...t something’s still missing in this picture, and it is this: the couple’s personal encounter with God. They should see childbearing as a mission of their marriage — God’s particular call to them, personally, and not just a general rule for couples; and so their decisions about how to fulfill this mission should be made not merely on the basis of calculations — even moral calculations — but in consultation with the mission-Giver. The Church’s moral teachings are a great gift, because they save us from the bad effects of innocent wrong-doings; they can stop us from unknowingly messing up our lives, if we’re humble enough to listen. But they don’t replace a tryst with the Creator — and who would want them to?-- The NFP Index quoted here on Why doesn't the Church just make a checklist?
The point here resonates with me beyond "use NFP or not". It seems to apply to all those areas where one feels frustrated because God hasn't provided a checklist or a template for success that applies across the board.
As Chesterton said, God gave us a lot of freedom with only a few "Thou Shalt Nots..."
"The truth is, of course, that the curtness of the Ten Commandments is an evidence, not of the gloom and narrowness of a religion, but, on the contrary, of its liberality and humanity. It is shorter to state the things forbidden than the things permitted; precisely because most things are permitted, and only a few things are forbidden."
Yet there's a thoroughly human tendency, judging from my own heart, to want to have more than this, MORE guidelines than He has given. And of course, there's a correlating tendency to want to give other people guidelines or laws that have not come from Him.
Think parenting. Think education. No matter how many people try to convince you that there is One Divine Way to bring up children or educate them, it is not so. There is a surprisingly small part that is absolutely obligatory. There are ways that have worked for some or many people in some circumstances. There are certainly general principles "Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up," "Train up your child in the way he should go...." but there are very few specifics "You must send your kids to school, you must keep them home, you must use the educational methods of the 15th or 19th or 20th or 22nd century".
A minimum of absolute laws does not mean a minimal practice of Christianity. Quite the opposite, though it is surprising how often one falls into the trap of thinking that the more rules oneself or another person has, the more holy she is. St Paul said, tellingly:
"Everything is permissible"--but not everything is beneficial. "Everything is permissible"--but not everything is constructive.Who judges what is beneficial and constructive within the framework of the law? That is where the interior conversation with God comes in.
Looking towards the beneficial and the constructive, to what plants good seeds and cultivates them, is HARD, harder than just obeying the rules. Like it's harder to draw a picture that is a faithful depiction of something real, than it is to connect the dots or color in a pre-made form. But apparently God wants us to be engaged in the endeavor, as freely as possible. He gave us this ability to cooperate with Him and He doesn't want us to bury it in the ground so it will stay safe and unused, it seems.
So that is why I appreciated the point about listening to God and conversing with Him, where He has intentionally left silences, where He has not provided specifics that universally apply to all people or all families. I realize I look for checklists in lots of areas because I am looking for a way to defend myself against intimacy. In a way, I want to keep my heart of stone and be proud of it, too. I don't really want a heart of flesh, that can be pierced and bruised, that has to depend on Him for every beat. I wish I did, but sometimes I don't.
So, just as I sometimes get busy around the house to avoid the face-to-face spontaneous conversation with my children (sorry, but I do sometimes), I sometimes try to get busy about what I have told myself God wants me to do, so that I can avoid standing still and having Him look at me. So I can keep the barriers up around my heart, so I can more or less claim to be in His service while keeping some bits hidden away.
That makes me realize I am scared to have those conversations with God. I am scared, the way Adam and Eve were scared in the garden and fled so that He would not see them.
Fear is one reason to crave checklists. If I can wave a checklist -- "see, God, I did everything you asked!" I don't have to actually meet with Him in the personal relationship He asks for. I can look around at others who aren't "meeting the objectives" as well as me and figure that I am in better case than they are. What a trap! How contrary to what Jesus asks of me.
I wonder if this was what Our Savior noticed Martha doing -- inadvertently, perhaps, setting up bustling barricades just so she didn't have to face being swept off balance by His Presence? If so, how loving and gentle He was in pointing it out! Perhaps He could tell she was not hiding herself deliberately, unlike the Pharisees; perhaps He could see the loving heart that was trying to express itself indirectly rather than directly, as her sister Mary did.
St Teresa of Avila wrote:
I am not asking you now to think of Him, or to form numerous conceptions of Him, or to make long and subtle meditations with your understanding. I am asking you only to look at Him. For who can prevent you from turning the eyes of your soul (just for a moment, if you can do no more) upon this Lord? You are capable of looking at very ugly and loathsome things: can you not, then, look at the most beautiful thing imaginable? .... He has borne with thousands of foul and abominable sins which you have committed against Him, yet even they have not been enough to make Him cease looking upon you. Is it such a great matter, then, for you to avert the eyes of your soul from outward things and sometimes to look at Him? See, He is only waiting for us to look at Him....
Looking and listening is so much harder than saying and doing; the latter should rightly flow from the former yet too often one wants to skip the relationship part and just go to the checking off the checklist part. I find myself doing this in so many areas of life. But that is not His way. I am so glad it isn't even though it is scary.