Since the good Lord has seen fit to grant unto me some serious reasons for postponing pregnancy right now (oh, that's a whole 'nother discussion), I've been discovering the realities of prolonged periods of abstinence and what they mean for our particular marriage. The old NFP courses I took long ago (nine years!) warned, "Couples may need to abstain from the conjugal embrace for up to two weeks in order to guarantee avoidance of pregnancy."
Try three or four weeks. This is sacrificial.
And that's three or four weeks of feeling deep sadness (we would love more children--they're so different and irreplaceable); guilt ("Are you having any more?" "Look at the Martins! They have seven! What a good, Catholic family!"); and frustration. We sometimes feel fruitless, when our deepest convictions tell us that marriage is intended by God to be fruitful.
But I do not believe that, simply because pregnancy is not currently an option (again, a whole 'nother subject, so just trust me on this one), we have to cease being fertile or sexual or, in the combination of the two, fruitful.
The question is, just... how?
What new ways of bearing new life are there for us? What does this time of abstinence mean for us? How will it build up our life together? Because, you know, the trendy answer is, "Sexless marriage!? You're dooommmmmmed!"
No, we are not. Fidelity means life.
I've only just started mulling this over. The first fruit of abstinence was obvious: Sacrifice! Offer it up for the world! Well, that only goes so far. Anyone who has suffered chronic pain knows that sometimes "Offer it up, and the holy souls will get to heaven" is no justification and little comfort.
Please leave comments here, because there are more women out there who have lived this vocation for much longer than I. I'm looking for opportunities and joys that come from a life of abstinence together: What are the positive ways in which abstinence affects your marriage, your children, your friends, and the Church? What could we tell young couples who are about to set out on a difficult life, sacramental marriage, to encourage them that this is a beautiful and holy life?
I think of another kind of difficult life: the religious vocation.
The most convincing argument for entering an order and taking on the vows of chastity, poverty, and obedience is surely the joy of those already living it: men and women have been very happy, have found the strength to sacrifice everything the world holds in value, and have--through their vows--been gentled and molded into the image of Christ. In spite of all the very wicked priests and religious, the fact remains that many have become very good through this way of life. The religious life, therefore, bears great fruit in spite of the fact that it is an odd way to flourish as a human being. It is not un-natural, but it is surely supra-natural.
I think the same thing might be said of a marriage that is periodically sexless for long periods of time: the only way I will ever convince myself or anyone else that this is a holy and happy life is if I myself become holy and happy through fidelity to my vows, both my marriage vows and my baptismal vows.
Check back in when I've completed my course and run my race. I have great hope that you will be convinced, by the grace of the Father. Ora pro nobis. But also, please add your encouragement:
What are the fruits and peculiar marks you have seen in marriage during the hard times?
Favorite NFP and posts: