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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6 Response Comments

  • Nick   at

    I am tricked frequently by OCD in the same way as this blog post describes. When I try by my own self-will or effort to trust God, I have found that OCD is sneaking in through the back door. Without me consciously realizing it, pride is operating. It “looks” like humility, because I am saying and “doing” all the right things, but secretely my OCD is in control.

    Fortunately, it can get so painful that eventually I break down, and “give up.” And in those moments, when I give up, I recognize that the surrender and trust have occurred! It reminds me each and every time that there is nothing I can “do.” All “efforting” must be relinquished. All is in God’s Hands. When I remember this, peace and serenity ensue.

    • Tara   at

      Can you explain what the tricking looks like? I think this is me.

      • Nick   at

        Any mental activity is potential tricking. Even reminding myself to have faith in Christ can become compulsive. When the fear/doubt is present, any mental process can become compulsive. The key is to do absolutely nothing. If I pray, I pray only once, and my prayer includes the willingness to endure the suffering for His sake, out of love for Him, and give thanks to Him for everything – even this – for everything takes me to His Feet, whether painful or joyful. I may ask God for help to know what faith, trust and hope are. But only once. And then I leave it all up to Him, and willingly endure the suffering, willingly endure this trial, trusting it is for my good.

        Any mental process / activity can become a trap, and I know it’s a trap because it progressively becomes more painful. Any word repeated, prayer repeated, self-reminders about what I need to do, all can become compulsive. Because OCD wants to hide the secret desire to “get rid of” the present painful emotion. The core of the compulsion is the desire to take away the pain. The key to recovery is in the willingness to endure it for His sake, because my own power can do nothing. Only His Power can remove it from me. And in His time, for He knows what is for my good.

  • admin   at

    What a blessing. God is merciful!

  • John Stiffler   at

    Thank God for you Dr. O. will be hearing from me soon. Your are such a blessing to the Body of Christ, I am a viet nam vet and have been hospitalized a no of time through the years..I am a YWAM missionary for twenty years doing prison and jail ministry. Have stepped back this past year but hope to start back up soon..Appreciate your service to the Lord and us osder’s..

  • Nicole   at

    Hello, Im fearing that God is telling me to do something and I feel like im purposefully using my OCD against it. But, my worrying and doubt is so much like OCD. Its like if i dont do it then i wont get saved. So in a way its like i have to save myself idk