Sarah Reinhard is a Catholic wife, mom, writer, editor, marketing professional, and coffee drinker. You’re just as likely to find her hiding out back with a book as you are to discover her playing in the yard with a few farm animals (or wait — are those her kids?) She is the author of many books, the most recent of which she co-edited with Lisa Hendey: The Catholic Mom’s Prayer Companion: A Book of Daily Reflections. She blogs at SnoringScholar.com and writes online regularly at CatholicMom.com and Integrated Catholic Life. Reinhard holds a master’s degree in marketing and communications and has worked for many years in corporate and nonprofit organizations. She lives in central Ohio with her husband and children.
“I don’t love NFP. I don’t think that it’s a magical cure-all that every couple must embrace in order to achieve full humanity. And I wish that I didn’t have to use it at all.”
With that, Simcha Fisher dives into a topic that, before now, was relegated to textbooks or back rooms, an air of mystery and eye rolling surrounding it. We have Fisher to thank for a book that breaks open the bedroom door and pulls back the curtain on Natural Family Planning.
But don’t say I didn’t warn you about the danger of snort laughing as you read it.
The Sinner’s Guide to Natural Family Planning is a collection of Fisher’s essays on the topic of Natural Family Planning. This is not a book for tips on charting better, using your method more effectively, or feeling all touchy-feely about how much better your marriage is because of NFP. It is, however, a book for anyone who’s ever wondered why they bothered, who’s laughed at the ridiculous nature of married love, who’s cried in frustration at the level of awful their life has attained.
In less than 200 pages, Fisher does what she always does: she makes her readers nod and exclaim with hope, “It’s not just me!” The book’s divided into three parts: NFP and Your Spiritual Life, NFP and the Rest of the World, and NFP in the Trenches. Whether you’re the old battle worn NFP veterans or the newly engaged couple, there’s something for you in these chapters.
But it’s not just that. Even as you laugh (and maybe cry) your way through this book, you may find something amazing: a long-held opinion might just be budging. Fisher’s no-nonsense approach to a topic that so many writers and people tiptoe around is nothing less than refreshing. She’s honest in a way that makes me smile, but which also makes me sigh in relief.
While this book won’t teach you how to use NFP, it will crack open that “you’ll get along better” line of reasoning that so often feels a bit mythical and theoretical in practice. This is a book as much about relationships as it is about NFP.
And it’s hard not to love the laughter this book inspires. This IS a topic important enough to laugh about. Would that we would all realize that more…and see the truth that lies beneath our howling and guffawing.
“I’ll go further,” Fisher writes in Chapter 7, “if you can’t laugh about sex, at least some of the time, then you’re doing it wrong. For the standard issue, mildly neurotic, moderately messed up, original-sin-damaged, salvation-seeking, temptation-fighting, humility-seeking, minimally humorous human being, laughing about sex is the sign of good emotional and spiritual health.
“I’ll go even further,” she continues, “when we’re laughing about anything, we’re laughing about sex. My theory is that there are two things that make a joke funny: the element of surprise—of being put off balance unexpectedly—and at least a grain of sadness. And that describes sex to a T.”
When I finished this book, I immediately handed it to my parish priest. “This book needs to be in the hands of every couple who gets married in the Catholic Church, don’t you think, Father?” I asked him when he handed it back two days later.
He grunted and smiled.
Yes, priests need to read this book, too. And share it. And laugh along with those of us living the truths Fisher so effortlessly points out, explains, and debunks.
NFP boosters tend to paint a rosy picture because it’s a hard sell, persuading people to turn their sex lives over to God. And so, not wanting to scare anyone off, they emphasize the benefits while glossing over the sacrifices that often come along as a matched set.
I understand why they do this. You’re not going to convert the masses by saying, “Hey, everybody! Who’s ready for some redemptive suffering?” But so many couples launch into NFP expecting sunshine and buttercups, and they are horrified to discover, instead, the Cross. Unprepared to make any changes, they end up resenting their spouses and the Church in general—or else they feel guilty and ashamed to be struggling, like there’s something wrong with them for not lovin’ every minute of it.
I consider this one of the most important books that’s been written recently. It deals with a topic that is both critically important and critically misunderstood.
So don’t just read it, share it. Spread the word.
And while you’re at it, laugh. (You won’t be able to help yourself.)