OCD and Christianity

Matt 13:24-30

Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared. The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?   “‘An enemy did this,’ he replied. “The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’  “‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may root up the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.'” NIV

Obsessions, OCD sufferers often observe, seem to grow stronger and stronger in the mind, slowly increasing in intensity.  They start as little, nagging fears that, strangely, can’t be shaken off.  As repetitive acts are performed to put them right, they get bigger.  When the OCDer tries to stop thinking them–because of the realization that they now represent a problem–they get bigger yet.  Soon  the mind is overgrown with unwanted, destructive thoughts.  Good thoughts have a hard time finding any place to take root and bloom.

It is a particularly galling situation.  We can use our willpower to, with God’s grace, fight off normal temptations.  For instance, we can try to psych ourselves up to do our part to fend off lust or laziness, coveting riches, or seeking approval from everybody. Yet, it seems like we can’t do anything about obsessions and compulsions.  They are of an entirely different character.  What are we supposed to do if willpower doesn’t work? It seems quite unfair.  Some OCD sufferers get very mad at God about this.Perhaps we can find an answer in Jesus’ parable of the weeds amongst the wheat. Obsessions can be seen to represent an especially puzzling and pernicious form of weeds in the mind.  They grow right there side by side with regular temptations and with the thoughts that are healthy and good for us.  Jesus says that the weeds, the obsessions, are necessary! If they are uprooted, the wheat, good thoughts, might be uprooted as well.

For what possible reason could irrational and destructive fears be necessary? God could easily get rid of obsessions, so that we could spend our mental energy thinking good thoughts, or at least fighting temptations that can actually be fought. Surely it is that OCD sufferers are being called in a special way to develop faith. Since faith is, after all, the most important thing of all for us to develop, it makes sense that God’s purpose for these strange thoughts would involve just that. Look at it this way: If obsessions weren’t present, OCDers would be complacent living their lives ruled by their usual state of fear, which is actually a veiled form of self-centeredness. Obsessions force us to call on God and to increase our trust in him rather than ourselves.

In order to make good use of the weeds that God allows to grow in our mind, OCD sufferers must first fully realize that, like it or not,  obsessions and compulsions are necessary for us, they are a part of God’s plan for us. And we should be consoled by that.  That does not mean, however, that we do nothing about them.  On the contrary, we make use of them.  We learn to bear them, to be less fearful of them, by trusting God with the very fear that drives them.

Once we have identified one of our obsessional fears, we say to God prayerfully: “I’m scared of this thought, Lord.  I don’t want this to happen. But I’m going to leave what happens all to you.  I’m going to resist doing compulsions, and I’m going to rest in your will.  I want what you want. You know what’s best.  Bring it on.”

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