When gripped by a strong obsessional fear, we have to put our hope in something. Otherwise, despair becomes inevitable. There are lots of things to put hope in. It is bad hope that drives OCD sufferers to pester people for reassurance, or to pour over articles and websites, or debate endlessly in their minds about the legitimacy of their fears. These are compulsions. It is, on the other hand, a good hope that leads OCDers to consult a therapist, and engage in exposure and response prevention. This works to treat OCD.
Yet, by far the best hope for OCDers is a pure hope in the mercy of God. We say pure, because it is hope in God only, with no reliance on ourselves or anyone else at all. We say that it is best, because it pleases God greatly. He wants us to learn to rely on him. As Martin Luther says,
The heart of man cannot rejoice in works, nor in anything else but in a pure hope [in God]. He, therefore, who seeks to rejoice in any other way besides this hope, will toil much, and will find all his labor in vain…It is a pleasing sacrifice to God if in our sadness and contrition we hope for mercy.
Psalm 147, a favorite of Luther’s, reads: “The Lord takes pleasure in those who fear Him, in those who hope in His steadfast love.” We OCDers have the first part down, it’s the second that causes problems. The truth is that OCDers are short in hope. They insist on being sure about everything, and end up vacillating between confident assurance and terrifying uncertainty. Hoping is the middle ground, and it is not a bad place to be! It’s a lot better than desperation. Hope is a stable place to sit in; and most importantly of all, God likes us to be there.
13 Response Comments
GOD’S timing is amazing.
This was such a Blessing and help – I look forward to these each month.
Thank you Dr. O. The message surely resonates with me. Peace to you and all who struggle with OCD.
I look forward to every month’s post!
Hi Fenny, I think first thing would be to approach your pastor and get his opinion on the situation. Then, maybe see an OCD therapist if it seems you are greatly exaggerating the ‘sin.” This is a very common situation for OCDers. That’s about all we can say about that here, I think. take care.
Hello, thank you for your incredible insightful work Dr. Osborn. It proves difficult to find a Christian professional who fully comprehends OCD in its many facets. I am grateful to have stumbled across your YouTube videos and these pages. I suffer from Scrupulosity. I have struggled with this one aspect of ocd. It would seem that my ocd recovery hedges on it. The quandary I have is this- In all of our intrusive thoughts, say out of 100 of them, surely 1 or 2 or 5 or 10 could potentially be coming from us. Our own doing. We are of the flesh. I believe I may have complicity in some of my blasphemous intrusive thoughts. If that’s the case then we need to repent and ask for forgiveness for them from God to stay In fellowship with him. Correct? But the impossible part is to know what’s actually from us and what’s an intrusive thought. How do we handle this? I find myself trying to confess each one and that’s exhausting as mine are coming on rapid fire some days. There has to be a better way. I believe it could be that a lot of people who have OCD scrupulosity are thinking the same thing. Are these thoughts from me? ANY of them? Even 1 or 2? Out of the tons and tons I have? If some are from me, how can I discern the difference and confess the ones I’m guilty of to God to stay in fellowship with him? I cannot be confessing all day long. If we do sin we need to confess it to God, and some of these OCD thoughts could potentially be coming from us. What’s your suggestion? I think this topic may be helpful to other sufferers. As I know this is where I get hung up. Thank you for all the work and time you put to it this.
Obsessional thoughts are always from the enemy. Obsessions are by definition unreasonable or excessive worries, i.e., we shouldn’t be worrying about them. The enemy uses these to keep us from trusting in God. So,the key is recognizing a concern as an obsession, which, of course, can be very difficult. But in this sense, it doesn’t matter if you think it comes from you, or that you consented to it. What is important is whether it is an obsession. Probably still a lot of questions that you would have…would suggest you talk to a OCD therapist about this.
Thank you so much for your reply. It makes logical sense. I am currently receiving therapy once a week, and from what I read, the going consensus is to completely ignore the blasphemous thoughts no matter how bad or profane they become. In doing so we are perhaps ignoring sin that we are complicit in. How do we reconcile that with God? I’ve had it recommended to me to pray several times a day or to just ask ahead of time to be forgiven for anything that I am complicit in, but it’s always my understanding that we have to specifically confess. If I don’t confess it on the spot as it happens there’s a strong possibility I’m not going to remember exactly what it was later. Therefore it makes me feel that it’s not a valid confession to God if I cannot name the exact sin.. Any thoughts on the matter you could provide would be very helpful. I feel as if there is a way for me to confess sin, but not every five minutes that I felt was reasonable it would stop a lot of the compulsions.
Be encouraged by the fact that you are not alone! Know that the hard road you travel has been traveled by so, so many believers who have gone before you, myself included. I too struggled with the exact same thoughts you shared in your post, over 40 years ago when I was a teenager and when the terms OCD, scrupulosity, etc., were foreign to my vocabulary and to most in ministry. I don’t remember what changed, but after walking around like a zombie for the better part of a year constantly chanting to God to forgive me for this and that, I finally got to a place of exhaustion, followed by surrender, and this struggle sort of faded away. I did not realize it at the time, but this is how this OCD illness often works in us, time again: we try over and over to not do X or not think about Y, we tire and despair because we never manage to succeed, and hopefully we eventually surrender so that we may find rest.
In later years and even today, my spiritual/religious obsessions have shifted to other areas, doubts, which have also been debilitating at times, but thankfully less so today. Again, I try, I tire, I surrender, which leads to rest, rest in God’s loving embrace. That is ultimately what we all are searching for on this website, resting in God.
