OCD and Spirituality

Biblical Advice About Fear
by Cherry Pedrick, RN
Reprinted from Suite101.com, July 28, 2000

Fear can be one of our biggest enemies. And we are not alone, people without OCD have problems with fear too.

Click here to visit this wonderful church where Pastor Rochelle is the senior pastor. www.shadowhills.org

Pastor Michael Rochelle’s sermon really hit home one week. He talked about fear. I can relate and I am sure most of you can relate to the problem of fear. So, I will share some of what he had to say. And I’ll try to give it some special application to those of us with obsessive-compulsive disorder.

We all have lots of real fears. He listed six:

  1. The fear of not having enough.

  2. The fear of death.

  3. The fear of ill health.

  4. The fear of losing love.

  5. The fear of getting older.

  6. The fear of criticism.

That’s enough things to fear. But we with OCD have even more fears. Some are irrational. I suspect most are rational fears that have just taken hold in our obsessive brains. Why do we fear? He listed three reasons for fear:

  1. Ignorance – by that, we mean not knowing how to handle the situations.

  2. Uncontrollable situations – we’ve all experienced that. Everyday there are situations we can’t control.

  3. Guilt – yes, sometimes we do wrong and we fear the consequences.

Then Pastor Rochelle referred to the story of Peter who was in a boat with some other disciples when he saw Jesus walk across the water. The story is found in Matthew 14:22-32:

Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, abut the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it. During the fourth watch of the night Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. "It's a ghost," they said, and cried out in fear.

But Jesus immediately said to them: "Take courage! It is I. Don't be afraid."

"Lord, if it's you," Peter replied, "tell me to come to you on the water."

"Come," he said.

Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, "Lord, save me!”

Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. "You of little faith," he said, "why did you doubt?” And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down.

Matthew 14:22-32 New International Version (NIV)

This story illustrated the three most common reactions to fear:

  1. We can be paralyzed. The other apostles reacted this way. We are tempted to criticize Peter, but he was the only one who had the courage to get out of the boat. In our lives we sometimes become paralyzed by fear. As Pastor Rochelle said, we go AWOL (away without leave) on our responsibilities. Instead of staying and facing the problem, we desert our responsibilities – quit our jobs, quit our marriages. And for us with OCD, we quit trying to win our fight with obsessive-compulsive disorder.

  2. We can panic. Peter looked around him and saw the wind. He was afraid – he panicked. When my OCD was at its worst I panicked a lot. I'd look around me at the things I feared. Then I'd run around in a 100 different directions. Or I'd obsess about something and check a few things. Then a few more things. Pretty soon, I’d be locked in an OCD cycle of obsessing and worrying and checking. I'd do better when I slowed down, focused on my problem and what I needed to do about it. Usually that meant using my cognitive-behavioral skills to face my fear and resist the unnecessary compulsions.

  3. We can pursue the path to recovery. For Christians, that means keeping our focus on Jesus. When Peter took his eyes off Jesus, he began to sink. For those of us with OCD, it also means educating ourselves about OCD and implementing cognitive-behavioral skills in our pursuit of recovery.

Here are a couple more verses about fear:

So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. Isaiah 41:10  NIV

When I am afraid, I will trust in you. In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I will not be afraid. What can mortal man do to me?  Psalm 56:3,4 NIV

Don't Worry
by Cherry Pedrick, RN
Reprinted from Suite101.com, April 27, 2000, revised

I've read Matthew 6:25-34 many times. The truth of this passage was illustrated in my life as I grieve the passing of my beloved aunt.

"Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?  

"And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, `What shall we eat?' or `What shall we drink?' or `What shall we wear?' For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own."

Matthew 6:25-34 -- New International Version

I’ve read these words of Jesus Christ in the Gospel of Matthew many, many times. He tells us not to worry, but still I do. I think my brain was simply wired to worry. There are times when I am reminded of the Truth of these verses.

