When you first told me you thought you had OCD too, I didn’t believe you. Every other person thinks they have OCD when they first hear of it, because they like things neat and tidy and clean. Over and over I find myself explaining that OCD is not just about those things, not even mainly about those things.
But then you began to tell me about all the religious anxiety you’ve spent your life dealing with, the panicky need to pray or speak for the Lord, or else.
Or else something bad is going to happen. Or else that person will never be saved. Or else that person will die.
And even though it makes no logical sense, that A could lead to B, the fear of the possibility is too great for you to ignore. So you pray and speak and do, driven by terror of what could be, and how you would be the one at fault.
In this way, faith becomes a torment to you. It is this huge weight riding on your shoulders, that you must be the one to save the world. And if you turn your back on this burden, turn your back on faith altogether, you too will lose the only hope of eternity you have.
On the outside, it looks like your faith is strong. You are praying, speaking into lives, seeking God with everything you have. But inside you are a wreck. You are consumed by fear, scared of God, yet scared to leave him. You are controlled by this, enslaved by it. When you try to speak about the weight on your shoulders, people encourage you to have more faith. So you drive harder and the fear digs deeper.
I am speaking from my own experience, of course; this torment fits each of us differently, according to what beliefs we hold, what we fear most. But I know the weight of it. And I am amazed, truly, at the strength with which you have held to your faith, the tenacity with which you pursue the Lord, that you have spent all these years loving and serving him despite the days where it feels like torture. I do not know how you pushed forward for so long.
Friend… I want you to know that there is a life where this weight is lighter. Where you are not controlled by fear. Where you can call these compulsions that drive you to religious action for what they are, and learn how to serve the Lord for the right reasons, with a heart of peace.
The first step is calling OCD what it is. These fears that play on repeat in your mind, these torturous thoughts you can’t get rid of? They are obsessions. They are a disorder, a chemical problem in your brain. They are not your fault. The actions that you must complete in order to get rid of the thoughts or keep bad things from happening? They are compulsions, and they only reinforce the obsessions. It is like feeding a monster: it will stop growling as long as its stomach is full, but the more you feed it, the bigger it grows.
Each time you follow through on a compulsion, you are saying you believe the obsession, that the obsession is true: It is true that your friend will die if you don’t pray for them. It is true that the stranger will never know Jesus if you don’t speak to them. It is true that you won’t go to heaven if you don’t repent for every tiny sin you might have committed today.
Hear me on this: those things are not true.
Yes, we use this kind of language in the church to encourage people to step out of their comfort zones and follow where the Lord is leading. There are times where it is important to step out, and there are people who God speaks to in this way.
But you are not one of them. God knows exactly how your brain works. He knows that speaking to you in this way will cause you torment and enslave you to fear. And he doesn’t want that for you: because his Spirit is not one of fear, but of power, love, and sound mind, and because where the Spirit is, there is freedom (2 Timothy 1:7, 2 Corinthians 3:17).
If it’s making you a slave to doing something, it’s not from God.
Because guess what? God doesn’t need you. He’s not relying solely on you to save the person across the street. He’s not dependent on you to give a message to your friend or to intercede for global issues. God can accomplish his purposes without you.
He doesn’t need you, but he wants you.
He wants you to be a part of what he is doing in this world. He wants you to work with him, to walk alongside him.
But most of all he wants you to know his love and love him back.
Knowing that love looked a lot different for me than it did for most Christians. It meant not praying when I had an obsessive urge. It meant not worrying about the occasional curse word. It meant not focusing on messages of repentance and poring over every sin I may or may not have committed. It meant not striving to get nearer to God. It meant not going to church for a while. It meant not engaging in spiritual warfare. And in this process of stopping my destructive behaviors and figuring out what my faith looks like, I have not gotten it all perfect. But it was so much better than continuing down the path of destruction and fear and slavery that I was on.
And through it all, God still loves me. I know that love better now because I know God is not the one putting the burden on me. The burden came from a chemical disorder, and that disorder lost its grip on me as soon as I stopped trying to fight demons and got an antidepressant prescription instead.
I know now that God wants me to live an abundant life, a life of wholeness and freedom. He wants me to live for him because I am loved, not because I am afraid. He never tormented me with religious ultimatums and compulsions, but instead wants me to be free from them. I can actually love a God like that.
I am still learning what that relationship looks like, how it can be healthy instead of harmful for me. The good news is that God isn’t in as much of a rush as I am. He has all of eternity to woo me to himself. He doesn’t need me to be perfect right now in order to love me or to work through me. He will work on one thing at a time, as I’m ready, as my mind and my heart can handle it.
Friend, if he loves you and wants you to have a whole, full, and abundant life, then it’s okay to pursue that wholeness: to learn deep breathing, muscle relaxation, and grounding techniques. To speak to a doctor or a counselor. To take a little pill every day until, one day, you can see the goodness of God and the full life he wants you to have.
It is a lifelong process. You are not searching for a single key: a method of prayer, a theological idea, a demon to get rid of. You are choosing every day to stop striving to fix what is wrong inside you, to stop trying to make yourself right with God. You already are right with God because of Jesus.
And in this place of stopping, of not trying to do it on your own, of not being driven by fear: you will begin to see a God of blessing, not of torment, a God who desires wholeness and restoration in your life. A God who simply wants you.