The Sinner’s Guide To Natural Family Planning by Simcha Fisher – A Review

The Sinner's Guide to Natural Family PlanningThe Sinner’s Guide to Natural Family Planning by Simcha Fisher

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Sinners Guide to Natural Family Planning By Simcha Fisher.

This book came highly recommended, so when one more person recommended it to me, I decided that it was time to get a copy. Well actually two copies, since the deal right now is if you buy the hard copy you get the kindle version for free. That worked out really well since my wife prefers hard copy and I prefer e-copy.

I should start this review by saying my wife and I have been practicing NFP for more than 14 years, and we have been teaching it for just over 13 years. So while I was excited about reading this book, we have some experience in helping people who have questions about the why’s and the where’s and the hows of NFP. We have heard many of the complaints, promises and hype about it. We have lived a lot of the pains and joys of it as well. And in the last few years we have gotten rather tired and probably jaded by all of the sunshine and unicorns side that you see most of the time.

This book, is not one of those sunshine and rainbows, puppies and kittens. Well maybe it is because, as anyone who has ever had a puppy or a kitten will tell you, that while they are super cute and there are some great benefits to having one, they can also be a pain. Ruined floors and furniture, torn up shoes, walks in the middle of the night that and unexpected puddle that gets your socks wet right after you turn the lights off.

So on with the review. This books starts with a disclaimer. This book will not teach you NFP. It will not tell you about all the different methods, it will not even tout one version of NFP over all the others. It won’t tell you about the dangers of using artificial birth control. So if that is what you are looking for, this is not the book for you.

After the disclaimer, the first few chapters are about the realities of living with NFP. Why you might choose it, and some of the common arguments. And I enjoyed reading about them. Even though I knew it was the case already it was good to hear that other people struggle with using NFP as well. The chapters on why, biologically speaking, the struggle can be so darn hard was especially nice to see.

For a long time my wife and I called ourselves the NFP dropouts. After reading this book, the title no longer seems all that appropriate. While my wife says she already kind of knew this, believe it or not, outside of class, guys really don’t talk about these things. So it was nice to see that there are other couples out there that are just as much “dropouts” as we are.

I have only given this book three stars. And all three stars are for the first half to two thirds of this book. the last third of the book deals with, well, it deals with sex. Ok NFP is about sex. Not entirely, a good portion of what NFP is about is learning to listen to and interpret your wife’s body, in order to help prevent or to achieve a pregnancy. But that is just a start. NFP is about respect and love and intimacy that extends way beyond the bedroom.

While I suppose it was good information to get out there, and as one of the reviewers pointed out, that normally you would only find this kind of information in a very intimate conversation with a close friend, some times it would be good to keep more of that information to those close intimate conversations.

I am a prude. I will admit it. But, I am a prude who is willing to talk about just about anything in a one on one conversation. We have had couples ask us some of the questions that were handled in the last third of this book. So it is not that the subjects are “off limits” or something. The problem I had with this section of the book, was that it was no longer a close personal intimate conversation. If I had not been laying on the bed right next to my wife, I would have been really uncomfortable reading this. After all, if I were talking about this kind of stuff, I would have her there with me, so if I were reading it I would need to be sitting right next to her, even with that, I was glad she finished the book before me so that she knew what it was that I was reading. To say it made me uncomfortable would be an understatement. While I know there are those that would disagree with me, I feel that some conversations are best left to intimate situations when both the husband and wife are involved. So while I appreciate the effort Mrs. Fisher made in getting this information out, I kind of wish she hadn’t. As it stands by the time I was finished with this section of the book, I was soured on the whole thing, and really had to try hard to put my feelings aside to write anything positive about the book at all.

My last comment on this book is this. Who am I to say one person’s writing style is better or worse than another. So I want to make it clear that, that is not what I am saying. I know that Simcha has a very personal and rather informal style of writing. I do like her style for most of the things that she writes, but some things require a more formal style. I think if some of the subjects that I found uncomfortable were written with a less irreverent and a more formal style they would have been easier to deal with.

If you are struggling with NFP and feel like you are all alone out there, and if all you are hearing from the people around you is the puppies and rainbows side of it, this is likely a great book for you. If you have been using NFP for long enough that you know that it is a struggle and that there are other people out there like you, this book might be just more of what you already know. At best it will be an affirmation, at worse it will make you uncomfortable if your not reading it with your spouse.