Wednesday, April 12, my sister called to tell me my Aunt Margaret had suffered a stroke, “a bad one.” My sister lives 450 miles from her, and I live 700 miles from her. We had both seen her just two weeks before. Aunt Margaret was 90 years old and had lived a full life, but in the last year her health had failed rapidly. She only sometimes recognized us during our last visit.

After the stroke Aunt Margaret was able to drink some fluids, but not enough to sustain her 90 pound body, especially with her diabetes and heart disease. My sister and I needed to be there, but when? Aunt Margaret was receiving good care from people who loved her and had cared for her the last six years. Our main concern was being a comfort to my other aunt, her 91-year-old sister.

Sunday morning, Aunt Margaret was not responsive and not taking in any fluid, so I knew it wouldn't be long. I got very upset, fearing my other aunt would be alone when her sister died. I wanted to be there, to tell her and support her. I needed to be there. I prayed I could be there in time to comfort my other aunt. My husband agreed we should leave Monday morning. We drove all day, 14 hours, and got here at 10:00 p.m. My sister and her husband drove down and arrived that evening also.

Tuesday morning I dreamed my aunt had died during the night. I woke up crying and my husband comforted me. We got up and dressed. Then the phone rang. My aunt had died. We went over to view the body and I could tell she had just died that morning. She looked peaceful, as I knew she would. The funeral director said she had died around 6:30 a.m., around the time I awoke from my dream.

We were able to tell my other aunt in person that her sister had died and that she looked very peaceful. We also woke up that morning to a soft blanket of snow. If we had left a day later, we wouldn't have made the trip in one day. God sent snow when my mother died 15 years ago also. To me, it is a sign of promise, a reminder that life goes on and God cares for us and the earth.

God was at work when we made the funeral arrangements. My sister and I both picked out the announcement with a butterfly on the front. We also ordered butterflies in the flowers. The remarkable thing is that I had, on the spur of the moment, packed my four butterfly pins from an online friend I call The Butterfly Lady. I had just enough butterflies for my surviving aunt, my sister, her daughter and me!

When we left our house, I had gone back in to get a photo album of my aunts.  Only a few weeks ago, I had placed ten years of photos of my aunts in one special album. Well, it just happens that the funeral director likes to take 15 photos and make a special video for the family. It was beautiful.

So you see, the Lord does work everything out, even when we are grieving a loss. Oh, and the best part -- when God allowed my 90-year-old aunt to have a stroke, He also zapped the pain receptors in her brain and she had six days of freedom from severe arthritis pain. I had prayed for peace comfort and freedom from pain for years and God answered that prayer. God is good.

OCD and Guilt
by Cherry Pedrick, RN
Reprinted from Suite101.com, January 13, 2000 

Okay, so you have these bad thoughts. Maybe they are blasphemous thoughts. That’s bad, right? A sin, right? Well, let’s think about it for a minute. OCD means having unwanted, intrusive thoughts. They just pop into your head, unwelcome and uninvited. How can that be a sin? How can you have guilt for something for which you have no control?

If you are like many people with obsessive thoughts, you fight these unwanted thoughts. Try not to think about them. But when you try not to think of something, it grows bigger and bigger until it takes over your mind, your entire day, thinking about what you don’t want to think about and trying not to think about it.

So trying not to think the bad thoughts doesn’t work. Penance, prayer, making up for the supposed sin, confessing the sinful thoughts to someone else – do these things help? Probably for a while. But the OCD brain isn’t satisfied. It will never be satisfied with any ritual. When the thoughts return, you say another prayer, confess your thoughts again. It takes longer this time, but eventually the thoughts leave. But even quicker this time, they’re back. And this time the thoughts are stronger, more horrifying because you know they won’t be so easily dismissed this time.

So what is the answer? The solution makes no sense to most people. Let the thoughts remain in the recesses of your mind. The problem is the entertaining of bad thoughts, not in having them. There can be no guilt when we have no control over something. Paying attention to them, trying to get rid of them, doing rituals to rid our minds of them – all of these fall into the category of “entertaining thoughts.” When we recognize the thoughts as OCD and unimportant and we allow them to just remain in the recesses of our minds, we take away their significance. We admit they are meaningless. Brain noise, I like to call these thoughts. We cease to entertain the thoughts.

