The Sinner's Guide to Natural Family Planning

Author Simcha Fisher Gives Honesty, Encouragement and Laughs

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For all too many people today, the experience of love is like the roses they received on Valentine’s day. Here on Friday, wilted on Monday.

For author Simcha Fisher, though, love isn’t as fleeting as a weekend. 

That’s because, the author explains, «I used to think love was how you felt. Now I know it’s what you do.»

Fisher is a Catholic blogger, speaker and freelance writer. She has just written a book that is, ultimately, about love. It’s called «The Sinner’s Guide to Natural Family Planning» (Our Sunday Visitor, 2014). Through humor, Fisher confronts what it’s «really like to practice NFP,» admitting that so-called Catholic birth control isn’t easy, but is worth it.

ZENIT asked Fisher to tell us about her book.

ZENIT: As a daughter of the Church, were you hesitant to write a book on the difficulties of NFP, precisely when the HHS mandate has cast a spotlight on the Catholics who oppose Church teaching on contraception?

Fisher: It did make me nervous to be so honest about the struggles that many couples face. But NFP cheerleaders are so petrified of turning people away that they exaggerate, gloss over the truth, or occasionally flat out lie about what NFP is like — and that does even more damage, when married people first butt up against the Cross. When they realize that NFP is not, in fact, sunshine and buttercups, they end up feeling angry and cheated, or like failures, or else they think, «Well, obviously the Church just doesn’t understand what sex is really like in the real world.» So I didn’t have much to lose by giving a fuller picture. People will be resentful if they’re lied to, but they may rise to the occasion when they’re challenged and encouraged.

Since the HHS mandate, the secular world has actually shown a lot more interest in what the Church truly teaches, rather than just defaulting to the old story that the Church is some creaky, anti-science machine designed for squeezing babies out of downtrodden women. The public debate about contraception has been a golden opportunity for practicing Catholics to explain in our own words why we believe what we believe.

ZENIT: Would you place your book in the context of the new evangelization? If so, how so?

Fisher: If the new evangelization means that it’s everyone’s job to help each other come closer to God, than definitely. There are thousands of couples out there, Catholic or not, who want something better for their marriage, and who don’t want to give up on the idea of love — but they’re finding the practice harder than they expected. Theologians and biologists do their part when they talk about love and sex, but after a certain point, we need to hear from plain old married people who are willing to be honest and encouraging. This is an approachable, funny book, that works on firming up that bridge between theology and day-to-day behavior.

ZENIT: Your book repeatedly emphasizes the need to be non-judgmental, and realize that each person’s situation is going to be different than one’s own. Is there a tendency for Catholics to be too judgmental when it comes to issues of sexuality?

Fisher: Sure — and I think Americans, in particular, tend to want to just hear the rules, 1, 2, 3, and to be able to check off whether they’re following them — and then to reassure themselves by making sure their neighbors are following them, too. «No excuses out of you, mister! If I’m gonna suffer, then you’re gonna suffer too!» But God expects a lot more than rule-following from us. Once you begin to realize just how profound and complex your own marriage can be, and how often God surprises you, then you will realize that you have no business trying to figure out anyone else’s marriage. Heck, if you’re doing everything you should to improve your own marriage, you won’t have TIME to think about anyone else’s.  

We tend to want the Church — and God — to be small and manageable. It’s not. He isn’t. 

ZENIT: Do you have any perspectives on the attitudes toward NFP in other cultures, other than in the US? 

Fisher: I do know that Mother Teresa had tremendous success teaching a rudimentary form of NFP to poor women who wanted to space out their babies, and that many Third World women would welcome the opportunity to learn more about their bodies so their families could be healthier. Unfortunately, what they often get instead is the Gates Foundation and other NGOs imposing Western ideas about sexuality and family size on people who just want simple things like better prenatal care.

ZENIT: In a culture that’s gone so far astray in understanding what love is, is there any hope for NFP?

Fisher: More than ever. More and more, I’m seeing NFP (and fidelity, and the shunning of pornography) spoken of with respect. There will always be people who hate the Church and everything she teaches; but it’s becoming obvious to even secular people that the current «do what you will» model of sexual behavior is not making anyone happy, healthy, or sane.  

ZENIT: As a wife of 15 years and a mother of nine, you say the book reflects your own growth as a couple. Could you summarize that for us?

Fisher: Really quick summary? I used to think love was how you felt. Now I know it’s what you do.

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Kathleen Naab

United States

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