Thursday, November 5, 2015

Good honesty, bad marketing

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.


Enbrethiliel said...


Believe it or not, the penultimate person I discussed this with was LTG, who thinks NFP is a hilarious sham and is more of an ecological breastfeeding guy himself. Oh, does that sound too weird? LOL I mean, of course, that his wife is more of an ecological breastfeeding gal.

Then the last person I discussed it with said that there are times when you do follow every last ecological breastfeeding commandment like a fundamentalist, and you get pregnant anyway.

I think that if I were in a maxed-out mother's place, I'd be desperate enough to be using astrology again to prevent birth.

Sheila said...

Ecological breastfeeding has more-or-less worked for me in the past. This time around, not so much, or at least I can't TELL whether or not I could get pregnant so it seems the safe assumption is that I could.

And then there's my friend who assumed it would work for her and has three under three. I'm exhausted even thinking about it.

Old historical documents have lots of recipes for contraceptives, from sticking a dead weasel in your bedroom (whaaaat?) to actual poisons. Those people were really desperate, and I kind of understand why now. Though it was worse for them, because most cultures of the past did not recognize that a woman had the right to refuse her husband for any reason whatever. (And there's people today who believe the same thing, sigh.)

The Sojourner said...

And now I'm crying at my keyboard. Thanks a lot. :p

"Even though God loves you, he isn't going to save you from this."

And that exactly right there is why I'm hanging out in the liminal space between believing and not, two years into motherhood and hardcore NFP use and all the other hells I've had to live through. Because NONE of this was because I didn't trust enough, or didn't ask for help, or any of the other implied flip sides of all the promises people make about not being given more than you can handle. And I *don't* know if I want heaven enough--what's the point of heaven if it means spending eternity with a Savior who can't be bothered to save me?

I dunno. I need to go to bed now. But thanks for this post.

Sheila said...

I hope it helped more than hurt.

It has been very comforting to feel less alone, though. A year ago, all I could find was people being "supernatural" and "joyful" and humblebragging about how awful their lives were BUT they were totally happy all the time! And now it's more -- gosh, why DO we have to go through all this? We were told we were missing out on the misery of the world, but in reality we're watching non-Catholics cheerily raise their kids without any noticeable problems, while we ourselves feel like we're spiraling around the drain. And I wish I could still believe that there was some reason or benefit to this rule, but obviously I don't anymore. And yet in a way I do find it easier, because I don't have the pressure to believe this is the best way anymore. I just have to do it, for practical reasons I myself have decided on, and when I see other people crash and burn I don't have to convince myself it's God's plan. I'm allowed to admit it's straight-up terrible.

Anyway. I hope things get easier for you.

Belfry Bat said...

So, obviously, I'm totally unqualified vis-a-vis all the practical details of the foregoing; but... How Old is the NFP idea? Maybe forty years? I do realize that it has been sold as upholding or based on "Catholic principles", but... that don't make it catholic, or necessarily a good plan.

(I'm also under the impression that there's plenty plenty husband and wife can do to comfort echother and confirm affection that isn't remotely in the generative department... is that foolishly optimistic of me?)

Sheila said...

No-NFP, or "just have babies," has been our usual "method" up to now and it has most of the disadvantages of the other .... I mean, before NFP was invented there was no magical other solution to poverty, maternal health issues, infant mortality, and so forth. Babies and mothers just died a lot. Not really super eager to go back to the "good old days."

As to your last paragraph -- yes and no. A lot of couples find they can't get very close without being frustrated and usually giving in to something sinful, so "avoiding the near occasion of sin" amounts to avoiding your spouse. Which is awful. I mean, sex does have bonding properties, that's why it's so problematic outside of marriage and that's why it's so important within it.

This is especially painful because I've heard a couple of stories of couples splitting up or one of them committing an adultery with NFP being a factor. And though of course people have the full responsibility for their own choices, it doesn't look like following church teaching made it any easier for them to be virtuous in other respects.

Belfry Bat said...

Well, I surely hope nothing I say ever sounds like proposing a return to "the old days", good or bad. Unless, of course, something unmitigatedly bad becomes commonplace which was non-existent before...

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