The following deals with matters of Faith as they relate to OCD. If you are curious about further exploring these topics, we recommend you attend our upcoming Faith and OCD Conference. Details are available here: iocdf.org/faithcon.
By Carolyn Ringenberg
For matters of life and death, the word “uncertainty” is not something we want associated with these topics. As for people of faith, their lives are built on what they believe are absolutes—matters of life and death. For those who struggle with religious OCD or scrupulosity, all their thoughts, doubts, and fears, are consumed with what they believe to be, matters of life and death- things that they must be 100% certain about. How in the world, can they expect to accept any level of “uncertainty” in such important matters- their faith- their life- their whole world?
These questions were the ones that I asked myself as my OCD therapist told me, “The only way that you are going to get better, is to accept uncertainty.”
“But how?” I asked, “I believe the Bible is the inerrant, infallible word of God, and it is 100% certain to be true, so how can I as a Christian, accept any level of uncertainty?”
“And what if I am sinning by doing this therapy, and what If I am offending God, and what if I’m wrong, and what if, what if, what if…” The what if’s went on and on, and never ended.
My only chance of getting better was one thing: trust.
Trusting my therapist, who didn’t even share my beliefs- Trusting that maybe I can get better, but then something dawned on me, this was all one thing: TRUST.
Maybe God wanted my trust- not my certainty. So many faith traditions, teach the tenets of their faith as things that people can be absolutely certain of. But certainty is really a feeling- a feeling of confidence.
People with OCD lack that “certainty feeling.” So, what I have learned is that OCD treatment—embracing uncertainty, is really about one thing: trust. Trust is acting on something you value in the midst of uncertainty.
As Pete Enns says in his book, The Sin of Certainty, “Trust is not marked by unflappable dogmatic certainty, but by embracing as a normal part of faith, the steady line of mysteries and uncertainties that parade before our lives, and seeing them as opportunities to trust more deeply.”
The subtitle of his book is Why God desires our trust more than our correct beliefs. As I leaned into my OCD treatment, I began to see my faith grow more fully. I began to see that OCD treatment was not in contradiction to my faith, but instead, helped me actually live my faith, as I leaned into the God that I believe knows things for certain, even when I don’t. Ezekiel 37:3 says “Sovereign Lord, you ALONE know.” As T.S. Eliot once said, “Perhaps doubt, rather than something to be crushed can be made to serve faith.”
People of faith need to know that OCD treatment is an exercise of faith. A risk, that maybe your God can handle you being exposed to your greatest fears, without you trying to keep yourself safe through compulsive behaviors. Author and speaker, Mark DeJesus said, “When we walk through uncertainty without compulsively ruminating over it, we can practice trust by relying on God’s love for us, like a young child who places absolute trust in a father. We rely on His love, even though in the midst of anxiety and doubt, we may struggle to feel it.”
Maybe, just maybe, OCD treatment and faith can go together. It’s worth the risk.