OCD: From Obsessive compulsion to redemption
Thomas Luke | MAY 27, 2019 | 7 MIN READ
Imagine this scenario.
You are on page 67 of a book. You get to the last words of the page, and the next part of that sentence continues on page 68. So, you flip the page to keep on reading. However, as you are about to read the next word, there is this little, gnawing thought in your mind. “What if you flipped too far? What if you are on page 69, rather than page 68?”.
Valid question, valid doubt. There’s lots of times where you’ve done that annoying double-page flip, where you are reading a sentence and continue on, only to find out that “Lucy ate her food when she *flip* and everyone dies.” Clearly, you’ve flipped too far by accident! There’s no continuity. And so the doubt that you have is reasonable. And your mistake is verified when you see that you’ve accidentally turned to page 69, rather than page 68.
So as you read the words on page 68, you discover a more sensible statement than Lucy’s consumption of food leading to the demise of every character in the story. “Lucy ate her food when she *flip* got back home from school”. Ah, that makes sense! So keep on reading happily.
Well, you would. Only, the little, gnawing thought doesn’t go away. And an internal voice is heard. “Check the page number! You could have still flipped too far!” Okay, maybe. It could be that you flipped wrong again, and ended up on a wrong page that also happened to have a continuing sentence that fit well with two pages before it.
So what’s the next logical step? Your let your eyes travel the short distance between that first word on the new page and the page number. You remember you were on page 67. So the next page is 68. So, you leave page 67. “Lucy ate her food when she….”. It’s now page 68! So you know without a shadow of a doubt that this is the correct next page! And better yet, it makes sense! “…got back home from school”.
There’s continuity! It’s in both in logic of the sentence and, more importantly, the page sequence! 68 comes after 67.
Wait, why hasn’t the internal voice stopped? Who keeps telling you to go back, and check again that the last page was 67, and that the page you’re on is actually page 68. You’re looking right at it! It’s page 68! And the memory of flipping from page 67 is the first thing accessible in your short-term memory!
“No,” you say to yourself. “I’m on the right page! I’m looking right at it! This IS page 68. And I WAS on page 67!”
“…But are you sure? Are you sure page 67 was the page before? And are you sure the page number you’re looking at right now is actually page 68?”
There’s no logical validity in this foreign voice’s reasoning. But somehow, the voice feels like it has validity. Anxiety creeps into your soul. The longer you wait to succumb to its suggestion, the more it settles. The thought - the obsession - has lodged and anchored itself in a part of your mind even though it is clearly not welcome. But the thought doesn’t care about your “no trespassing” signs. You reason with the thought. But the thought says to you “you can’t be sure. The only way to be sure is to check again.”
Fine, let’s get this over with. A double check won’t hurt you! And you have reasoned that you need to do anything you can to rid yourself of this anxiety. So, you are compelled to check.
And the voice is back. “But…are you really sure? Let’s just do this one more time. After all, triple checking is better than double checking, right?”
Obsessive-compulsive disorder or OCD can manifest itself in many forms. One of the common forms for myself are situations similar to the one you graciously imagined with me in the page-flipping example. But it extends to other things.
Where you stare at the turn signal indicator to make sure it’s actually blinking. Where you stare at the lock on the door to make sure it’s actually locked. Where you look at the knob on the oven stove to make sure it’s actually off. You do this all the while knowing that you could take a step back and know the reality, but you do not feel the reality.
It also affects all of the relationships in your life.
Are you sure your brothers love you as much as you think they do? Maybe ask them for one more hug, and until you feel that it was a “proper” hug – whatever that means — then I’ll leave you alone. After all, he probably didn’t mean his “I love you.” There was something in the tone, something in his facial expressions. Something you didn’t catch. He didn’t meant it. Ask for affirmation again.
Are you sure God, and His promises in the Word apply to you? Promises that He will never leave you, promises that He loves you as His own, promises that He is near to you, promises that He feels the way He says He feels towards you- keep doubting, and choose not to trust, and be paralyzed in your fear, eventually I’ll leave you alone. This is just ink on a page. He meant this only for the Psalmist. Only for the apostles. Only for Israel. Only for the corporate body. Only for Paul. Not for you though! Keep asking God for affirmation, but don’t go back to the Scriptures! You can’t trust that those are for you!
The core doubt is always the same. The foreign voice always resounds it repetitive doubt… “are you sure? Even though you can logically take a step back from this and say yes to that question…are you sure?”
Whether it’s flipping a page, relationships with people, or my relationship with my King, OCD has always tormented me. Let me break this diagnosis into its recognized components:
Obsession - The thought. The little voice that becomes bigger and bigger as you don’t attend to it, or if you attend to it, still refuses to cease its deafening screams.
Compulsion - The action. The way in which you act out to alleviate the anxiety and fear caused by the Obsession. (I.e flipping the page back and forth, and “checking” to see if the voice was right. Asking for affirmation from people over and over again, etc).
Disorder - This is rightly labeled. There are many things I disagree with about mental health diagnoses in the secular world of psychology. The DSM tends to make you a victim of the specific disorder. I hold a dynamically different perspective. I believe that with many things that the world and it’s philosophies label you a victim of, God labels us as the perpetrators. And that’s a hard word, especially to someone who is walking in the midst of something where it feels like you’re the victim of a struggle you didn’t ask for!
