The Sinner\’s Guide to Natural Family Planning: An Interview with Simcha Fisher

JoAnna Wahlund - Simcha\'s book

\"JoAnna

Have you ever read a book where you find yourself talking out loud in response to what you\’re reading? Simcha Fisher\’s The Sinner\’s Guide to Natural Family Planning (available on Kindle with upcoming publications in Audible and print formats) is definitely one of those books. I can\’t remember how many times I said, “Yes!” or “Exactly!” or “Preach it, sister!” while reading, but it was quite a few.

This is not your mother\’s NFP manual. (And thank goodness for that, because… ew.) It\’s not really an NFP manual, at least not in the technical, analytical side of things. This book doesn\’t teach couples the nuts and bolts of charting and analyzing fertility signs, but it does help navigate the roadblocks, worries and frustrations that Catholic couples encounter when they struggle to live in the world but not of the world, especially in the realm of spacing pregnancies.

NFP can be difficult, both practically and emotionally, and anyone who says differently is selling something. Simcha acknowledges this reality in a no-nonsense, brutally honest, engaging fashion and then tells her audience how to deal with it and get past the hardest parts. In this, she does every NFP-using couple a great service.

I had a brief e-mail exchange with Simcha and asked her to share some of her thoughts about the creation and publication of The Sinner\’s Guide to NFP):

Was writing the book your idea, or someone else\’s? Was there an angelic visitation from the angel Gabriel where he told you to write a book about NFP, or was it more of a gradual realization on your part?

No, the truth was actually weirder. A self identified \”sex-positive feminist\” writer and activist named Susie Bright was looking for information about Thomas Kinkade when he died, and she happened across my post about him. She also happens to be an editor for Audible.com, and she liked the Kinkade piece so much that she kept reading my stuff, and contacted me to suggest I publish an ebook of my favorite blog posts on any topic.

I made a huge list of the ones I liked the best, and realized that an awful lot of them were about NFP, or at least about love and marriage. So that\’s how it began. Several of the chapters are based on those blog posts; several are new.

Which part of the book are you most proud of? Why?

Chapter Three, \”The Golden Box,\” deals with the will of God, and how following it is not like some riddle or code. I learned a lot while writing it, and I think it\’s applicable to all sorts of things, and not just discerning God\’s will about family size.

I\’m also fairly proud of of having written what I\’m pretty sure is the only satirical examination of conscience to be included in a book that was the #1 bestseller in Catholicism on Amazon.

What was the hardest thing to cut from your rough draft? Is there anything that made it in that you kind of wish you\’d cut?

My first draft was a lot angrier. Writing this book helped me work through a lot of things I was upset about — people who misunderstood me, people who had steered me wrong, things that seemed unfair. I hope that most of that anger got cut, since I don\’t feel it anymore.

I also regretfully cut an illustration I had done. It was funny, but probably on the wrong side of blasphemy. Totally not worth the royalties, so that had to go.

What do I wish I\’d cut? In \”The Golden Chain,\” the chapter which talks about chastity within marriage, I used the word \”duh.\” I deeply regret this, because I had already used the word \”duh\” in a previous section.

Is writing a book easier or harder than raising kids, or going through pregnancy/childbirth? Are the experiences similar in any way?

Not only similar, they were simultaneous. Well, not childbirth, but I did an awful lot of writing and editing while children were crawling on me, licking me, drawing on the back of my neck with marker, and so on.

Is writing like giving birth? If so, I\’m definitely still having the afterbirth pangs. Also, the one thing about writing is that, once you get it out of you, you can eventually stop thinking about it. With children, not so much.

If Pope Francis called and asked you if he should read your book, what would you say to him?

Yes,. please! I really am hoping that priests will read my book, because it may give them more context around the things they hear in the confessional. I have never gotten bad advice in the confessional, but I\’ve gotten some baffled silences. I don\’t know if I\’m helping him with that Theology of Women Pope Francis was calling for, but it couldn\’t hurt.