It’s not easy. One of the keys is to remind yourself that these thoughts are just OCD. We cannot control the thoughts that pop into our heads and God will not punish us for them. And doing penance for thoughts you have no control over is entertaining them.

Think of an obsessive thought as a train passing by. You can't stop the rumble and sound, you have no control over it. The train will go by no matter what you do. People that live near trains get used to them. If they hear them, they might say something like "There goes that train again." But they don't go out and try to stop it. They recognize it, then ignore it.

If you ignore one thought, another comes up. Just let them come. Note how busy your OCD is today. Then go on with what you are doing. Also, I think that filling our minds with good stuff helps. Not when the OCD is bad necessarily, but on a regular basis. Spend 15 minutes every morning and evening in Bible study and prayer, or whatever is uplifting and inspiring for you. The Bible verses will come back to you when they are needed.

But resist the urge to pray when the obsessions hit, except maybe to ask for God's help in dealing with OCD. Don't ask for forgiveness for OCD obsessions, only His help in dealing with them. Why ask forgiveness for a glitch in your brain, for brain noise? God made you the way you are for a reason. Along with the OCD comes other positive traits – concern and empathy for others for example. He can use you just the way you are, so there is no need to ask forgiveness for the way God made your brain.

It will take time to get accustomed to handling obsessive thoughts this way. You will probably feel guilty, like you will be punished for allowing these obsessive thoughts, this brain noise, to remain in the recesses of your mind. With time these feelings will ease. But at first, I think we need to just walk in faith that we are doing the right thing. The feelings are part of OCD. Sometimes I have what I call feelings of gloom and doom. It is usually OCD and I need to recognize these feelings as such.

Does God understand? I know He does, He made us and understands how our brains work. But I have an idea that might help resolve the guilt question. How about writing a letter to God? I know He already knows our thoughts and feelings, but it might help us understand ourselves. Explain to Him about your OCD and how the thoughts pop into your head. Tell Him they are not your thoughts, but OCD. Tell Him you love Him and want to please Him. You would be healthier and more able to serve Him if you could control your OCD. So you are choosing to use cognitive-behavior therapy to treat your OCD. Tell Him you are no longer going to do penance for what you are not responsible for – the OCD obsessions. Finally tell God you love Him and thank Him for making you the way you are – OCD and all.

Biblical Advice About Anxiety
by Cherry Pedrick, RN
Reprinted from Suite101.com, June 8, 1999

No, I’m not going to preach at you. Even if you are not a Christian, you can gain insight into dealing with anxiety from the Bible. When my OCD was at its worst, I printed up Philippians 4:4-9 and carried it with me. I read it when I was anxious or worrying. Or just during breaks in my day.

But can’t this become a ritual? Yes it can and we with OCD must be careful of that. It is good to meditate on scripture and memorize scripture. But be careful not to do so in a ritualistic way. Don’t let scripture become a mantra for driving away obsessive thoughts. Look at it as a reminder of the truths your real self believes. I see myself as two people – my real true self and my OCD self.

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:4-7 (New International Version)

For the Christian, these verses remind us of the Truths we believe. Our Lord is near. He is always near. And when we come to Him with our problems and anxieties He will guard our hearts and MINDS with His peace.

I said even the nonchristian can find insight into dealing with anxiety in the Bible. It’s true! In the following verse, the Apostle Paul gives advice anyone can use.

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things. Philippians 4:8 (New International Version)

Exposure and ritual prevention is hard work. We need to let obsessive thoughts flow right on through our brain without doing anything to counteract them. For us with OCD, thoughts that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely and admirable shouldn’t be used to directly counteract the intrusive obsessive thoughts. This makes them just one more ritual.

