Gazing into my fourth cup of tea that morning, I felt like I was searching in vain for past dreams of marital bliss. With Cheerios crunching underfoot and dirty dishes in the sink, I thought back to our wedding day five years earlier, where we had vowed love to each other and had promised to accept the children God would send.
Now he was sending them, and I was coming unglued. As one toddler gummed those Cheerios under my feet, a newborn wailed upstairs and another child was bellowing somewhere where he had gotten stuck. The fourth of my pre-schoolers was creatively utilizing the carpet outside the bathroom while shrieking for the potty that she could plainly see inside the bathroom.
I prayed: “Lord, here we are with four children in five years. Do you want me to be overwhelmed or so overtired that I am almost ready to quit? Lord, I know you want me to be open to life, but I need some inspiration to help me here.”
God had ignored my dream to become the poster child for natural family planning, and he had sent us children anyway. At the end of my rope, I learned from a spiritual friend about one of the best-kept secrets of Catholic spirituality: the concrete use of the graces specifically associated with the sacrament of matrimony. My friend Bev taught me that, whenever a couple experiences difficulty in marriage, sacramental graces can be accessed for application to their family.
And if the couple is at odds about something, even something so basic as openness to life, one spouse can pray with Christ to give the necessary graces to the other.
To be sure, there may at times be a just cause for a couple to plan to avoid conception temporarily. But human nature is quick to find excuses, so it is best to decide about family planning with the assistance of a competent spiritual adviser. The Legionaries of Christ provide excellent spiritual direction for such decisions.
Lack of openness to life can be the cause of great disharmony in the home, leading even to separation, extramarital affairs, disrespect among the children or confusion of gender roles in spouses or children. Many modern-day problems can be traced to this root cause.
In our fifth year of marriage, my husband and I, in a search for guidance that had not been given in our pre-marriage preparation, turned to Church documents and biblical verses. Pope Paul VI's 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae (On Human Life) and the Vatican II document Gaudium et Spes (Church in the Modern World) were especially inspiring. I read Psalms 127 and 128 daily to counteract the anti-life mentality I now found within and around me.
However, nowhere in those readings was there any practical help with the day-to-day struggles associated with raising children. But one day, another godsend arrived on my doorstep, accompanied by her four preschoolers. My friend Billie, then mother of 8, now mother of 15, spoke to me that day with words that transformed my life and the lives of other women with whom I have shared them.
Billie told me: “Each month that a couple is open to life, they offer God a unique palette from which to paint a child that he will never again be able to create. Never. If God so desires, he can make a special and irreplaceable individual during that particular month. Being open one month is not the same as having been open the previous month. That was a different child. And being open next month is a different child again. Once such an opportunity is lost it is lost forever. Please stay open to life! It's an adventure!”
From the moment I heard those words, I felt I had been introduced to a vast cosmic plan. I now knew that God wanted to cooperate with my husband and me, and with other couples, in a unique way. To be sure, I still would have soggy Cheerio days, but now with statues of the Blessed Mother and St. Joseph in my laundry room, I could do an extra load of laundry on rough days. I could pray or cry or complain he had the wrong woman for the job, but still, I could go on.
Greatest Gift to God
The greatest gift a couple can give to each other and to the Kingdom of God on earth is openness to life. Then we are allowing God free rein — free reign — here on earth to build what he wills.
Imagine if the mother of Jan Tyranowski, the first spiritual director of Pope John Paul II, had not been open to life in a certain month? Jan was the one who, under the very noses of the Nazis, invited the young Karol Wojtyla and others to his apartment to participate in a secret organization based on the living rosary. Jan also introduced the future Pope to St. John of the Cross. Without Jan, Wojtyla might have succumbed to discouragement under the onslaught of Nazism and communism in his country. Instead, thanks to a mystical layman who had just the God-given talents for the job, we now have a Pope who leads us to God.
Or what if your parents had not been open to life the month you were conceived? Or if your spouse's parents had not been open in that particular month?
Or what if the Blessed Virgin Mary had not said her “Yes”? All of creation pauses and waits for our “Yes” just as the angels and saints waited for Mary's “Fiat.” God never forces himself on anyone. How can we refuse such a kind and gracious God?
Sue Mullan writes from Elkton, Maryland.