I believe in the doctrine of innate sin (Gen 3, Psalm 139). I believe also that when one becomes a Christian, birthed anew with a changed heart and a new nature that loves God, there is still indwelling, residual sin that will be there until we see our Savior’s face in heaven (Rom 7).
I believe that OCD – whether there are neurological components or not - play on one’s indwelling sin struggles. The apostle Paul himself was a victim of a thorn that he did not ask for. Yet the Lord sovereignly plunged it into his flesh to “keep [him] from becoming conceited”. The thorn played on his indwelling sinful struggle of wanting to elevate himself over his fellow man, and over God. Victim of the thorn yes. Victim of what the thorn revealed? Absolutely not. The thorn revealed the specific crime he was prone to commit in his flesh.
I want to make this note. Yes, the presenting circumstance – the thought, the environmental situation, the enemy’s voice – those things, we are not guilty for. Eve was not guilty for the serpent’s entrance into the garden and his initial proposal. She became a transgressor the moment she in her mind said, “Maybe he’s right”. The second we decide to give validity or linger upon those things and not to resist, we become perpetrators of God’s first command - to love Him with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength.
In Romans 8, Paul describes where he finds his comfort from the struggle with his indwelling sin he mentions in Romans 7.
“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ”.
That’s where perfect peace dwells! Not in you, not in me, not even in us perfectly resisting. For all of us fall. If the best of us failed in the garden, what hope would fractured humanity have in themselves?
Our hope lies in the righteous Savior who shed his blood to forgive each crime on our account, to provide us with a perfect right-standing before God of His own, and to free us from the impossible task of pleasing God by our own obedience to the letter of the law. Because we have chosen to break His good law.
But He has died, risen, and reigns mercifully victorious over every law-breaking heart that would trust in His law-obeying heart. The Christian says along with Paul…”who shall set me free from this body of death?” Can you set yourself free? Haven’t you tried? Even on your best day, the evil glance, thought, action, word slips in. So who, Paul? Who will set me free? A perfect God, robing himself in the weakness and fragility of human flesh, dying for the criminal, and causing the Law-breaker to put their trust in the Law-fulfiller, who by our faith, transfers His perfections to their undeserving accounts- God finds us pleasing on the basis of His Son’s obedience, and His Son’s payment for our disobedience. We are solely recipients of unimaginably deep grace.
With OCD specifically, I have chosen thousands of times to reason with the demonic thought of “Are you sure?” And in my flesh, I have chosen to give validity to the insanity of its voice, because sin in me still wants to oppose God rather than wait for Him. I would rather seek alleviation and do the “compulsion” - thus signifying to God that I would rather fix this myself, do it in my own strength…though He has said through His prophet Isaiah that it’s those who WAIT for the Lord that renew their strength.
Waiting. What a hard thing to ask! How can I wait when there is a madman, reeking havoc in my mind and removing bases of sanity and peace? I need to do something, and I need to do it now, before he takes the whole building down!
But my Sovereign Creator says “Wait”. Not passively. But actively wait. Why do I say that? Because waiting is not just choosing to let the madman run and not attend to him. The promises of renewed strength apply to those who “wait upon the Lord”. I am waiting upon something. Better yet, I’m waiting upon Someone. And this Someone has revealed Himself through His Words and commanded different servants throughout the ages to pen, for “training in righteousness”. For aligning our hearts to His righteous, good, and perfect design, and redeeming us from disorder unto a New Order that God desires to bring about in our lives, and for the rest of eternity.
I am eager for the day when OCD will be redeemed. When obsessive compulsive disorder, turns into obsessive compulsive delight. The happy Obsession of the saints will be their Savior, the responding Compulsion will be their eternal worship as they eagerly contemplate Him, and their eternal inheritance will be fullness of Delight in the presence of their God. I am eager to dig into my own heart, and edify the reader who has trusted in God and struggles with similar things that I have mentioned, that they would find their Savior to be faithful to His promises and to His people to carry them through to the end of life, that they would find wonderful respite for their weary souls partly in this life, and fully in the life to come. And I am eager to invite the reader who has not turned to Christ, to turn to Him, that they might find unbelievably sweet peace. Not in the removal of the struggle, necessarily. By God’s grace, maybe the removal, and we have faith and ask God that He would do that. But more than that, that He would let his peace reign in your heart in the midst of the madman running around in your mind, so that you would see the God of the Bible to hold true to what He says, “He is near to the broken hearted and crushed in spirit”.
Thomas Luke is a child welfare specialist who lives in Champaign, IL. Thomas helps oversee a ministry called Indian Christian Fellowship, a paraministry of his church, Covenant Fellowship Church. Originally from Naperville, IL, he traveled to Champaign to do his undergraduate studies at the University of Illinois. In 2016, he graduated with his Bachelor’s in Psychology and Economics. Long term, Thomas desires to move to India to do missions there, as he has a heart for his people to come and know the Lord Jesus Christ, and for God to reconcile this predominantly Hindu nation unto Himself.