No, I think these types of thoughts need bo be part of our daily lives. When we fill our minds with good things, pure and noble thoughts, there is less room for the OCD thoughts. This also helps fill the void left by the elimination of our rituals. If you are spending several hours a day doing OCD rituals, what will you do with your time when you stop? Fill your days with activities you enjoy – reading, hobbies, sports, playing with your children. Then as you reduce your rituals, you won’t be as tempted to go back to them out of habit.

These verses from Philippians wouldn’t seem complete to me without verse nine. The Apostle Paul tells us to learn from him, put into practice what he teaches us. Much can be learned about dealing with anxiety from the life of Paul and his writings. He endured beatings, prison and shipwrecks, yet he left us enduring advice on attaining peace.

Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me – put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you. Philippians 4:9 (New International Version)

What about you? Share with us your favorite verses for dealing with anxiety and worry.

OCD and Religion
by Cherry Pedrick
Reprinted from Suite101.com, March 30, 1999, revised

Let's examine a type of OCD that often involves religious beliefs. I never had scrupulosity. Or at least I didn’t think I did until I read Joseph Ciarrocchi’s book, The Doubting Disease. I read it only to round out my knowledge about OCD. I had been a Christian for over 20 years and had and still have an unshakable belief in eternal salvation through accepting Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. How could I have scrupulosity? Imagine my surprise when I found myself in the pages of Ciarrocchi’s excellent book.

Even unbelievers can be affected by scrupulosity. Instead of religious guilt, they experience ethical and moral guilt. Hyper-morality is a good term to describe this. The easiest way to illustrate hyper-morality is to describe an obsession I had. Recognizing it and similar obsessions as OCD symptoms was my first step in breaking free from hyper-morality.

I woke up several times during the night wrestling with the problem. By morning I was tired and still worried, so I made an appointment to see my pastor. I had told my husband about it, and he had reassured me there was nothing to worry about, but still I dwelled on it. I was afraid I had hurt someone.

What was my worry? The Lord’s Supper had been served at church. We should come away from this experience refreshed, renewed, and feeling clean, but that feeling had escaped me that evening. I had touched one of the other wafers when I picked up mine! I obsessed about this all through the night

. . . I’m not ill now, but maybe I’m catching a cold, maybe I have an illness I don’t know about. I touched the wafer and if someone takes it they could get sick. It would be my fault. That wafer is contaminated . . . No, germs don’t live more than a few seconds so no one could get sick by taking that wafer . . . Well, it’s done now. There’s nothing I can do about it . . . But wait! What happens to the wafers after the service? Do they put them back in the box? . . . It doesn’t matter, the germs couldn’t survive long . . . but maybe they could. The whole box would be contaminated! I’ve got to make sure . . . I’ll ask the pastor what they do with the left over wafers. I’ll call him now . . . no . . . he’ll think that’s crazy. I’ll talk to him tomorrow.

This is part of the endless dialogue that went through my mind as I obsessed over the communion wafers. What makes the above scenario even more surprising is that I had been a nurse for 20 years! I knew about germs and their short life spans, but the obsessions continued anyway. Why was I so worried? Was I afraid of losing my salvation or being punished by God? Did I fear someone would find out I had contaminated the communion wafers? No, no and no.

It’s hard to explain the fear I had. I was afraid I would cause harm to someone. I wasn't afraid of the consequences. I wasn't afraid of being blamed. I guess I was afraid of blaming myself. I don’t even know if that describes the fear adequately. I’ve stopped analyzing it and trying to figure out why I felt the fear. It was simply there. It was just OCD.

What is Scrupulosity?

The term, scrupulosity, refers to OCD with a religious, moral or ethical theme. Webster’s New World Dictionary, Third College Edition, defines scrupulous as: "1 a) extremely careful to do the precisely right, proper, or correct thing in every last detail; most punctilious b) showing extreme care, precision, and punctiliousness 2 extremely conscientious 3 full of scruples, hesitant, doubtful, or uneasy, esp. constantly and obsessively, in deciding what is right or wrong."

