By Shannon Hutchison
Finding freedom from our OCD involves facing fears, accepting obsessions, surrendering our anxieties to God, believing in the truth, and finally, postponing ritualizing thoughts. If we courageously do all this, we can experience more and more victories from this illness – if we only habitually choose to stay connected to the Vine.
“A mind that is afraid withers away; it cannot function properly” (Jiddu Krishnamurti). The OCD mind creates for those with the disorder a never-ending battle one shouldn’t have to face: a struggle to remain unafraid, stable, and functional, amidst the brain’s trouble to distinguish between legitimate and imagined fear. During this conflict, our OCD mind is constantly vigilant; always believing the world around it is dangerous. Consequently, it uses compulsions to prevent bad obsessions from hurting us. Thus, we constantly check to see if the stove is off, we repeatedly wash our hands in fear of germs, we endlessly count money in wallet, and we still many times get bogged down in details. In short, our tendency to both obsess and ritualize creates for us hurdles we must overcome to be free. The worst thing is that we often know the truth, but are afraid to accept it.
OCD can put shackles upon us; however, it doesn’t have to keep us imprisoned. 2 Timothy 1:7 says: “For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and of a sound mind.” To experience freedom from OCD, we must continuously abide in Christ. When we abide, or stay connected to the Vine (John 15),” we can do all things through Him” (Philippians 4:13). With “His mighty power at work within us, He is able to accomplish infinitely more than we can ever dare to ask or hope” (Ephesians 3:20). Unfortunately, when dis joined from the Vine, “we can do nothing” (John 15:5). To experience power to overcome OCD, we must continually decide to stay connected to the Vine.
“Habit is overcome by habit” (Desiderius Erasmus). To break the OCD habit, we must first start the abiding in Christ habit. Meanwhile, as we choose to abide, we must also habitually learn to decide with conviction to do five other things every time we start to obsess and ritualize. We through the Vine must condition ourselves to: 1) face our fears head on; 2) accept our obsessions; 3) surrender our anxieties to God; 4) believe in the truth; and 5) postpone thoughts of ritualizing as long as possible. These steps are helping me to experience freedom from my OCD illness.
1. Face our Fears Head On
Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “Do the thing you fear and the death of fear is certain.” To overcome any obsession, you must with courage and conviction decide not to avoid the situations and circumstances that fuel your obsessions. Confronting fears dwarves your giants; avoiding fear makes them seem more menacing. To neutralize the underlying fears of your obsessions, you must through the Vine face them head on. As Robert Frost once said, “The best way out is always through.”
Many times one single step in faith away from fear can propel you beyond an obsession. This increasingly continues to happen to me when I experience checking obsessions like those of door locks, keys in pocket, money in wallet, stove burner being on or not, etc. When I start to ritualize during obsessions like those, I am finding out that when I am able to immediately stop thinking about the obsession and then start walking away from the scene of the obsession, I often am to able to “walk away from the obsession” before my illness can take control of my mind again. This doesn’t always work for me; but it does much of the time. In hopes of being able to walk away from our obsessions, we must face the fear and choose to move forward into life.
2. Accept Your Obsessions
As we work to muster the courage to confront our fears, what should we do in the meantime when our OCD starts the obsessing process? The answer is to accept our obsessions – not to fight them.
Trying to forcefully rid our OCD minds of obsessions is the worst thing we can do. This is so because fighting obsessions only creates more anxiety and fear in us which causes us to obsess more intensely. Rather than telling ourselves “I must stop thinking about these obsessions”, we instead with conviction must tell our minds “It is okay that these thoughts entered my brain.” In addition to accepting the fact we are obsessing, we should also agree to the possibility that what we fear may actually happen. If we do both, we will gradually become less vigilant and fearful of the situation, eliminating more and more of the bite of the obsession until it disappears.
3. Surrendering Our Anxieties to Christ
Accepting obsessions can be extremely difficult when the fear of misfortune is enormous. Thus, we must put our frailties in the hands of the God who won’t let us down. Surrendering our fears means letting Him have control of you and the situation and trusting He will do what is best. Surrendering our fears to Christ is the staple point of us accepting our fears.
In Philippians 4:6-7, it says “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank Him for all He has done. If you do this, you will experience God’s peace which is far more wonderful than the human mind can understand. His peace will guard your hearts as you live in Christ Jesus.” If we firmly accept our obsessions by confidently surrendering our fears to Christ, His peace will keep us away from the anxiety that fuels our obsessions. “Fix your thoughts on Christ” in faith and we will truly experience “perfect peace” (Isaiah 26:3).
4. Believe in the Truth.
To have the faith to surrender, we must first believe in the truth. We have obsessions because we are afraid; the reason why we have fear is because we are ignorant of the truth. If we expose lies with the truth, fear will run away.
Below are three scriptural truths we can lean upon when doubt leads to fear. If we believe in these and other promises of God, the Truth will enable us to surrender; and complete surrender will empower us to accept obsessions as we confront what makes us scared. When we can do that, we can find victory from OCD. Lean upon these scriptural truths when fear discourages you to surrender:
Deuteronomy 31:6 => ”Do not be afraid of them! The Lord your God will go ahead of you. He will neither fail you nor forsake you”.
Romans 8:28 => “And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them”.
1 Corinthians 10:13 => “But remember that the temptations that come into your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will keep the temptation from becoming so strong you can’t stand up against it. When you are tempted, he will show a way out so that you will not give in to it”.
5. Postpone Ritualizing Thoughts
In the meantime, as we work to confront our fears, accept our obsessions, surrender to Christ, and believe in the truth, obsessions will inevitably continue to enter the mind. Again, when this happens, don’t fight the obsessions. “Choose to pay attention” to those temptations to ritualize; however, not now but later. Mentally choose to postpone thinking about the obsession for a certain period of time; and “when that time arrives, postpone again”. The idea is to keep postponing the urge to obsess until the obsession dies out – and or when we are firmly able to surrender the fear to Christ.
“Let yourself experience the obsession. But not right now.” That is the concept behind postponing. Successful experiences of postponing gradually builds in us an increasing capacity to endure longer and longer periods of more intensified obsessions. In essence, learning to postpone our urges to ritualize teaches our minds not to obsess. “Refuse to act on an obsession, and it will die of inaction” (Recovery, Inc.).
Antoine De Saint-Exupery once said, “What saves a man is to take a step. Then another step”. To find freedom in spite of OCD, we must choose to stride toward God and decide to stay connected to the Vine. If we start this habit, we will experience Christ’s power to do all things, to overcome all fears, to find peace amidst our obsessions. In the meantime, as we face obsession after obsession, we also need to take five more steps. We need to confront what we fear, to accept our obsessions, to surrender our fears to Christ, to believe in the truth, and then finally, to postpone thinking of our thoughts to ritualize. If we only have the courage to abide and take these five steps, we will find victory from this illness in unanticipated hours.