Almost two years ago I was diagnosed with OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder). This helped explain symptoms I had exhibited for a while that became so strong I had felt I was possibly under a demonic attack.
Most think of hand-washers or hoarders from pop-culture on TV when they think of OCD. My symptoms aren’t as obvious; intrusive inappropriate thoughts (not desires or even temptations), constant doubts on if I had done something wrong or even criminal that was not rational, doubting events in my past, false feelings portraying themselves as memories almost, and constant ruminating and replaying thoughts analyzing them.
The compulsion was to confess any thought that came in my mind or to reanalyze situations for days, weeks, or months to see if I did something wrong. I would analyze words to make sure I didn’t tell a lie and re-record voicemails over and over again to bring certainty. The doubts would be so strong that I would feel strong anxiety to confess to things I know I never did or would even desire to do. I looked for reassurance from people to confirm I didn’t do certain things. These obsessions, intrusive thoughts, and compulsions began to affect my marriage, faith, and I was very confused. Sounds crazy doesn’t it? I thought so! As I studied out the symptoms it became clear I probably had OCD and that was confirmed when I was diagnosed officially with it after going to see a professional.
Before coming back to God in July of 2011, I use to be someone who never learned from his mistakes. I was a compulsive liar, pornography/impurity addict, and would hide many of my sins from those who could help me. God delivered me from these demons as I confessed all known sins in my past (1 John 1:9) to the men God put into my life that would guide me through the scriptures (James 5:16). As time went on I got married to the love of my life, came back into the full-time ministry, and was even appointed an evangelist in God’s church realizing one of my life dreams! Although, God put my life back together and broke my bondage to habitual sin another torment came into my life immediately after my reunion with God, OCD.
My dreams of being in the ministry with the woman I love had been given to me and here I was outside the place we were staying newly married crying to God not understanding why I felt guilt and doubts for things I didn’t even do but felt strong feelings I had. Someone with OCD for example might run over a pot hole while driving. The thought pops into their mind, maybe I ran over a kid. The mind races for days as they reanalyze the event. Did they actually see a kid? Didn’t the driver in the car next to them look at them funny thus maybe they saw them run over the kid!? They can even start creating memories of doing so. In some extreme cases I have heard people have actually turned themselves in for things they didn’t even do. They could even go back to check to see if they hit someone. The person with OCD knows rationally they didn’t hit a kid but their feelings betray them. I’m not ready to divulge all the details of how my symptoms work at this point, but it is very similar to the example above.
I wrestled with whether OCD was a physical issue or a spiritual one. I still do believe it could be a demon or demonic. Yet as I studied the scriptures I have found most things to be both physical and spiritual. OCD is physical as the part of the frontal orbital cortex of the brain that warns us of danger and deals with feelings is overactive in people with OCD. The Bible says also that Satan and demons can put thoughts in our heads and teach us lessons creating strongholds of beliefs in the mind (1 Timothy 4:1-2 & 2 Corinthians 10:5). Depending on the thought, it can become sin when we listen to the thoughts. For example, Satan put the thought in David’s head to take a census and he sinned against God (1 Chronicles 21:1-3). David sinned because he attributed a false message that Satan put in his brain to himself and acted on the thought. If he would have just ignored it and focused on ruling Israel in righteousness this event never would have happened. God is sovereign and either makes things happen or allows them for the good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28).
“To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” 2 Corinthians 12:7-9
The scripture above helped me come to a deep conviction. God could take this OCD away from me but has allowed it for a reason. Maybe after all the years of lying, impurity, and rebellion towards God that he allows me this thorn in the flesh as a consequence. He forgave me and restored me but wants me to learn some things in his love. God is saying to me, “Mike, I’ll give you your dreams, you are my son whom I love, but to keep you from becoming conceited again this thorn OCD will be given to you so it will be impossible for you to hide even the things that aren’t sin! You will feel the guilt you should have felt for sinning in your past now about things that aren’t even sin or your sin! This will teach you son that I am enough for you, my grace is sufficient for you. True power comes in boasting about your weaknesses.” In effect God allowed this in my life to humble me and teach me to be open about weaknesses. To date I have been able to overcome many of the symptoms without medication by God’s powerful grace and this huge revelation.
Maybe you have OCD, another mental disorder, or are wrestling with issues of the mind. These steps and scriptures have helped me in this battle:
1) Acceptance (2 Corinthians 12:7-9)
Meditate on the above passage. It is hard at times but I see my OCD as a grace of God. It causes me to run to Him more for strength. The more you try to fight OCD thoughts the bigger they will get. If I tell you to stop thinking about a red shoe, you immediately are thinking about a red shoe!