Scrupulosity OCD often involves religious obsessions, but it doesn’t always. Hyper-morality and hyper-responsibility are major factors in scrupulosity. People with hyper-morality are overly concerned about doing what is morally right. They set very high standards in certain areas of their lives – not all areas, just particular areas that happen to be touched most by OCD.

Those with hyper-responsibility hold themselves extremely accountable in certain areas of their lives. They take responsibilities that belong to others or take responsibility for things that are beyond anyone’s control. People with this type of OCD often feel persistent guilt about almost everything they do and think. They can be constantly checking, confessing, and asking for reassurance.

To the scrupulous person, certain thoughts seem dangerous, unacceptable, offensive, repulsive, or disgusting. They cause intense anxiety and shame. These are the obsessions. In an attempt to relieve anxiety, the person looks for a way to neutralize the thoughts. These are the compulsions and most often take the form of neutralizing thoughts or actions and reassurance. The compulsion offers temporary relief, but soon the cycle begins again. Another obsessive thought invades the mind and it must be neutralized.

The first step in breaking free from scrupulosity OCD is recognizing that the bad thoughts are not a part of your true moral and spiritual self. They are OCD thoughts. Identify your obsessions and compulsions just as you would with other OCD symptoms. Separate the fear, doubt and anxiety of OCD from your true spiritual self and religious heritage. Healthy spiritual practices enhance our peace and well-being. Scrupulosity OCD increases anxiety and robs us of peace.

Let go of extreme or outdated religious rituals and develop a more intimate faith. The beliefs and principles of people with scrupulosity OCD often go beyond those of the most devoted members of their own religion. For a Christian, this means developing a closer relationship with Jesus Christ. Heart knowledge as opposed to head knowledge.

Then find ways to replace religious rituals with sincere spiritual practices. Spend more quality time with your children, do volunteer work, spend time with a lonely person, or help a neighbor, for example. Let your spirituality be a source of comfort, peace and well-being, rather than anxiety and fear. This year, enjoy the holidays and grow closer to your God – and farther from the fear imposed by OCD.

Don’t Give Up on Church!
by Cherry Pedrick, RN
Reprinted from Suite101.com, March 28, 2000

Be inspired by a true story of persistence, love, support and acceptance. Get inside the head of someone with OCD who didn’t give up on church or God.  

E. wrote an encouraging letter and agreed to let me share it with you all. Her feelings were hurt at church, but she kept attending. People didn’t understand her, but she kept going. E. felt embarrassed and angry, but still she kept going to church. She did gain acceptance and understanding and she found a way God could use her to bring joy to others. And she found a husband!

Have you given up on going to your place of worship? Have you given up on God? Let E. give you courage to go back. Or maybe you are a pastor, rabbi, priest, lay minister or church leader. Do people with mental illness feel comfortable in your fellowship? This letter will give you a glimpse at the discomfort people with OCD can experience in public, even among fellow believers.

From E.:

I understand being angry toward people at church that don't understand OCD. I became a Christian in 1986. I was attending a very large church that had a good, active singles' program. The few people I disclosed my OCD fears to were totally baffled by it, had never heard of such a thing.

When I told my Sunday school teacher I was afraid to be alone with babies and small children because I was afraid I might hurt them or molest them or something, he warned other people who had small kids to not let me get close to them. I was devastated! And I never trusted that guy with my secrets or feelings again. I think he really meant well. After all, he did have small children himself, and he just plain didn't understand OCD.

And then when I kept going up to the front of the church after the service more than once, to rededicate my life to Christ, I was passed on to speak with a counselor. This made me angry at the time. But think about it. What would you do if you were the pastor, already knew that this woman had accepted Christ, you already recognized that I had scrupulosity (although I didn't realize it at the time), and you had other new people standing behind me waiting to give their heart to Jesus.

I was upset at the time, and felt brushed off. But what was he supposed to do at that moment? He did speak lovingly to me, and reassured me of my salvation before having the counselor speak with me. But a person with severe scrupulosity is soooooooo hard to convince that all is well with her soul.

