OCD and Christianity

One of the great mysteries of our faith is the division of responsibility between God and man for all that happens. We know that God controls everything, from the movement of the tiniest atom to the occurrence of all “chance” events.  Nothing that happens is outside of his will. Yet, through our actions we also shape ourselves and the world. So, who has responsibility for what?

Fortunately, the practical solution is set out in the Bible. We take a step, and then we leave the rest to God. We turn and follow, and then we trust. Man proposes; God disposes. This is how God wants us to cooperate with him. We start the work, and then we let God finish it.

Psychological research suggests that the basic problem for OCDers  is an overactive sense of responsibility. They don’t know when to stop being responsible. This sounds like it could be an excellent trait for a Christian–to be abnormally responsible– but it’s not!  We are not pleasing God through our incessant attempts make things turn out in the way that we want. We are not cooperating with God at all. We are, in fact, relying excessively on ourselves and demonstrating our distrust of Him.

This lack of cooperation is most obvious in the largest group of obsessions, those that involve reasonable fears that have become extreme.  An obsessional fears of germs, for instance, or of appliances catching fire, of offending other people, of failing to confess all sins, of not getting all of one’s work done as it should be done, etc. In a myriad of OCD situations, a good and reasonable motive starts a person moving, but then over-responsibility pushes the individual to compulsive acts far beyond what is either reasonable in a worldly sense, or more importantly, pleasing to our Lord.

The struggle with obsessional fears is actually an opportunity.  How much do we trust out Lord?  We start by doing what is appropriate. We wash our hands or check the stove once.  Then we  cooperate with God by leaving the rest to him. We must make an effort to resist the urge to compulsively repeat our actions. This is very tough work. It is surely part of the “fear and trembling” through which OCDers are to work out their salvation.

PRACTICAL TIP: Often OCDers have a such a distorted sense of responsibility that they don’t even know what is appropriate in a given situation. I have people ask me, “Well, how many times am I supposed to wash my hands?” Here is a good rule to follow: Try to do only as much as a good, responsible, non-OCD Christian person would do. When an obsession strikes, try to cooperate with God by telling yourself, “I’ve done what a reasonable Christian would do, and I’m not going to do any more!”

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