As a practitioner I have been asked many times, "is this a good reason to avoid?"
And for a long time I did not know if I could really give a great answer. I know for myself it took me discerning and praying with my husband to make our decision to avoid, but that process may not be as clear cut for everyone. Fo awhile my simple answer was "that is between you (the couple) and God". Honestly I did not feel this was a good enough answer nor was I qualified enough to answer it. I wanted to help the couples I work with understand how using the method to avoid was more than just not having sex on days of fertility and how it was an opportunity to grow in their faith.
For the past couple years I have done my part to find the best answer for couples who are considering avoiding pregnancy. I know I could always site Humanae Vitae,
"With regard to physical, economic, psychological and social conditions, responsible parenthood is exercised by those who prudently and generously decide to have more children, and by those who, for serious reasons and with due respect to moral precepts, decide not to have additional children for either a certain or an indefinite period of time."
While this very important encyclical written by Pope Paul VI has many good points on avoiding pregnancy I wanted to be able to find a more "user friendly" version if you catch my drift. And I have to be honest it was not until very recently was I able to find an explanation that I love!
While scrolling through Instagram another practitioner sent me a DM with a link to someones page I had never seen before. What she sent me changed my answer to this very common question in a truly profound way.
Catholic author, wife, and mother Emily Stimpson Chapman wrote a whole post on this very topic. She did such an amazing job that I would love to share it with you...why fix a wheel if it ain't broke?
First she talks about how the Catholic Church does not have a list or rule book on what constitutes "reasons to avoid". Now some of you may be thinking, "why not, wouldn't it be so much easier?" And at first you may think it would be, but Emily puts it this way,
"The Church gives us adjectives. She (the Church) says that the reasons for abstaining from marital intimacy in order to avoid conceiving have to be 'just,''serious,' and 'well-grounded,' and 'acceptable' (cited from Humanae Vitae).
She then goes onto to discuss the categories in which my fit the reasons to avoid. Such as medical, physical, economic, psychological, and social conditions. And that is it...no but really those are the "parameters" the Church gives us when it comes to avoiding. Now maybe you're saying to yourself, "wait a minute, what am I supposed to do?". Are you confused? Are you super unclear about what to do? Don't worry I was too. But Emily goes on to clarify this in her own words.
"Different struggles impact different people differently in different seasons. And because God calls couples to different paths and gives different graces in different situations. No two couples circumstances, capabilities, or calling will be exactly the same."
The Church knows human nature. In a healthy marriage the couple naturally wants to be together. This is especially true when the wife is seeing all that good fertile mucus, did someone say ovulating? If the reasons they have chosen to avoid aren't truly "just" or "serious", then that idea they had about avoiding generally gets totally chucked out the window. Emily Stimpson Chapman goes onto to talk about how when using NFP you tend to be in a self-correcting way of life. NFP quickly weeds out selfish and unserious motives and preventing the vast majority of couples who use it from abusing it.
She puts it in such a clear way, that not only do I feel I have a better answer for my clients and I also feel more confident in mine and my husbands discernment to avoid pregnancy at this time. This answer still means couples need to really consider every situation before they make the decision to avoid, but at least you have a clear idea on how to go about it. And yes, maybe it would still be easier if God or the Church gave us a rule book, but it's not meant to be that way.
We have talked about how using a natural method is not always lollipops and rainbows. This is meant to challenge the couple in ways maybe they never thought they'd have to be challenged. God wants us to grow into a mature spirituality. A spirituality where we can identify our strengths and weaknesses. Practicing NFP helps us grow in openness to life and in the virtue of prudence. Finally, it really helps us grow in trust. Trust that God wants what is best for us and he is listening to the desires of our hearts or he is truly seeing the struggles we may be facing.
The next time I have a client couple ask me about avoiding and if their reason is a "good one", I may in fact send them to Emily's Instagram page I am so grateful for her explanation of such a sticky situation some couples find themselves in. This opens the couple up to have an honest conversation about their life situation and where they are at emotionally when it comes to adding more children to their family. Thank you Emily Stimpson Chapman for answering this question for me and many others. Your commitment to helping others grow in their faith is helping me be a better practitioner.