You must allow the intrusive thoughts to be there identifying that it is not you, it is your OCD/brain disorder/Satan/etc. I recommend a book called “Brain Lock” by Jeffery Schwartz that helped me with this step. Jesus teaches evil thoughts are sin (Mark 7:21). Yet with OCD the intrusive thoughts are the result of a brain disorder or demons and not your own thoughts. For example, someone with OCD may constantly have thoughts about stabbing their family members with knives (a common form of OCD) or even worse doing something sexually inappropriate to them. These thoughts frighten them because they have such conviction against such atrocities. Their compulsions may be dwelling on the thoughts, hiding knives, or staying away from their family out of fear. It has been shown with OCD that these thoughts are not desires of them at all, in fact they are so morally disturbed by them that these thoughts don’t bring any sort of comfort to the person with OCD. Unlike someone with OCD, a true murderer is fueled by hate and will plan to harm people and a sexual predator will seek situations he can put himself in to act out on his fantasies. OCD uses the very things you find morally wrong against you. These people are actually some of the safest people. So these aren’t “evil thoughts” but misfires of the brain or the activity of evil spirits. Let me be clear, sinful desires/thoughts must be confessed and repented of. OCD is unwanted thoughts/desires that plague the person.
It is important for my audience to understand the difference between an intrusive thought and an evil thought. Intrusive thoughts you don’t want it to be there so you will do whatever compulsion to make it go away but the compulsion just makes the intrusive thoughts stronger. With evil thoughts you desire the things you are thinking. Homosexual thoughts for example would be evil thoughts if the person is homosexual or aroused by such thinking verses someone who has an unwanted homosexual thought. Some who have OCD are straight, happily married, attracted to the opposite sex, and yet they are tormented by doubts thoughts of if they are gay (called HOCD by many). Their compulsions may take the form of checking to see if they were aroused by the same-sex and looking into bodily reactions. This is a real form of OCD. Schwarts in his book says when they come to say “It’s not me, it’s my OCD”. This will help retrain your brain to normal.
Accepting the anxiety that comes with OCD and paying no attention to the thoughts lessens their power. OCD people give their thoughts to much attention. OCD is changed not by fighting intrusive thoughts, but by changing your behavior and emotional response to them. Next time you have an intrusive thought, call it what it is “OCD not me” or “Satan and not me”.
2) Take Every Thought Captive (2 Corinthians 10:3-6)
The Bible teaches us we can control our thoughts. Having OCD myself, this has been hard for me at times to believe but this scripture contains the key to doing so! Notice we are called to demolish arguments that set itself up against the knowledge of God! The brain of someone with OCD uses find sounding arguments to convince them to doubt or give into a compulsion. Did you really lock the door? Are you sure? Can you really remember doing it? When these doubts come we must demolish OCD’s arguments by the knowledge of God. This means bringing truth into the situation. As baptized disciples of Jesus we are God’s children blessed with every spiritual blessing. Just accept the thoughts as being there, and focus on who God says you are. Remember, with OCD thoughts this is not “trying to push the thoughts out of your head”, they will get bigger because you are still focused on them. Taking them captive is acceptance of the thorn and remembering the knowledge of God. It is “renewing the mind” to fix your thoughts on Christ (Romans 12:1-3). In time this will demolish them!
3) Engage in the Present (Philippians 3:12-15)
Matt Sullivan who is my discipler (mentor) taught me on something that was very key in helping me overcome OCD thinking. He noticed that sometimes I was not fully engaged in what I was doing at the moment but was in another world in my head. People with OCD give too much thought to their thoughts. Listen, the Bible says the heart is deceitful above all things (Jeremiah 17:9) so you are never going to figure it out by being mega introspective. Paul says in the verse above to forget what is behind and strain towards what is ahead. I believe we do this by focusing on the mission Christ gave us and what we can do now to strain towards that.
When intrusive thoughts attack or your OCD is strong; accept the thoughts, remember who you are in Christ if you’re a baptized disciple, and fully engage into what you are doing in the moment with all your mind, soul, heart, and strength. My wife suggested I download a game on my phone that I can play when the thoughts come to engage in. Remember, you aren’t trying to stop the thoughts, just engaging in something else. You will find in time the thoughts will disappear and you will renew your mind (Romans 12:1-3) making the OCD will continually get weaker. Some have said that there is no cure, but we know that through God all things are possible for him who believes.
OTHER SUGGESTED SCRIPTURES FOR STUDY:
- Colossians 3:1-2 (We have power to choose what we set our thoughts on)
- Proverbs 16:32 KJV (Must learn to rule our thoughts, not let them rule us)
- 1 Chronicles 28:9 (God knows what OCD is and what is your thoughts)
- James 5:16-17 (Find someone who understands OCD and you can be open with about)
My prayer is that this article will encourage someone who felt as I did last year, alone, scared, and looking for answers. I pray it will help disciples of Jesus be equipped and understand those who may have brain disorders and feel out of control of their thought life. God has transformed me and I am now grateful as this continues to bring me closer to Him. To God be all the glory.