View all my reviews

Since you know what I think about it, and you know my wife read it as well, here is her review.

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I am Torn About NFP

Our new pope, Pope Francis, has said that we need to step out of our comfort zones when it comes to our faith, that we need to challenge what we have been doing all of our lives and look at what the Catholic Church really teaches.

I have been trying to do that, but I admit it is not an easy task. He (the Pope) has been taking us to task on the poor and the oppressed, As well as challanging a lot of people’s conception on what it means to lead a Christian life.

For me this means looking at what I am doing. Looking at what I have been doing and trying, the best way that I can, to understand why it is that I am doing it. That means understanding the churches teachings behind it.

As I have shared before, my wife and I are NFP Teachers. In the last couple of years something about doing this has been niggling at the back of my mind. I do feel called to help people understand NFP. But It was not until I had a conversation with my wife that I think understood some of what has been eating at me.

The conversation was about a question that came up. What do you do / how do you approach a family who is totally open to life. This came from a teaching couple who live in a diocese where the NFP class is part of the marriage preparation. The answer my wife gave, which at first startled me but the more I thought about it the more it made sense was, “You don’t need to do anything with them.”

I understand that using NFP is a choice. Heck if you read my other post, you know that we call ourselves the NFP dropouts, because while we know it, and we teach it, we don’t usually feel called to use it.

That has kind of set me on a path of trying to figure out what it is, exactly, that the Church teaches about NFP. This morning, at my wife’s suggestion I read the following article. (Yes, my wife is very smart) Heroic Parenthood and The Sorrow of Natural Family Planning

NOTE: Below I have stolen (borrowed / Made Reference to) several parts from the article. I highly recommend that you read the whole thing, but here are some of the things that I found important and relevant to my topic today.

One of the things that I was, well surprised is not the right word maybe interested to find out, was that NFP is a dispensation.

the Venerable Pius XII in his Allocution to Midwives:

The individual and society, the people and the State, the Church itself, depend for their existence, in the order established by God, on fruitful marriages. Therefore, to embrace the matrimonial state, to use continually the faculty proper to such a state and lawful only therein, and, at the same time, to avoid its primary duty without a grave reason, would be a sin against the very nature of married life. Serious motives, such as those which not rarely arise from medical, eugenic, economic and social so-called “indications,” may exempt husband and wife from the obligatory, positive debt for a long period or even for the entire period of matrimonial life. From this it follows that the observance of the natural sterile periods may be lawful, from the moral viewpoint: and it is lawful in the conditions mentioned.

(I used wikipedia but this appears to be pulled from canon law)
A Dispensation is defined as In the canon law of the Roman Catholic Church, a dispensation is the exemption from the immediate obligation of law in certain cases.[1] Its object is to modify the hardship often arising from the rigorous application of general laws to particular cases, and its essence is to preserve the law by suspending its operation in such cases.

And this is also backed up again by Pope Paul VI, and Pope John Paul II in Humanae Vitae

What does all this mean? In plain simple language that someone like I can understand, Pope Pius XII said that sex, (the marital embrace) has a procreative aspect that cannot be divorced from the rest of it. Despite that, the church recognizes that there are times when a married couple may have serious reasons such as medical or economical to avoid a pregnancy. It is in those cases that the dispensation of NFP is permitted.

That in short means that unless you have a serious reason, you should not be using NFP. (a little side note here, and this is going to be me talking. Keeping up with the “Joneses” economically, is not a serious reason. But tif you can’t put food on the table, cloth your kids and for goodness sakes a roof over your families head that is a serious reason. You might find you are are happier if you are not keeping up with the Joneses, maybe even move out of their neighborhood and find a community of people who, like you believe that the Joneses have it all wrong in the first place.)

Alright so where to I stand:

Up until recently I would have said that I thing all married couples should learn NFP. I still don’t think that is a bad idea. I am a big believer in knowledge is power. I also believe that you can’t make informed decisions without all the information. I believe that having the information about knowing how to read a woman’s body is not a bad thing. But as my wife points out, once you know NFP and know how to read the signs, it is not like you can ignore them. (See I told you she was smart.) So the temptation would be to use them. Even if you are not actually charting or any of that, if you have really learned NFP, then you know what you are looking for and you know when you are fertile or not.

