When the Gospel Becomes an Inconvenience
Those words on the pregnancy test I had taken early that evening were all I could think of as the tears streamed down my face in the shower. Previous to getting married I was determined to make sure I didn’t allow the Catholic Church’s teachings regarding birth control to get in my way of preventing having a baby too soon, so I poured myself into learning everything there was to know about Natural Family Planning (NFP), the Church’s approved method of working with God to plan your family and was determined to be successful.
My reasons for wanting to prevent a pregnancy? I had many reasons that I felt ranged from slightly selfish to the “grave” matter that the Church asks couples to discern. I was too young, I wanted to enjoy and figure out what it meant to be married before becoming a mom, but mostly, I was still in graduate school and wanted the chance to begin my professional life and make a dent in those loans before entering into the next stage of my life.
And yet here I was, three weeks after my wedding day. The self-righteous tears burned in my eyes. My response was so governed by fear that Satan used it as an opportunity to knock me over the head with something I had never before experienced: genuine hatred of Christ and his Church.
This may seem extreme, but I was so angry at the Church for what I felt was the forcing of my hand into a situation in which I wanted no part. I couldn’t sit in Mass without bursting into tears. I avoided confession because I felt shame for not acknowledging the gift I had been given. I thought of the young couples I knew who were successfully abstaining from having children early in their marriage with the use of NFP and felt like an utter failure. Jealously of their freedom and perceived control consumed me.
Being a cradle Catholic who has always been more or less “on fire,” my faith had never been so at odds with my own will. In fact previous to this, I believed the Catechism could be viewed as a roadmap for a pretty dang good life. I stood at the door of hypocrisy and would callously comment about someone who was openly choosing to live a life against church teaching because I thought it only made sense. Yeah, maybe waiting to have sex until marriage was harder than getting myself to church every Sunday, but I never once thought that either of these teachings created an undue burden on my life; the benefits always outweighed the costs. “Not like this God. I did everything I was supposed to, why didn’t I deserve to get what I want?” All of a sudden the cost of my faith was smacking me in the face, and it stung.
It is here that I feel I should acknowledge two things. The first is my situation in no way shook my confidence in the science and teaching of Natural Family Planning. The science is real and undisputedly accurate, but human error is flawed. I do believe that advocates of NFP have been so busy shouting their statistics at the secular left in an attempt to be recognized for the legitimate science it is, that they have forgotten about the brave couples actually willing to practice it. As a result, there lacks an honest conversation about how difficult the real application is, especially in marriage preparation classes. But that is not what this post is about and like all of the Church’s teachings I would encourage you to do some serious research before writing it off.
The second thing is that I am under no illusion this post may come across as incredibly insensitive to those who have experienced the hell of pregnancy loss and infertility. My story is not meant to belittle the struggles of others, in fact it is the exact opposite. It is to meant to share honestly how walking in faith is really freaking hard sometimes. And yet, Christ is in the midst of our suffering.
I lived with my anger for a few months, not wanting to share the news with anyone who was not close friends or family before I found myself sitting in Mass one night listening to Father preach on letting Jesus into our hearts. His words struck me like a sword. “Friends, we may say we love God and accept his teachings, but do we love Him enough to let Him mess up our lives? What happens when the Gospel becomes an inconvenience to us? What is our response? I promise you, if you have the courage to say Yes to Him even in these moments, he has big things waiting for you.” Cue the tears. I had an image of me gripping so tightly to the plans I had for my immediate future: the career climbing, social freedom, and financial surplus and Jesus gently unwrapping my clenched fists. His eyes said one thing, “Will you trust me to be better at fulfilling the desires of your heart? The heart I created?”
It is a reality that we live in a broken world that has chosen to define mercy as allowing someone to do whatever they want. That’s exactly how the pro-choice movement has gotten away with their antics for so long; Satan disguises the lie of abortion as a merciful choice for women who are struggling. I could have walked myself into the nearest Planned Parenthood and they would have welcomed me with open arms, assuring me I knew best when it came to the decision about when to have children.