What is the takeaway message you want for your readers? (In other words, what is the one message or concept you hope your readers will glean from the book?)

I\’ll steal from Padre Pio here: Pray, hope, and don\’t worry. If you\’re struggling with NFP, or with love and marriage, it doesn\’t mean there\’s something wrong with you, or you\’re some crummy, immature, hopeless slob. It means that love, like everything worthwhile, can be hard.

Are you and your family being pursued by albino monk assassins dispatched by the \”NFP-Is-A-Heresy\” Cabal?

Yeah, but I reminded them that self flagellation and the wearing of the cilice barely registers as suffering when you compare it with trying to figure out a postpartum chart. Ba bing!

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6 thoughts on “The Sinner\’s Guide to Natural Family Planning: An Interview with Simcha Fisher”

  1. I want to apologize to you for my prior rudeness, and to you and Simcha both for all my ranting about the possibility of contraceptive dish-washing. That’s not Grisez’s claim, nor mine, either. It’s too silly to be taken seriously. But abstinence can, I would argue, acquire what Grisez calls the “same intrinsic malice” of contraception, if a contra-life will is present. The analogy he uses to illustrate the contra-life will is a medical situation:

    What if a doctor had a terminal patient, but wanted to experiment with a coagulant to see if it would stop the hemorrhaging? He injects the life-promoting serum, and viola, it works! But now, the patient, instead of dying quickly and painlessly, starts to recover, in inexplicable torment. Can the doctor now inject some antidote in the attempt to counteract _only his experiment itself?_ Grisez says no. Grisez says that once we have noticed and acted toward an irreducible good like life, any acts contrary to that act are acts against the good hitherto engaged. Administering an antidote would be murdering the terminal patient, as swallowing an anovulent pill or erecting a barrier would contradict the good pursued in procreation . . . and abstinence itself could be a betrayal of the marriage (which also was an act toward the good of life), or even a malevolent, anti-child project between fornicators.

    That’s my summary of Grisez. Thanks for your post.

    1. I see books like Simcha’s as lovingly helpful to those trying to live a challenging lifestyle that our culture is so hostile to. They are already out on a limb in our culture taking a brave stand, yet the ultra Catholics in our culture swoop in and tell them that they STILL arent Catholic enough or good enough and how their best efforts are still a slippery slope to certain doom.

      I have experienced the same with my efforts to provide and educate about the options of Perinatal Hospice…rather than see the good of a life-affirming option given to families who were previously given none, those who would decide that I wasnt Catholic enough for their tastes claimed the option puts us on a slippery slope of doom.

      For the “you aren’t good/Catholic enough to suit me” people, I give you these words from Theodore Roosevelt:

      “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

      So if Simcha’s book isn’t good enough …I double dog dare anyone to write a better one.

    2. I’m not sure why this was addressed to me. My objections are nothing of the slippery-slope variety; I’m an interested, modestly-educated layperson like Simcha, and merely want to move the discussion forward. True conclusions can be reached by illogical means, so I want to push back against Joanna and anyone who might not have realized that the reproductive faculty happens to be the _only_ faculty whose end imparts a moral obligation. I commit Rooseveltian errors, as well, in my attempt to explain my own inchoate viewpoint. So I retract my prior objections to the Simcha-Vogt interview, and replace them with the objection that a lack of positive action does not preclude a wicked intention. Isn’t it better that a fellow believer level these challenges against the authors, before an unbeliever does and wins points for his camp?

    3. No, I think if an unbeliever came across you accusing NFP couples of “wicked” intentions, they wouldn’t miss a chance of winning a point, but they might likely reflect that they would sooner stick forks in their eyes before they would consider Catholicism as a viable life option.

    4. Asserting the possibility of wickedness is neither to identify nor to imply wickedness. Don’t commit calumny. I’m amused that the crowd who finds it impossible to abuse NFP as a contraceptive is as sadistic as the providentialists. Philosophy will balance the pendulum.

  2. Pingback: My interview with JoAnna Wahlund at Catholic Stand

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