So the argument might come up that NFP can be used to achieve pregnancy as much as it can be for avoiding it. To that I say, “Yes! of corse it can.” But if you are open to life, and you trust that God take care of this, then shouldn’t it be more like, you will get pregnant when the time is right? Again there is the dispensation for couples who are having trouble conceiving.

So how do I plan to approach this in the future? I’m not sure yet. I still thing teaching NFP is very valuable. If nothing else it keeps women from being put at risk by using the really dangerous hormones in artificial birth control. But I really believe that we need to approach it differently, and to do that we need to approach family differently, and to do that we need to approach marriage differently.

One of my favorite parts about the article I read this morning was the suggested way that we approach the subject in marriage preparation. I am guilty of having approached it like this:

Catholicism does not require that you become parents of a large family — rather it wants you to be responsible parents. NFP offers you a reasonable alternative to artificial contraception: a way for you young couples to be responsible while not availing yourselves to drugs or devices that degrade your humanity. You should use these NFP techniques to grow closer, to communicate better, and prayerfully consider whether and when you should bring children into the world in a responsible manner. If that means that you need to delay — even permanently — having children, that is acceptable today with the use of NFP. And what’s more, NFP is proven to be 99% effective for avoiding pregnancy — just as effective as the pill.

I would love to think that I have the strength of faith to approach it more like this:

For you young Catholic people who are marrying in your twenties, you can expect, God willing and absent a physical impairment or grave reason, to have a home filled with many children. You should mentally, physically and spiritually prepare for seven, eight, nine or more children given your ages. You should be prepared to accept the hardships that come with having a large family for two important reasons: children please our Lord and your cooperation with the Lord in bringing forth new souls will in turn please our God, which will bring you many graces. Second, having a large family will help you be saved, it will re-focus your attention from the material attachments that are both rampant today and hazardous to your eternal destination. Your many children will help you to become better and holier people and will stand as a contradiction to a world that has forgot how live the abundant life. You, and your large faithful families, will turn the tide against the scoffers and misanthropes who would revile God’s creation and man’s place in it. We cannot promise you it will be easy because it won’t, but if you persevere in prayer and virtue, you will overcome with God’s grace. And should you live to see your children’s children, you will praise God all the more that he saw fit to give you the gift of faith.

This will not be popular. This will not be easy. But, this, I think, is where we are falling down and where we need to start, with God’s Grace, to pick ourselves back up.

Why I am an NFP teacher

Once again, the original intent of a post that has been sitting in my Drafts queue too long has been lost. Never mind that, I have another idea.

A couple of weekends ago my lovely wife and I gave a talk about NFP to a group of Pre-Cana couples. This is something new that we have started doing, and, I at least, really like it.

For those who don’t know NFP stands for Natural Family Planning.

We have been NFP teachers for about 12 years now. We are volunteers, and the organization that we work with is the Couple to Couple League International.

We call ourselves the NFP dropouts but that really isn’t true. The name stems from two things.

  1. First for most of our marriage we have not actually used most of the charting and other techniques for child spacing, or for getting pregnant, we have been very blessed and things have just worked out for us in that department. So far we have not had the desire or the need to do so. Though on some level we do use it, just most for our information.
  2. We actually only attended the first class, and then took the home study course after that. It is and was a great course, but finding a teaching couple that you can relate to is very important. Our Teaching couple was a bit like talking to our grandparents, which made it a little uncomfortable. When you are going into something that you are not sure about, that is as personal as this, being comfortable with it is very important.

We don’t teach a lot of classes. But the ones that we do teach have been for the most part really successful. I enjoy teaching the classes, and in the past few years the teaching materials have really improved, making teaching it that much better.

I do enjoy teaching these classes, but I think I enjoy getting the chance to talk to people more free form about NFP like we will do this weekend with the pre-Cana class.

This is going to sound kind of odd but even though the Pre-Cana classes are bigger than our normal NFP class the format for the talk is more intimate.  My wife and I get to intersperse our our experiences in ask part of what we are telling them.

My favorite part of this is what I call the “Guys talk.”  The class that we teach is really about learning the method, and while I do spend some time talking about how as a husband you need to support your wife and be a part of this, It is in very small chunks and I don’t really get into the meat and potatoes of it.  And that is really what guys are about, meat and potatoes, we have to hear the what and the why.

