OCD and Christianity

Nothing is more important than to trust in the Lord. We are saved by faith, and faith’s highest form is trust. It figures that OCD would come in and try to mess it up.

A thoughtful, hard-working student suffered from pedophile obsessions, and we worked together on methods of dealing with them. We focused on allowing the thoughts to be there and not responding to them. We developed an exposure and response prevention program. We talked about how this could be a trial that is a part of his Christian growth. He was doing better, but then he reported a major setback.

“I’ve been trying to simply trust the Lord with my OCD,” he explained. “But today it’s so bad I couldn’t even go to classes.” He explained that he was making an effort to “Just let it go and leave it to God.” He would remind himself throughout the day of the importance of trusting in God. Then when he was stuck by one of his obsessions, he would firmly hand it over to Him.

This approach had, in fact, worked exceptionally well for a few days. He had felt very encouraged. Soon, however, he found that he needed to “trust the Lord” more and more frequently. Soon, he was struck by the thought, “Am I really trusting God? How can I be if I still doubt sometimes?” His turmoil quickly became even worse than before.

The problem here is that anything we do purposefully, using our will power, to get rid of an obsessional fear may turn into a compulsion, which then leads to more obsessions. This includes trying to trust that God will take care of our fears. OCD is especially devious in matters of faith. “How,” the student wondered, “can this fit into my Christian beliefs?  Shouldn’t I be trying to have faith in God?”

It is true that we want to cling to and nurture faith, but we can’t manufacture it ourselves. Faith is a gift, and God insists on being the only giver. If we are trying to conjure up trust in God by ourselves, we are not accepting it as coming from Him. We’re having confidence in what we can do, rather than thankfulness for what he does in us. This is prideful. God puts us through the furnace of doubt in order take away that pride and replace it with a faith that trusts only in Him.

Tolerating obsessional fears and not doing anything to get rid of them, means facing severe fear and uncertainty. We are reduced to simply sweating it out and hoping and waiting. This is the “fear and trembling” that leads to salvation. This is the “the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you.” We’re on the cross suffering with Jesus just hoping and waiting for a resurrection.

If we can persevere, we will learn from this trial that God does give grace to the humble, although not to the prideful who rely on themselves. Faith will come, as will peace of mind, but not through efforts of our own, rather as a gift from God when he sees fit to give it. And through that experience we will learn to trust in Him more completely.

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