I became close to a woman my age who tried very hard to encourage me over many, many months. But she became burnt out, with good reason. Having such a high degree of OCD, I was extremely angry and confused. She was of a very gentle nature, with a heart of gold. But she just couldn't understand me either. After a year or so of trying to go over and over and over the plan of salvation with me, she finally became a ragged, nervous wreck herself. She had to quit working with me, and backed off.

I was also angry at her, and embarrassed. But what else was she supposed to do? How many people do you know that would give a "crazy" like I was a whole year? She had done everything she could. She'd let me call her at any hour and talk on and on. She had even let me stay at her house a couple of times. But I really wasn't very good company, you'll have to admit. I don't even know that I would have been as patient as she was with someone so angry and baffling!

Anyway, the point of my message is that I came very, very close to leaving the church. But I believed that God wanted me to hang in there, so I did. I finally just told God, "Heavenly Father, I feel like you've given up on me, that everyone's given up on me. But I'm going to stay ANYWAY!"

I became more and more active in the church and in my Sunday school class. Although I still struggled with my OCD, I found ways to let God "renew my mind" by doing positive things, helping other people, attending any Bible study, sermon, special event, and dinner that the church had, especially for singles like me. I kept a small book of God's promises with me in my purse, and also carried 3x5 note cards with me on which I'd written verses that especially helped me personally, particularly out of Philippians. I learned to love other people the way I wanted them to love me.

I didn't know sign language at all (didn't even know any deaf people), but took 3 semesters of American Sign Language at the community college there. I bought several sign language books, and learned to sign many hymns. Since I cannot sing (or at least people would probably rather I wouldn't! I sing like a frog!), signing the hymns was WONDERFUL. I had always wanted to sing my heart out, and with sign language, I could really belt it out loud! I exaggerated all the sign movements, and got backup music from the Christian bookstore.

Then the church wanted me to sign for various groups and Sunday school classes and events. I picked songs that had a repetitive chorus, taught the audience the chorus, then signed the whole song to the music. When it came time for the chorus, they'd join me signing it each time. It was fantastic! And quite contagious! The best parts were that I could wildly, openly, animatedly worship my Savior and have fun too! The 3rd best thing about it was that it kept my hands busy so I didn't wash my OCD hands so much.

The 2nd best thing was that this is how I met the wonderful Christian man I married 4 years ago. He was at a dinner of 700+ people when I signed 3 songs. He went from Sunday school to Sunday school class over the next few weeks, and eventually found me. Eventually asked me for a date. We married 4 years ago. And we are soooo happy. We've now taken a couple of sign language classes together. And when we want to secretly make fun of someone we see at the mall or at a restaurant, we just sign the appropriate sign at each other and laugh. Rather tacky, I guess, to sign tacky descriptions of perfect strangers, but we do have a blast!

Please don't give up going to church. The church needs you. Try a different church, if that's what it takes. Start your own Bible study group. But don't just walk away. I'm so very thankful that I didn't walk away 12 years ago. Sure, I still have OCD, and still struggle. But I've learned how to let people love me, and that's a MIRACLE!  God bless you! Ellen

P.S. I forgot to mention something. That woman I mentioned – the one who tried to help me for a year and got burnt out? She and I have been very, very dear friends for about 14 years

now. And now that I've moved to another town with my new husband, we e-mail one another regularly. She's one in a million!   E

OCD and Church, Part I
by Cherry Pedrick, RN
Reprinted from Suite101.com, February 25, 2000, revised

When my OCD was at its worst, I had some particularly distressing obsessions that surrounded a fear that I had somehow contaminated the communion wafers at church. I also had a problem with holding hands at church, fearing I would contaminate other people. I washed my hands frequently, especially when I handled food, so I wouldn’t help with food preparation at church or help set the tables at fellowships.