This is something that my wife and feel very strongly about. And something we would like to share with more people. For a long time I have felt called to do more of, but I was not sure how. In an effort to get the word out to more people we have decided to send a letter all the priests and deacons the the two surrounding diocese, introducing ourselves and letting them know what we can do. So below is the letter. Let me know what you think.

To: The Priests and Deacons of the Buffalo and Rochester Diocese,

My name is Jeff Hite and I represent the Couple to Couple League International chapter that cover these two diocese. I am writing to you today to help you get a better understanding of what we teach and how we might be able to help you face this often difficult and touchy subject.

Who we are:

My wife and I have been teaching with the Couple to Couple League for just about 12 years. We were actually taught Natural Family Planning by one of the the original couples to join Couple to Couple League back in the 1950’s. We live right on the boarder between the two diocese. There is one other active teaching couple in the area who live near the east side of Rochester and one couple in training who live in the middle of the Buffalo Diocese. With a number of non teaching couples spread around. As you can see we are a smallish group but we are spread out enough to serve the entire area.

What we teach:

If you are not familiar with the Couple to Couple League International and the method of NFP that they teach I would like to take a moment to give you a quick explanation. There are two parts of what we teach first, what we teach is the actual method. The method we teach is called the Sympto Thermal Method. This is not the rhythm method or the calendar method, but a scientifically based method for determining when a woman is fertile and when she is not. The method also stresses that this is totally natural, and that there is no risk to either member of the couple. Though we spend the majority of our time in class focusing on the method itself there is something else.

The second, and I think just as important thing we teach is that this method is about the whole person. This is not a biology lesson, though that is part of what we teach. We rely heavily on the Humanae Vitae and the teachings of Pope John Paul II. Through this we look at the whole person and explain the important role of the couple in making this successful. We cover how the husband and wife’s active participation can not only help to make this a success but can also help to strengthen their marriage. Respect for the entire person is probably the most important thing we stress.

Why now:

There are a number of reasons that we are approaching you now. As I said my wife and I have been teaching for about 12 years, our class sizes are almost always small, which works out well for us, but they are also few and far between, which is not so good. In the past several years we have noticed that our classes are filled more and more by Protestants that really want a method that works naturally and will help them build their marriage. We welcome the chance to teach our protestant brothers and sisters, and hope that we can continue to teach them this wonderful method, and open their eyes to the Catholic Church in the process. What is disturbing is that while we are getting more and more Protestants we are getting fewer and fewer Catholics.
In this day and age, with divorce rates climbing and marriage itself under attack, stressing the Church’s teachings on the whole person seems only appropriate. Also with the number of couples seeking out fertility treatments, learning how to read the bodies language of fertility is a highly sought after skill.

How we can help:

We understand that this can be a difficult subject to talk about. It can be hard for a priest, with all that entails, to approach an entire congregation and say, “You can’t use contraception.” I know the looks I get when I start talking about this because I am a “guy” and I am a married man with kids to boot, so I do understand. So what can we offer to help you:

  • First, we offer the classes.
  • The classes are taught in three session over the course of three months.
  • Each session lasts about 2 hours.
  • We can teach to both married and engaged couples.
  • We teach them on demand when we get interested couples.
  • The classes are about $120 that covers the books and materials.
  • Let me take a moment to say that CCLI is a non profit. All of the teaching couples are volunteers and all of the money from the classes goes into making the program better.
  • It this chapter’s policy to never turn a couple away. Scholarships are available, but I personally would rather pay for it out of my own pocket than to turn a couple away.
  • We can speak as part of your Pre-cana programs.
  • We can speak during Mass, after communion and before the final blessing is a great time.
  • We can speak at pretty much any occasion where you have a group of husbands and wives or future husbands and wives.
  • I won’t speak for the rest of the husbands but I will also gladly to talk to groups of husbands or future husbands in situations where it would be better to have a guy talking. (Things like a men’s prayer meeting or a men’s retreat.)

Our talks can range from: A brief overview of what NFP is about to a personal statement about why we use NFP and anything in the middle.

As you can see we can help in many ways. We invite you, to contact us for more information, or discuss other ways that we can be of service to you. Please feel free to contact us by phone or e-mail.

Our Phone number is: ###-###-####
Our email address is: *****.*****@*****.***

Thank you and God Bless,
Jeffrey Hite