OCD and Christianity

C.S. Lewis, perhaps the greatest Christian apologist of the 20th century, possessed an unrivaled talent for presenting Christian truths in fresh and imaginative ways. I was working with a student recently who carried an excerpt from one of Lewis’s books everywhere he went. He said it was the best thing he had ever read for helping with his OCD. It’s worth sharing.

The quote is from “The Screwtape Letters,” a collection of letters of advice from the Devil (“Screwtape”) to one of his minions (“Wormwood”) who is trying hard to mess-up peoples’ lives. In this particular letter, number six, the individual who is being targeted (“the patient”) does not necessarily have OCD, yet the advice that is offered could not be more on target for those of us who do. Here is the excerpt. It’s a little tricky to read: Remember, it is the devil who is giving advice, so when he speaks of “the enemy,” he is actually speaking of our Lord.

     There is nothing like suspense and anxiety for barricading a human’s mind against the Enemy. He [i.e., God] wants men to be concerned with what they do; our business is to keep them thinking about what will happen to them.
    Your patient will, of course, have picked up the notion that he must submit with patience to the Enemy’s will. What the Enemy means by this is primarily that he should accept with patience the tribulation which has actually been dealt out to him–the present anxiety and suspense. It is about this that he is to say “Thy will be done”, and for the daily task of bearing this that the daily bread will be provided. It is your business to see that the patient never thinks of the present fear as his appointed cross but only of the things he is afraid of.
     An important spiritual law is here involved…Fear becomes easier to master when the patient’s mind is diverted from the thing feared to the fear itself, considered as a present and undesirable state of his own mind; and when he regards the fear as his appointed cross he will inevitably think of it as a state of mind.

What can we glean from this?

  1. OCD is a spiritual battle.
  2. We are falling into a trap when we spend our time focusing on the undesirable future event that we are afraid of (which is what we OCDers always do).
  3. Rather than the future event itself, we need to focus on the fact that we are in the undesirable state of mind called fear and uncertainty. It is this state of mind that God calls us to bear as our cross.
  4. Calling to mind the Lord’s Prayer, Lewis suggests that when we pray “they will be done,” we are saying “go ahead and give us anxiety and fear…it is our cross and we can take it.” And when we pray “give us this day our daily bread,” we are praying in hope that the Spirit will come to our aid in dealing with that cross.
  5. Therefore, taking the case of a handwasher as an example, we must strive not to focus on the possible, terrifying results of not adequately washing our contaminated hands. We must focus rather on the fact that we are in a state of great fear and uncertainty. We must regard this state of fear and uncertainty (i.e., our OCD) as a cross which we are to bear. If we do that, we can hope to receive help from the Lord, for which we have many times prayed.

Seems like excellent advice. What do you think?





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