Welcome readers new and old! A musically Ignatian person, I often find God in pop songs. And ever since I first heard the lyrics to “Mess is Mine” by Vance Joy, I’ve thought them apt in describing marital love, particularly in connection to principles of Natural Family Planning. But hilariously, the words and the overall point I hope to get at “mess!” are in juxtaposition with this bright, shiny, happy picture used for the USCCB’s NFP Awareness Week 2017 campaign poster.*
“When you think of love do you think of pain?”
Seriously, do you? Now, I know I’m the first to think of Haddaway’s “What is Love? Baby, Don’t Hurt Me” as a musical answer to that question. BUT “hurt” is not necessarily the same as “pain.” Love, authentic love, as Christ calls husbands and wives to give to one another, automatically involves the pain of sacrifice. Christ’s pain and death on the cross is the ultimate act of sacrificial love, and is what we are called to imitate in our vocation.
I feel like this is such a good question for couples to ask themselves and to realize that the answer should be yes, sometimes. And I won’ sugarcoat it—using NFP to achieve or postpone pregnancy will involve the pain of sacrifice and little deaths to selves and one another. Now, lest I let these paragraphs scare anyone off the Church’s beautiful teaching or entice couples to throw prudence out the window so as to avoid pain, I will say that because the pain is born out of love, the source, this love and the love of God will be what makes the pain bearable—if we are open to it. And as you might infer from the chorus, my possible interpretation of the singer acknowledges this:
“Hold on, darling/This body is yours/This body is yours and mine/Well hold on, my darling/This mess was yours,/Now your mess is mine”
Hold on, husbands and wives. You have helpmates in one another. Husbands, your bodies are now your wives’, and hers are yours. Ever since Adam and Eve, when man and woman are married, they become one flesh. And part of our bodies is our fertility (or lack thereof). Our power (with the cooperation of God) to create life is an incredible gift. It’s also, frankly, a “mess.”
Sometimes men and women are super fertile in circumstances that seem “messy;” sometimes the “mess” is that couples realize they cannot get or remain pregnant. And even the practice of NFP methods for whatever intention are messy financially, emotionally, spiritually, or of course physically. But the point the Church wants us to understand is that with marriage, the “mess” is no longer our ow, but something we share, and something, if we authentically love the person, are willing to take on.
“You’re the reason that I feel so strong/The reason that I’m hanging on/You know you gave me all the time/Or did I give enough of mine?”
When we practice sacrificial love, we empty ourselves to fill up the other. And our spouses empty themselves to fill us up. As coworkers in the vineyard, equally yoked partners-in-vocation, we give each other strength when one is feeling weak. We also give each other gifts of time and love. And if being practiced, NFP methods can give married couples the opportunities to flex these relational muscles.
The question at the end of this verse is so on point. I love the realness of the singer’s introspection. It’s what we should do–reflect on our part–are we doing what we are called to? It’s the simplest form of discernment, and as anyone practicing NFP knows, family planning is basically discernment–together.
So if you’re dating, engaged, married for just a little or a long time, talk about saying yes to the mess–the beautiful, crazy mess that is your life, your fertility, and one you don’t have to clean up–or put up with alone.
*But I see you, USCCB! This poster to celebrate Awareness Week is very positive and appropriate.