This year marks a year of recovery for me after undergoing a significant battle with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). There are many aspects to the recovery process that I hope to share in the future, but I first wanted to share the story of God’s steadfast love and faithfulness to me during the trial of acute OCD in my life.
I believe OCD is a condition that affects mind, body, and spirit and the interplay of these things is often complex. Although I have struggled with various degrees of anxiety throughout my life, OCD became significant for me in November 2013. At that point I stopped working as Chris was starting a church-planting residency at our local church, and obsessive thinking quickly began to overtake my mind. I began to have extreme fear that I could do something morally wrong or cause harm to others. I then started to perform a variety of external rituals to try to make sure bad things didn’t happen. These included avoiding places and people, asking questions to make sure it was okay that I did something, hand-washing to the point my hands would crack/bleed, and spontaneously throwing things away, like books or laundry. At the worst, I was going through 12-15 rolls of paper towels a week. I was fearful of touching things at stores because I could be spreading my germs to others. A simple trip to Target could take me over two hours trying not to touch things accidentally, and most of the time I would end up buying much of what I mistakenly touched. This is just a very small sample of my fears/rituals.
The unwanted thoughts that came in my mind were very scary and dark. Combined, all my obsessions and compulsions became so overpowering, it wasn’t uncommon for me to lie down for hours and forget to do basic things like eat. So, I began to lose weight. At one point I was so physically weak I couldn’t stand up without leaning on something. I wasn’t able to take care of myself when my husband Chris was working or at school, so my mom came to take care of me two times that winter.
Spiritually I was in an even darker place. I was very depressed, and my heart was extremely hard. Some weeks, I would come to church and listen to the singing and think “these songs aren’t true- how could a loving God look at someone he cared for and take her mind away?” But, I also have a form of OCD called scrupulosity, which is basically religious OCD. So I was obsessively fearful about being blasphemous or not being saved. On the one hand I was very angry with God, but on the other hand, I was very scared to be angry with God.
So, how did God deliver me from OCD?
In addition to using the common grace of various forms of professional help, God also brought me to a place of greater trust in Him. There is a story in the gospels that I think summarizes this spiritual journey for me. The story is of the woman who suffered from a discharge of blood for twelve years, and who walked through the crowd and was healed by touching Jesus’ garment (Matthew 9; Mark 5). When I read a commentary on this in the ESV Study Bible, it noted that this woman would have been considered ceremoniously unclean and could not enter into public without letting others know. Anyone she touched, including Jesus, and anyone on the way to him, would have then been considered unclean. I can imagine how she would have felt – the years of desperation being in the back row of a religion that told her she was dirty and unworthy. It would feel hopeless. This is how I felt with OCD. I felt unclean and that anyone or anything that I touched I would contaminate. Spiritually, I was so scared to move toward Grace because I was so unable to come to terms with the fact that I need it more than anything. I isolated myself from relationship with God and others because I thought I needed perfection more than grace. This is what religion does. It says if you have the stain of shame and sin you must work hard to rid that stain. It tells you to fear men and stay in your place and look at everyone else who is purer and has it more together.
Yet in a midst of a world that says you must be perfect, there is Faith and there is Grace. There is Faith that urges you to keep walking toward your Savior in an uncertain world, and there is Grace that meets you that very moment you touch His garment. You make Him impure with your sin that He freely takes upon himself, and He makes you pure with His blood and heals you with His Love so amazing that you are now considered accepted, loved, adored, and righteous. You lay down your ideas of perfection and trust only in His is Grace. Through OCD, I learned to walk toward Jesus and say to Him- You are enough.
I don’t know a lot of things, and after experiencing OCD I am more comfortable with that uncertainty. I don’t know why I had to go through suffering with constant affliction in my mind. But what I do know now, more than ever, is that God’s love is steadfast. He didn’t go back on his promise to not let go of me. He walked with me every long, hard step of the past years. And His strength and power worked mightily in me those dark days to give me courage to do battle in my mind. And I know I want to speak of that faithfulness. I want to tell people this: don’t let anyone, even yourself, tell you that you have to live in the dark backroom of religion, working your way to acceptance. Don’t let your sin or how you think people view you isolate you. There is Grace that beckons you, come. And when you do, like me, you will be delivered from your fears, and everything in you will say that Jesus is your help, your deliverer, your everything. Jesus truly is enough.
The woman in the story, she spent all she had trying to get well. But she found healing the moment she walked toward a savior who took her shame upon himself, and the power of God came from Him and made her clean. We, none of us, will ever get clean enough on our own. We find freedom in resting in the fact that Jesus’ work accomplished redemption in our lives, and we hide ourselves in Him that united with Him we walk in newness of life. He saves us from wrath and he makes us pure, a theological truth I think is put so well in the hymn Rock of Ages:
Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
let me hide myself in thee;
let the water and the blood,
from thy wounded side which flowed,
be of sin the double cure;
save from wrath and make me pure.
(ESV Study Bible, 2008, Crossway Bibles, pgs. 1838, 1902-1903; Rock of Ages written by Augustus Toplady)