My biggest compulsions concerned checking things. At home, the problem was checking and rechecking the doors, coffee pot, stove, toilets and lights when I left the house or went to bed. In public, I had a fear that the toilet would overflow when I used it. I had to listen for the flushing to stop, turning out the lights to eliminate the noise of the fan. Often I would return to check the toilet again. When I washed my hands, I checked the floor well to make sure I had not dripped water on it – someone could fall. 

At church, when I touched such things as the air conditioner controls, I worried that I had broken them. When I went to church alone, I would return to my car, sometimes more than once, to make certain the brakes were set and the door was locked. You may be thinking I was a new Christian, immature in my faith, but I was not. I had been a Christian for over 20 years, teaching Sunday school for most of that time. I developed this illness at the age of 39, although it is more common to develop it in young adulthood, adolescence, or even in childhood.

As you can see, even mild OCD can greatly affect a person’s relationships at church. Staying home is often easier than enduring the pain and anxiety involved in going out, even to church. But we want everyone to feel loved and accepted in the presence of fellow believers.

Medication and cognitive-behavior therapy are the most commonly used treatments of OCD. Before I had sought treatment or researched OCD, I found Paul’s advice in Philippians 4:4-9 to be very helpful.  I carried these verses with me, reading them when I was stressed out or obsessing. When I learned about cognitive-behavior therapy, I realized Paul had taught us a form of cognitive-behavior therapy before we even had a name for it! This is my favorite Bible passage. Read more about it in my article, “Biblical Advice About Anxiety.”  

Obsessive-compulsive disorder is thought to be caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain involving the neurotransmitter, serotonin. Medications are available to help correct this imbalance. Cognitive-behavior therapy is giving us new hope for recovery. With medication and therapy, I slowly improved, but I began to realize that I was also facing a spiritual problem. I knew that we all needed to give God complete control of our lives, and I thought I had done so long ago. Somehow, I had gradually taken that control back until I no longer depended on Him. I lost some of my trust in Him. I begged God for healing of my illness and anxiety,  but only when I learned this important lesson and began to give Him back control of my life did I begin to recover.

I must be clear, I don’t believe OCD is a spiritual problem, but I do believe there was a definite spiritual aspect to my illness. I think most diseases have physical, emotional and spiritual aspects to them.

OCD and Church, Part II
by Cherry Pedrick, RN
Reprinted from Suite101.com, February 25, 2000, revised

How Can Ministers Help the Person with OCD? I called on my pastor for counseling twice before seeking psychiatric help. He offered spiritual counseling which was very helpful, but he didn’t recommend psychiatric help. I told  him about some of the OCD symptoms I was experiencing during my first counseling visit, but I downplayed their significance. Neither of us recognized them as the beginning of a serious illness requiring therapy. It wasn’t until it interfered with my job that I sought psychiatric help. I believe my recovery would have been quicker, smoother and less painful had I sought help earlier. (For those who know me, this was not the pastor of the church I attend now)     

Why didn’t my pastor recommend help? Because I didn’t reveal the severity of my symptoms and they were intermingled with anxiety about my past, low self esteem issues and spiritual problems.  People with OCD tend to be very secretive about their obsessions and compulsions, and I was no different. We are afraid people will think we are strange or crazy. I was secretive even to myself, afraid of what I might find if I looked too deep.

The obsession I describe in “OCD and Religion” occurred about two months after I started seeing a psychiatrist and a therapist. My pastor counseled me and I was relieved for a few minutes. But the obsession over the communion wafer kept intruding my mind as we talked. I rephrased the questions about the communion wafer and asked him again and again. He reassured me no one could be hurt.  “But just in case, do they throw them out after the service?” I asked.  He assured me they did. 

According to principles of cognitive-behavior therapy I learned about, giving me reassurance that the communion wafers were not contaminated, and that they were all thrown out after the service, may not have been the best advice. Asking for reassurance was a form of checking, and I had already drilled my husband about it the night before. Some behavior therapists recommend that reassurance not be given at all. In my case, it has been helpful for my family to offer reassurance once. Usually I would ask the question again, or rephrase it.  After learning about cognitive-behavior therapy, they would reply, “I already answered that question and I won’t answer it again.”

