, "I'm due with a new baby soon but the old baby is still not sleeping through the night." And, "I'm exhausted literally all the time, is there a cure for this besides getting more sleep at night?" And, "I'm pregnant sooner than I hoped, how can I joyfully accept this?"
The answer is, it's hard. It's dang hard and it's okay for you to admit that it's hard but it's not ever okay for you to give up, because even though God loves you, he isn't going to save you from this.
I'm glad they seem to have quit with the over-advertising, where we were promised miraculous draughts of fishes every time we got pregnant; children who blossomed with every new baby added to the family; marriages that grew closer; feelings of faith and serenity. That was too much to expect, and it was unfair to promise it, knowing that it's only after we've had the babies that we find out they aren't really born with a loaf of bread in their hands. We were told people always managed before birth control, but in reality it was probably extremely hard for them too. That's why birth control was such a hit in the first place!
I just wonder, with all of that, what people are to think about being Catholic. "Join us! You'll cry a lot, but through your tears you'll have a sense of meaning, and that will make it all worthwhile!" Or they could try, "Be Catholic! God makes a lot of rules for us to follow that sometimes result in misery for some undisclosed percentage of people!"
I know, I know. Heaven. If you really, firmly, fervently believe in heaven, you're going to stick with the rules no matter what. But for me it only makes me ask the question, why would God make this rule in the first place? Is it utterly beyond his power to make things a little less hellish here on earth?
I don't have a nice conclusion for this. This teaching wasn't exactly on the list of reasons for my doubt -- I don't want to use birth control. But it is the reason many Catholics leave, and it makes sense. Not, "I'm leaving because I want permission to use birth control." But, "I'm leaving because I feel very strongly that God doesn't, couldn't, command this much suffering." And it seems as good a rationale as any.
But I would say to these brave, honest bloggers that maybe they should come up with some sort of argument against this, if they want to keep it up. Because as it is, the comments section is full of, "But then what SHOULD we do?!" And there is no real answer to this. The answer "pretend you're happy with it, because it's the best you're going to get" was actually kind of logical. Just like I did in boarding school, sometimes it hurts less to cry than it does to admit you're unhappy.