I think it started in earnest when I was expecting our third child. Questions like, “So is this it?”, “How many do you plan to have?”, and “Are you done after this one?” almost always seemed to follow close behind the initial congratulatory remarks once family, friends, and even complete strangers learned of my pregnancy. When I first heard these questions, I often fumbled for words. The curiosity of others seemed so far removed from my husband’s and my way of thinking.
When I was once asked how many children we plan to have, I simply and honestly responded, “I don’t know.” The person who asked me the question appeared shocked and exclaimed, “You mean you haven’t talked about it?!?” I nearly laughed out loud. If there’s one thing faithful Natural Family Planning practicing couples do, it’s talk! We revisit the question of whether or not we are being called to conceive another child at least once a month. The subject has already come up between my husband and me as we enter the last few days of my pregnancy with our fifth child. The truth is, we still don’t know for sure how many children we will ultimately have–and it is the very essence of that uncertainty that blesses our marriage and spiritual lives with riches beyond compare.
Our humanity can never fully comprehend the plans God has laid out for us as we make our earthly journey to heaven. He, along with the Church, is our compass, our map, and our guide. For this reason, we are called to seek God’s will in all that we do. We are incapable of choosing the correct road to follow all on our own. Our judgment is too often clouded with sin, internal spiritual warfare, and self doubt. But if we surrender our will to that of our heavenly Father, He will protect our souls from being corrupted by the lies and deception of the evil one.
This way of life, of course, carries with it a degree of uncertainty. But earthly uncertainty has the potential to evolve into divine surrender, and our great gift of fertility cannot be excluded from this. Choosing to ignore the devil’s attacks on this most sacred and holy part of our marriage is not always easy. Seeking God’s will does not come without trial and tribulation. A heart open to God is especially vulnerable to the stealthy ways of the devil.
“…if you come forward to serve the Lord, prepare yourself for temptation. Set your heart right and be steadfast, and do not be hasty in time of calamity. Cleave to him and do not depart, that you may be honored at the end of your life. Accept whatever is brought upon you, and in changes that humble you be patient. For gold is tested in the fire, and acceptable men in the furnace of humiliation. Trust in him, and he will help you; make your ways straight, and hope in him…Consider the ancient generations and see: who ever trusted in the Lord and was put to shame? …For the Lord is compassionate and merciful.” Sirach 2: 1-6, 10, 11
How quickly our plan to serve the Lord becomes an issue of trust. Do we trust that if we seek God’s will alone that He will give us the strength and self mastery we need to faithfully practice Natural Family Planning in the midst of a serious medical condition? Do we trust that God will answer our prayers for a conversion of heart in a spouse resistant to adhering to the precepts of the Church? Do we trust that God will provide us with the means to faithfully raise another child? Accepting our fertility as a gift affects so many facets of our lives and of our faith. We find ourselves continually assessing how God wants us to embrace this gift at any particular point in our lives. Are we being called to bring another life into the world, or do we have a just reason to postpone pregnancy? It is only through the discipline of prayer and proper conscience formation that we will be able to discern God’s will. We can be certain that God will never ask us to do something that is in direct conflict with the teachings of His Church. We can also be certain that God will never ask us to do something that will not ultimately lead us to a great sense of joy and peace in our lives. So we must pray, educate ourselves in the faith, and communicate with our spouse what God is saying to us in the depths of our hearts.
“Such discipline bestows upon family life fruits of serenity and peace, and facilitates the solution of other problems; it favors attention to one’s partner, helps the spouses to drive out selfishness, the enemy of true love; and deepens their sense of responsibility. By its means, parents acquire the capacity of having a deeper and more efficacious influence in the education of their offspring; little children and youths grow up with a just appraisal of human values, and in the serene and harmonious development of their spiritual and sensitive faculties.” Humanae Vitae 21
This responsible acceptance of our gift of fertility is a key factor in our children’s “just appraisal of human values.” They observe us viewing the gift of new life through the eyes of God. They see the love of our marriage emulating the blessed Trinity as the love of two begets physical and spiritual fruits. They see that accepting the responsibility of conceiving a new life is neither a decision to be taken lightly, nor one to be forever cut off from the grace of God. A mere five times for them to observe all of these truths through the tangible miracle of a tiny baby suddenly doesn’t seem like enough! Our children live in a world where they are bombarded by the snares of the devil. His subliminal messages often appear more glamorous and appealing than God’s truths of what will truly make us happy. Our children need to see us surrendering our bodies and souls to God with complete trust. This will nurture their sense of trust and discernment, which will in turn fill us with a sense of peace as we learn to give our children back to God.
Is this not where Catholic Attachment Parenting begins? With our attachment to God and His will–only then can we discern properly what He desires for us and our children.
So are we done yet? I don’t know if God will bless us with any more children, but I do know we are not done trusting in Him. I know we are not done seeking His will. And I know we are not done reaping the graces that He will continue to shower upon His faithful followers until we are one with Him in heaven.