The twin burdens of OCD sufferers are ruminations of past event and worries about the future. If we don’t watch it, we can live our entire lives without ever enjoying the blessings of the present moment.
Since obsessions usually have a future referent, and since OCDers worry excessively anyway, the future is their major source of torment. We are drawn to it inexorably by our fears. Constant vigilance must be maintained for preventing all the disasters for which we feel acutely responsible. An alarm goes off: “You must do something to prevent something terrible from happening!”
We must act despite the fact we recognize our fears as farfetched. Jeremy Taylor, a seventeenth century cleric who counselled many with mental problems, said of those suffering from what we now recognize as OCD: “They dare not eat for fear of gluttony; they don’t sleep for fear of sleeping too much. If they are single, they fear their temptations. If they are married they fear doing their duty, then fear that the very fearing of it is a sin… Their virtues make them tremble, and in their innocence they are afraid.” Not a pretty picture.
The past can also become a severe burden for OCDers when their overreached sense of responsibility for the well-being of others teams up with their introspective nature to produce haunting ruminations of wrongdoing. This can lead to severe depression, to which OCDers are often prone. The problem is guilt, to which OCDers are always prone. The great 18th century literary figure Samuel Johnson suffered from what we now call OCD, and insightfully described what happens when OCDers topple down the path of guilt and depression. “No disease of the imagination,” Johnson once wrote, “is so difficult to cure as that which is complicated with the dread of guilt. Fancy and conscience then act interchangeably upon us, and so often shift their places, that the illusions of one are not distinguished from the dictates of the other.”
What is the OCDers to do about this? For the Christian with OCD, fortunately, the answer is laid out clearly in the Bible. Regarding the past, we must believe that God is always merciful to those who come to him. St. Therese puts this beautifully. “Most of all I imitate the conduct of Magdelene,” she writes. “Even though I had on my conscience all the sins that can be committed, I would go, my heart broken with sorrow, and throw myself into Jesus’ arms, for I know how much He loves the prodigal child who returns to Him”. Surely, God will also be as merciful as he can be to anyone who we think we may have harmed or offended.
Regarding the future, it’s as simple as this: we must bank on God’s Providence. John Calvin once wrote, “Absence of Providence is the greatest of miseries.” He must have known some OCDers. God has an end for us in mind: It is our salvation. He works out our salvation through the events of our lives, including all of our obsessional struggles, and this is what is refered to as his providential plan. We must remember that nothing that happens is out of the control of God. Every atom that moves, every decision that is made on Earth, it all works out as part of God’s plan for our salvation. We have nothing to fear. Even evil is somehow included in his magnificent providential plan. As Saint Augustine noted: “God would not allow any evil to exist unless his omnipotence and goodness were such as to bring good even out of evil.”
So, this is what we must remember, my OCD friend: LEAVE THE PAST TO GOD’S MERCY AND THE FUTURE TO HIS PROVIDENCE