I withheld this information about cognitive-behavior therapy from my pastor! Why? I wanted to keep him as a resource person to give me immediate relief of my obsessive thoughts, thus relieving my anxiety temporarily. Only later did I realized how deceptive and counterproductive to my own recovery I was. This is why it may be helpful to communicate with the therapist concerning the treatment, and how you can best assist. You may need to have the person sign a release form giving you permission to discuss the case with the therapist.

Even when the person is in therapy, I think counseling from the pastor or someone else trained in spiritual counseling on a regular basis is important. Try to set up regular counseling sessions. I was reluctant to ask for help and usually called on my pastor only when I was desperate.

Another need in the church is for support groups of all kinds, in my case for people with emotional problems. On my road to recovery, I thought I could start such a group, but the Lord let me know I was not ready for that. It must be lead by someone well on the way to recovery, or ideally, by someone with counseling experience. It should be backed by a professional therapist who would be willing to accept referrals or even screen people before joining the group.

Mentors are also needed in our churches –  mature Christians, possibly with experience in counseling. I met with a mentor weekly for Bible study and mutual support for a few months which was very helpful.  This, and training deacons and other mature Christians in counseling techniques, could assist the pastor greatly.

I know that all this is very idealistic, but they are goals we could work toward in our churches. We have so many needs in our churches that it’s hard to meet them all, but meeting the emotional needs of our church family should be strived for.

Overcoming OCD and Schizophrenia with God in My Life – A Book Review
By Cherry Pedrick, RN
Reprinted from Suite101.com, March 15, 2002, Revised

We can learn a great deal about habit change by observing others. In Overcoming, Chip Correllll gives us an honest look at his life. He shares his dreams and goals, and how they were shattered by mental illness, only to be picked up and pursed again, in spite of his illness. His is a story of bravery, discipline, faith, love, and support. There is no cry for pity or help; you get the sense that being mentally ill is normal in Chip’s world, a part of him, like the color of his hair or his height. The primary focus of his book is his Christian faith. Perhaps this is why the mental illness sees so accepted. He seems to see it as part of the overall purpose of his life.

An important part of habit change is setting goals and implementing them. Chip Correll did this. He did well in school and graduated from college with a bachelor’s degree in English. As he put it, he “felt ‘called’ to work in communications,” one day working in public relations and perhaps writing press releases. He doesn’t seem to truly believe he’s following this calling, but as we’ll see, indeed he is. He was diagnosed with schizophrenia, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and depression soon after college. He couldn’t earn a living and had to apply for social security disability (SSDI). You would think he would put his goals and dreams aside, but Chip hasn’t. He is still doing all he can to prepare himself for the day when he’ll be well enough to work as a writer or publicist. He also uses his writing skills to do volunteer work advocating for the rights of the mentally ill. And he’s written a book, telling his story. This is public relations work that can change lives.

Throughout his book, Chip describes certain habits that have helped him keep the schizophrenia, depression, and obsessive-compulsive disorder under control. His faith in God seems foremost; this involves a whole set of habits that are unique to each individual. He takes his medication. Chip shares accounts of numerous friends who have ended up back in mental hospitals because they stopped taking their medications. He resists the temptation to decide he’s different, that he can stop his medication. He has maintained the habit of educating himself on his mental illness and applying cognitive-behavioral therapy skills he learns about. He has built a support group around him; friends, family, and therapy that can provide the support to him, and others that he can provide support to.

Chip has examined his lifestyle for unhealthy influences, something we all need to do periodically. Early on in his therapy he developed the habit of not watching much local news because this helped him resist the thought that the weather man and news person were talking to and about him. He feels calmer when he’s not watching TV and tends to get paranoid thoughts when he watches TV, so he’s now stopped watching all television! How many of us would have that discipline to change a habit we knew was harmful to our health?

You can read more about Chip and his book at this site:

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