Openness to NFP?
Updated: Apr 16, 2019
By Alice Knaeble.
This past summer I worked at a Pro-Life Catholic OBGYN practice. The practice was pro-life in every sense of the word. From no abortions, to coordinating with adoption agencies, to (most controversially) being “Natural Family Planning (NFP) only.” That is, “our physicians will not provide contraception; however, they do provide support for natural family planning.” I must have said that last sentence at least a thousand times this summer. You see, while I aspire to be a Certified Nurse Midwife, I am still in the midst of my studies, and my work at the OBGYN practice was as a receptionist.
My job consisted chiefly in answering the phone and scheduling patient appointments. Whenever a new patient would call, I had a script to run through to inform them about our pro-life policies. I found the responses to our “NFP only” policy can be split into three main categories. Each “category” of NFP awareness and openness of potential patients required a different response and, perhaps one could say a different “pastoral” attitude, from me.
First, and simplest to respond to were callers, who were Catholic or non-Catholic NFP supporters. These patients had already been exposed to NFP, what it is and why one would desire to practice it. Some based their beliefs on the teachings of the Catholic Church, some favored a “natural/holistic” medical approach. These patients needed no convincing that NFP is the best option, indeed the only one. However, I believe that these persons still require support and encouragement from medical professionals. The practice of NFP will have its particular struggles, from infertility to inability to chart well because of irregular cycles, etc. These individuals may need to be encouraged through the difficulties of NFP.
I often thought of these calls in relation to Matthew 10:14, “And if anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet when you leave that house or town."
The second category were callers, who were absolutely closed to the notion of NFP. Most had never heard of NFP before, but the second I told them that our physicians wouldn’t prescribe the contraceptive they desired, they became both offended and defensive. They called our medical practice “bigoted,” “uber-christian,” “insensitive”.... These persons, on my attempt to explain NFP, usually hung-up. I felt helpless, separated as I was by miles of space and cellular sound waves. I found it frustrating and a little depressing. These persons might benefit from a multi-year relationship with someone who practices NFP, but a phone call was insufficient. I often thought of these calls in relation to Matthew 10:14, “And if anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet when you leave that house or town.” This may seem harsh, but it was the reality of what I could accomplish, before a patient would hang-up the phone.
The third category is the group that I believe was the most important for me to talk to. These callers had never heard of NFP as a viable option, but were open and willing to listen. I think that, as Christians, we can easily make the analogy between this group and agnostics who are willing to hear about Christ. Now NFP is not the Gospel, but it is a message of life that resonates deeply to those open to hear it, because it contains truth and depth of meaning. The question that I keep returning to as I reflect on my experience this summer, and the question that I pose to you is, how best to engage with this third category: “the open uninformed.” I suppose what I am really asking is what is the best “elevator pitch” for Natural Family Planning. Now many of you might say that an “elevator pitch” is insufficient for the depth and complexity of an adequate understanding of the Christian view of the body. Of course it is! But I contend that sometimes, all you have is two minutes (or 15 seconds) to catch someone’s attention, either to lead them toward or away from further inquiry. One must cross the threshold before exploring the beautiful and many-roomed castle that is NFP. This “doorway” is my chief interest.
As Christians, we must speak the truth in a variety of languages in order to “make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19)
When I think of truth I often imagine an orb radiating outward. There are many rays of truth being shed upon the world and the orb can be reached from any direction. The pathways to truth may be multivarious, but Truth is one. As Saint Augustine famously wrote: “all truth is God’s truth.” Because of this, I found the most success by approaching the topic of NFP with my prospective patients from whatever angle of truth I thought would be most accessible and appealing to them. Eventually, we will reach the fullness of the truth, but in the moment we might only be able to see one aspect of it. For example, with a patient who is not Catholic I will not begin to describe the theological implications of the marital embrace, instead I will focus on the health aspects of NFP, or how I believe it is the truly “feminist” option. As Christians, we must speak the truth in a variety of languages in order to “make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19). Through my experience this summer I was encouraged to seek truth fearlessly in all its many aspects, so that I might present it from any angle that the Lord calls me to, I embolden you to do the same.
Alice Knable is a 23 year old Catholic currently living in D.C. She has studied at Baylor University and The John Paul II Institute. She is passionate about medicine and faith and is pursuing a degree as a nurse midwife.
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