Even now, as I sit here convalescing in the family room, I can hear faint wailing coming from the back corner of the house as the boys resign themselves to the cyclical horror of pajamas and comfort objects in their black-out shade darkened bedroom. Evie is also starting to whimper, because 45 solid minutes of nursing wasn't sufficient to quench her raging bedtime thirst.
With no small amount of effort and resentment I heave my weary body off the couch and pad towards the kids' rooms. I hate this part of the day, and yet I am so very aware of how fleeting these frantic years of littleness really are.
It's also moments like these when I most closely empathize with our contraceptive culture. Because dammit, this is hard.
If that were the end game, keeping life relatively uncomplicated versus taking up one's cross and following…well then sign my doctor's name on the dotted Rx. I can completely understand why a couple would choose to limit the madness, to shut the door on the possibility of further complications, and to issue an indefinite 'no trespassing' mandate to the God of the universe, posted in plain sight on their bedroom door.
But that's not the endgame, is it?
Our mortal toil here on earth is exactly that: work. A lot of it. No matter the circumstances or situation of one's life, nobody gets out without putting in some hard time. And children are a lot of work. In fact, they're kind of the perfect means by which those of us called to the married life can work out our salvation with fear and potty training.
But they're more than just work, however ardently popular culture - and tired mommy bloggers like me - might try to convince you otherwise. They're also immortal souls. Little images of the Word made flesh, Who dwelt among us. And they deserve to be seen as more than accessories or add-ons to an otherwise 'perfect' and ordered life.
Children are not something you 'do' in marriage once you've bought the house, landed the job, and signed the second lease agreement for the fancy SUV. They're actually the point of marriage, the other half of the twofold equation for 'the good of the spouses and the procreation of offspring.'
Surprised? Anyone in this culture would be. After all, how many times have we heard otherwise, been instructed otherwise, even heard preaching that insisted otherwise?
Children, our culture would have us believe, are optional upgrades at best, and life-ending impediments to happiness at worst. This is the fruit of contraception, and its evil twin sister, abortion. Children have become, in our minds, the enemy. The enemy of happiness. The enemy of productivity. The enemy of comfort, wealth, and leisure. And in making them so, we have aligned ourselves against God Himself.
"Whoever shall receive one of these children in my name, receives me: and whoever shall receive me, receives not me, but him that sent me."
We can easily forget, in all our planning and charting and discerning, that we're not ultimately in control. Even when science purports to tell us otherwise. Even when our hearts desperately wish we could be. Life, despite our best efforts to manipulate, frustrate, create, contort, and confine, is not entirely under our jurisdiction. To believe and to act otherwise is to live a lie, to mistake a charade for reality.
Contraception has become one of the greatest charades in all of human history. It offers us the ultimate illusion of control: control of life itself.
Honestly, the Church doesn't condemn the practice of contraception because she wants more butts in the seats. She isn't trying to corner the market on future human beings, and she certainly isn't attempting to chain women to the cookstove with dozens of children, keeping her happily at home and tucked away from the public square. Couldn't be further from the truth.
She condemns the practice of contraception because of what it does to the person, to the marriage, to the potential children in question. It's all for love, and whether or not modern man can wrap his skeptical mind around this, it's the truth.
In his new pastoral letter, released today, Bishop Conley of Lincoln, Nebraska tells us the following:
"God... created marriage to be unifying and procreative. To join husband and wife inseparably in the mission of love, and to bring forth from that love something new. Contraception robs the freedom for those possibilities."
Isn't that wild? It's the very opposite of what we've been sold by media and marketing and hollywood and…insert blame here. In many cases, it's the opposite of what we've heard at church.
Contraception doesn't make us responsible adults; it renders us sterile adolescents, unable to grow in our faith or in our relationships.
Bishop Conley goes on to quote soon-to-be-saint John Paul II:
In 1995, Blessed John Paul II wrote that our culture suffers from a “hedonistic mentality unwilling to accept responsibility in matters of sexuality, and… a self-centered concept of freedom, which regards procreation as an obstacle to personal fulfillment." Generous, life-giving spousal love is the antitode to hedonism and immaturity: parents gladly give up frivolous pursuits and selfishness for the intensely more meaningful work of loving and educating their children.
What the what? An obstacle to personal fulfillment? Hell, I feel like that every morning at 6:45. My children are deeply, endlessly opposed to my deepest means of personal fulfillment: sleep.
So you see, even my pew-warming butt needs to hear a message like this. Over and over again. And to re-read Humanae Vitae with a discerning heart and open eyes.
Children are not some kind of marital accessory, a means of 'leveling up' to the next developmental stage of a romantic relationship. They're something new entirely. And at the end of the day, God forgive me for forgetting this over and over again. I am the foremost of sinners in the arena of marital love and charity. It's part of why I'm so deeply, painfully grateful for a Church who helps rehabilitate me daily. Hourly, some nights.
But perfect love casts out all fear.
Fear of failure. Fear of bodily destruction (hellooooo stretch marks and extra 30 lbs). Fear of ridicule by a culture utterly opposed to what we are doing with our lives. Fear of loss, even…because the more you have to love, the more you have to lose.
Perfect love. It's the antidote to fear. And the antidote to a culture so utterly self absorbed that the very notion of delaying gratification or suffering for love of another is regarded as pathological.
Fear is at the root of our enormous distrust of life and our hopeless misunderstanding of love. We are a culture rich beyond belief, unprecedented in all of human history…and yet we live like anxious paupers, scrabbling around in the dirt for our daily bread when the One Who created us wants to lay a banquet of unfathomable riches.
I am the foremost of sinners. The most anxious pauper, scrabbling around for a scrap of security or worldly regard, worrying constantly about how things look or feel. Thank you, God, for illuminating my darkened intellect with the Truth of Your good plan for human life, for human love. Though I rail against it internally almost daily, my stubborn will consenting over and over again not my will, but yours, be done.
And that's why we never say never. We never declare, with any certainty or advanced knowledge that we're 'done.' Because who knows? We might overcome our deep-seated natural tendency toward selfishness again at some point in the future. And because we're not intentionally frustrating the procreative power of our married love, there might very well be a name to go along with that momentary lapse in selfishness, 9 months down the road.
Let's never be done living God's plan for our lives. Not until the final curtain call.
(Read Bishop Conley's entire letter here. It's beyond good.)