Well, here we go. Let’s have this conversation. Christians and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD). I know a little about this affliction because I’ve struggled with OCD since I was a kid. It finally all came to a head when I was 30-years-old back in 2001, and is part of what plunged me into a deep, dark depression that became a five-year wilderness. I’ve thought about writing a book on this topic, and may in fact do that one day, but for now I thought I’d start with a blog series. I don’t know how many blogs I’m going to end up with on this one, but I’ll try to do justice to the topic. I plan to post something once a week on this until I’m done. You can expect it Wednesdays or Thursdays.
I know there are a lot of people suffering inside and outside the church from OCD. Some, like me for many years, don’t even know what’s going on. My hope is this blog series will encourage suffering people and educate anyone interested in knowing about this horrible affliction. It can come in mild and harsh forms, and full grown, can be excruciating and extremely debilitating.
Disclaimer: I’m not a doctor. I don’t suppose to have all the science or psychiatric expertise. But I am a pastor, a teacher, and a fellow sufferer. My desire is to speak to you as a friend who has suffered greatly and found help in Christ and his Word. Truth be told, I’m not a fan of a lot of what’s happening in today’s psychiatric community, but I did find some of the research on OCD and some principles of “cognitive therapy” very helpful.
OCD is an anxiety disorder. Hollywood celebrities like Megan Fox, Howie Mandel, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Charlize Theron have OCD. Church history heroes like Martin Luther and John Bunyan suffered from OCD. AnxietyCentre.com reports that 19.1% of Americans struggle with anxiety disorders. Among that number, 3.3 million people suffer with OCD. That’s 2.3% of our population! And these numbers only reflect what has been diagnosed.
These numbers are not a surprise to me. As a gospel-believing Christian, I believe in the doctrine of sin, which means that since Adam and Eve fell from grace, our very DNA is broken, corrupt, and self-destructive. We are “naturally unnatural” in our fallen state, and find sin, suffering, and sorrow common, though God did not originally create us like this. Sin corrupted us and made us slaves.
Though we often think of “sin” as outward acts of rebellion, the Bible lays out a broader picture, that sin encompasses anything that is ungodly or un-God-like. If we weren’t sinners, therefore, we wouldn’t struggle with anxiety, depression, or fear. So then, to understand sin is to understand the effect of sin in our lives—that we will often be confronted with weakness in our minds, emotions, and bodies.
The good news is, no matter how we’ve been labeled, no matter how defeated we might feel, the gospel promises victory. Romans 6:14 says, with my commentary inserted, “For sin [and its effects] shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace.”
The promise of the gospel is freedom through Jesus over the power of sin at work in us. We don’t have to be slaves anymore!
A few thoughts to encourage you right up front:
1. You are not going crazy
OCD is just how the brain (your “fallen” brain) works.
2. You are not a freak
Because of sin, dealing with anxiety and fear are normal. Look at these verses from the dawn of the Old and New Testaments.
Adam: “I heard Your voice in the garden, and I was afraid.” (Genesis 3:9-10)
Peter: “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!” Jesus answers, “Do not be afraid. From now on you will catch men.” (Luke 5:8-9, NKJV)
God had to deal with fear in both Adam and Peter. Fear, in all its shapes and sizes, is not abnormal to the human condition.
3. You are not alone
As you can see in the stats, if you struggle with OCD, you are not the only one who suffers. Further, the Bible concedes, “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man” (1 Corinthians 10:13).
Even Jesus understands the battles our human bodies face. “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15).
Finally, for the sake of the comfort it may bring you, I personally understand. From my childhood, I’ve battled what I now know to be OCD. I’ll share the story of my long, and sometimes dark, journey next week…