This false sense of mercy is one of Satan’s greatest victories manifested throughout all of society. We are hit over the head with “Do More of What Makes You Happy” posters with no acknowledgement that we as humans really suck at figuring that out. You want the fancy car and the big house? More power to you. You want to leave your spouse for your attractive co-worker who has expressed interest? Well, don’t beat yourself up too bad, people’s needs change. You’ve not been to Mass in 6 months? Sleep is important too, you know. You are sexually attracted to that person? Go for it! Everywhere you look, our culture has turned into one ginormous celebration of self. And yet, Jesus is quite clear with us when he says, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the gospel will save it.” — Mark 8:34- 35.
Friends, the Gospel is risky business. Where our world seeks neutrality, the Gospel demands conflict. Its very message is meant to transform hearts, not be a collection of feel-good bedtime stories. Truthfully, we make small decisions that bring us closer to or further from Christ every day, but I firmly believe that for every one of us there will come a time when our “yes” to Christ will cost us a lot more. What we choose to do in these moments will determine much when it comes to our relationship with Christ, his Church, our lives, and potentially our salvation. That’s why the teachings of the Church are so important. Because God knew it would be a heck of a lot more helpful to have more than a “Do What Makes You Happy” poster to guide our decision making when he created our human hearts. G.K. Chesterton once said, “I don’t need a church to tell me when I’m right. I need a church to tell me when I’m wrong.” Praise God for creating a Church that doesn’t allow us to sit in our own misery believing we know best. Praise God for a Church and a Gospel that pushes back on us and elevates our dignity.
If you are waiting for the “everything is better now” end to the story, that’s not really my point. My point is that most of us (myself included) want to become Holy without putting in the work. We think we can do it on our terms. It’s that pesky human nature thing getting in the way again. But true love demands sacrifice, and if we are serious about becoming more like He who is Love, we have to become a lot more comfortable with the uncomfortable. As human beings are bound by time and space, God’s grace can’t reach us in the regrets of the past or the fears of the future. It is only our faithfulness in the present moment where he meets us with what we need to handle our situations if we are humble enough to offer it to Him. No, my surrender to cooperate with Christ’s plan didn’t mean things became instantly easier, but it did mean He showed up for me in major ways that I was finally willing to acknowledge.
…the Gospel is risky business.
God showed up for me the day I took my board exam while experiencing morning sickness and passed. He showed up again when the Doula we hired for our daughter’s birth turned out to be a devout Catholic and has since become a dear friend. He showed up when he strengthened my marriage by watching my sleep deprived husband care tenderly for my daughter and I. He showed up when the culture of life was strengthened by friends willing to come over for a night in rather than leave out these new parents from the weekend plans. And he shows up each time my daughter, who is the purest symbol of Christ I have ever been privileged to hold, brings joy to a stranger with her smile.
This is where the breathy, intellectual, headspace of our faith comes down into our gut and transforms our lives if we let it. This is what it means to do spiritual gym time. I say it again, praise God for a Church that doesn’t allow us to do whatever we want. Because without my Catholic faith, I would have found myself at a Planned Parenthood, broken and seeking a short term solution to my suffering. I would have missed out on all the grace Christ has poured over me with this scary, challenging season of life. I would have missed out on Him using my daughter to chip away at the ugly parts of my heart.
You may not be dealing with an unplanned pregnancy. Maybe it’s the death of a loved one, the decision to walk away from your marriage, going back to Mass after a time away, or the choice to live with your fiancé before you are married. Maybe you are standing at the door of your big “yes” and can’t bring yourself to knock.
Know that while it’s tempting to take the world’s lie of mercy, Christ and the Church is waiting to offer the real deal. God isn’t waiting to condemn. Nor does he abandon us. He knows how hard it is to accept his teachings, that’s what makes it such a big deal when we choose to love him instead of ourselves. If you can’t bring yourself to run toward your “Yes,” compromise for just sitting with Jesus for a time. If you are feeling your situation is so mind-numbingly unfair, know that Jesus is meeting you in the Garden and has felt that betrayal and fear. I pray that you allow yourself to be honest with Him and that you ultimately surrender yourself to His mercy because the world desperately needs courageous people willing to have their lives messed up by God. The culture of life and salvation of souls quite literally depends on it.
“It is Jesus that you seek when you dream of happiness; He is waiting for you when nothing else you find satisfies you; He is the beauty to which you are so attracted; it is He who provoked you with that thirst for fullness that will not let you settle for compromise; it is He who urges you to shed the masks of a false life; it is He who reads in your hearts your most genuine choices, the choices that others try to stifle.”
— St. Pope John Paul II