Interestingly my experience I described above, and one I keep living in subtle ways, is essentially the same story Jesus shared as a parable in Luke 15:11-32, The Prodigal Son. I would encourage you to read it a few times, slowly, meditating on it. Focus on the returning son. Desperately he goes home, prepared with a speech, but his father who has been lovingly watching and waiting for his return, runs out to him, and doesn’t even let his son finish his speech, because he is so much more excited his son has returned than he is concerned about his son delivering a perfect speech. All the father wants to do is celebrate that his son is now home (one key point of the story).
So what does this parable have to do with your struggle and mine? Your obsessions to “get it right, do it perfectly” when it comes to confession is much like my obsession to do the same when it comes to trusting God for salvation, both which are not unlike the prodigal son’s anxious efforts to present his case before his father, like a harsh judge, who he believed might justifiably be full of anger. But just as with this loving father, it is true that our loving heavenly Father doesn’t care about protocol, process or details, but simply about his children’s hearts. Instead of wondering the degree of your complicity, be still, and then marvel at the extent of your Father’s mercy and grace for you and at the rest He wants for you more than you even do for yourself. But first, let your heart and mind be still and enjoy Jesus’ promise for you in Matthew 11:28-30.
I am convinced from your posts that these oppressive thoughts are not emanating from your heart in the least bit, which means they are not sinful. You clearly do not want them; otherwise you wouldn’t be reading this post, or be on this website to begin with. Just recognize that like many others these thoughts can for some reason pop up, but they don’t define your heart, and God knows this.
It’s great that you’re going to a counselor … hopefully a Christian one who understands the OCD wiring. They may at some point recommend medication through a psychiatrist or other medical doctor, which I believe has also been part the solution for my own struggles.
There’s plenty more for you to read and discover on this website. Many encouraging stories. Just know there is always hope for any struggle under the sun, as long as you are willing to keep coming back to your heavenly Father, thanks be to Jesus Christ and his victory won for us ALL to enjoy forever.
Bob! Thank you so much for taking the time to reply. I have desperately wanted to make contact with someone else who suffers from this doubting disease. I find alot of ocd websites to be pretty much defunct. I’m so happy to have contact with you. I’m pretty new to this game of ocd. Although looking back over my life I can see ocd times that never quite registered with me as such. Excessive hand washing, fear of germs/blood. Comes and goes. But this… this is whole different animal. I feel it could easily turn into crippling depression. All day long the thoughts.. oh the thoughts. I have so many questions. I would absolutely love to connect with you and listen about your experience and ask you things that no one else without ocd could probably make much sense of. Like can our obsessing about our obsession become an obsession? Do you ever answer yourself in your mind with blasphemous thoughts? Something bad will happen and I’ll think a profanity against God and wonder “did I really mean that or is it my ocd brain filling in the blank that it’s become so accustomed to thinking. So now every time I’m irritated or whatnot it puts God’s name with an expletive because that’s the groove I’ve reinforced in my mind by doing compulsions over and over” So many questions such as these. Medication. I’m so curious as to your experience with it. So many questions as I’ve considered it during my more desperate times even though I never thought I would. Would you be up for chatting at all? Be it on here or any other vehicle? Thank you again for all of your kind words and help. Also your analogy of the son returing home to his father I can see God’s and Jesus’s love for us in it.
I’d highly recommend John Bunyan’s book Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners. It is right up the alley of what you are dealing with
I echo Josh’s recommendation Grace Abounding. Another book that might encourage you is Strivings Within – The OCD Christian, by Mitzi VanCleve. Dr. Osborn’s book Can Christianity Cure OCD was most helpful to me. So was going to a Christian psychologist, and learning to turn my focus on Jesus and his love and forgiveness for me, as narrated through the Prodigal Son, and other passages in the gospels.
I have taken a ‘maintenance’ dosage of Zoloft for a few years, prescribed by my doctor. I can’t say with absolute confidence to what extent it has help, but I seem to not get mentally triggered as easily. But, you will want to talk to your physician about this, to determine if this is a good course for you or not, and if so, be sure to follow their instructions closely.
But when all is said and done, no matter what course you take, or what you read, or who you seek for counsel, you need to remember that Jesus is all you really need, all anyone of us on this blog needs. Every day you have a choice … to spend it either contemplating your anxious thoughts, or gazing on Jesus, like a weak, simple child, and accept (albeit imperfectly, even with fears and doubts) that he indeed saves us when we come to him. The wonderful truth is, just when we get to the end of ourselves, and despair, Jesus is there! Lay your weary heart down, and spend time every day in God’s presence, reading and meditating on his word. Yes, it can be helpful to understand why some of us seem to get so tripped up with this question or that, but it is a watershed moment when we finally realize we can’t figure it out. It’s like chasing wild rabbits. You can never catch them! They seem so close, like they’re within your grasp, but they just slip away. These questions that haunt us are not unlike rabbits. When we are tempted to chase after them, it is so freeing to say … “You know what?! Today, I’m not going to chase after them!” Give yourself permission to say “No!” I have to remind myself daily that even when I think I have answered a question, or found a greater degree of assurance of salvation, sure enough it will dissipate, my feelings will shift, influenced by my ‘twisted’ mind, and other circumstances.
Anyway, I hope this helps. I know how exhausting it can be to try to get out from under the weight of mental anxiety. Psychologists and possibly medication can help equip you to know how to think about these questions, but the best remedy (notice I didn’t say cure) is to keep spending time with Jesus and his word.
Your blog is really getting me through some hard times. Thank you so much.
Does anyone want to talk about what we’re going through??