Sovereign Over OCD: Some Lessons Learned

OCD, or Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, is an anxiety disorder that affects my thoughts and actions and that attaches to what I care about. Scrupulosity, as I mentioned in part one, is a religious form of OCD. In my experience, OCD most often latched onto my relationships. I noticed it in romantic relationships as it convinced me God didn’t want me to date the people I wanted to date. I noticed it in my friendships as it convinced me God wanted me to step away from certain people or to cancel certain plans. I noticed it in my approach to community as it convinced me I needed to confess my thoughts and attitudes to anyone I might have wronged by those thoughts and attitudes. I noticed it in my work as it told me I needed to turn down jobs, stop writing, and pass on opportunities to get experience in my field. In each case, I thought I was being tested like Abraham was. I thought God was testing my faith by asking me to give up good things and trust him, to die to myself and be sanctified. And in my head, it checked out. If I was feeling conviction and if the Lord was giving me directions regarding which steps to take in response to that conviction, then I didn’t need to understand it or like it, I just needed to trust and obey. 

Initially, questioning my thoughts and feelings felt sinful. I genuinely believed I was pushing back against God’s work by looking into OCD. But as my friend explained more of what OCD is and how it can show up, my experiences began to make sense. Where I thought God was convicting me, I began to recognize anxiety. Where I thought God was directing me, I began to recognize intrusive thoughts and some bad theology. Where I’d struggled to see any fruit from the steps I was taking, I could now see why: God wasn’t actually the one behind these directions. I thought my problem was spiritual, but it turned out to be biological. And because it was biological, I began to hope. Maybe God hadn’t been closing doors all these years; maybe it was me all along. And maybe, in time, some of those doors could be opened again. 

Where was God in all of this? If he wasn’t the one leading me to take all these uncomfortable steps, why did he allow it go on for so long, especially when it caused so much hurt for me and for others? Admittedly, while I know the answer to the first question (he was here all along), I don’t fully know the answer to the second question. But I believe he is sovereign, even over my OCD and over the timing of this season, and I believe he allowed me to wander, to wrestle, and to fall how and when I did. And I believe the season wasn’t wasted. 

So what’s my proof this season wasn’t wasted? What did God do in this time, and what has he been doing since? More than I know. But here are a few things I think I can discern.

God taught me that I can be okay in silence and solitude. While the reasons for withdrawing from people weren’t healthy, the lesson learned there was needed. For years, I’d grown used to busyness. I thought I knew how to rest, but really I was only ceasing from my normal work to engage in recreation. As I felt compelled to step away from friends and family and to just be by myself with the Lord, I found that God was present there and that I could find rest apart from the things I used to distract myself with. 

God taught me that his provision doesn’t depend on my effort. I backed out of job opportunities, turned down classes where I could get teaching experience, stopped using my talents, stepped away from friendships, rejected someone I wanted to pursue a relationship with, and initiated conversations that could have created further division and discomfort. In spite of all of this, the Lord has provided for me. He’s given me friends who were faithful even when I was difficult. He’s given me teaching opportunities even when I thought the doors might not open again. He’s sustained me. He’s restored friendships and opportunities I was afraid were lost. As I’ve begun to work through this season and to explore how my mind and heart work, I’ve been met with an immense amount of grace. God’s proven himself faithful and good over and over again, providing for my needs and giving good gifts along the way.

God’s showed me that he cares about my desires in a way I didn’t know was possible. I’d heard Psalm 37:4 before: “Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” I always read that verse as if it came with an asterisk, though. Sure, it was true. It’s the word of God, after all. But I didn’t really believe it was true for me. Or at least not in this season. My desires to write, to teach, to pursue a relationship, to talk to my friends—each of these desires seemed to be required of me at some point in my experience. I could affirm that they were good things, that they weren’t sinful things, that they could glorify God. But I believed God had called me to give them up. As I worked with a mentor, I realized I had a misunderstanding of self-sacrifice. I was “dying to the wrong things,” to quote Peter Scazzero (read Emotionally Healthy Spirituality for more on this idea). And as I began to grow in my understanding of God’s goodness, I began to take steps back toward those things I’d left behind, and I watched God restore the things I’d laid aside and lost. He has granted the desires of my heart, and he continues to do so, drawing me ever deeper into gratitude and delight in him.

God taught me to think differently about faith and sovereignty. I used to think walking by faith meant getting clear directions from God and then following those directions in spite of what you saw or felt or thought. I’m learning, however, that walking by faith is more like exercising wisdom and trusting God with the unknowns of life. It’s not necessarily about receiving some specific divine guidance as much as learning to walk in faith that he’s at work in and around you, guiding your steps as you seek to honor him in your decisions and redeeming your mistakes when you misstep or fail. Similarly, I used to think of sovereignty as more of a conceptual thing related to decisions and directions and wills. I’m learning that sovereignty encompasses everything, our good decisions and our bad, our joyful seasons and our seasons of suffering. The “all things” in Romans 8:28 really does mean all things, even those things that feel so beyond our control.

In short, this journey has been one of adjustments, some major and some minor. I’m rethinking my assumptions, examining my thoughts and feelings, and pursuing growth on many fronts, and I think I’m finding some success. I’m new to all of this. I’m very much still learning how to walk. But I’m seeing fruit in this season that I believe has grown from the soil of difficult seasons. I’m seeing God at work, and I’m finding peace and joy as I try to join him in that work. I’m making progress, by his grace, and learning to trust in his sovereign care for me.


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A Prayer for Faithfulness

Make me the man that you want me to be
E’en if I do not want to be that man.
Teach me to trust you when I cannot see
The purpose in the details of your plan.
Help me to hope when tempted to despair
At circumstances greater than my strength,
To trust that, in the darkness, you are there
With love beyond all height, depth, width, and length.
Show me myself, and make me truly know
The greatness of my need and of your grace.
Remind me you are with me as I go,
And lead according to your path and pace.
Lord, search me, try me, know me, make me new.
Let all my life be lived in love of you.


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We Cannot Go Back

I’ve caught myself wishing that a season of testing would end so I could go back to normal.

Normal. What exactly is normal?

In this case, it’s a time before I felt pushed, before I encountered the current set of trials, before my faith was put to the test. Normal feels safe and comfortable, or at least it does relative to now.

But I can’t go back there. None of us can. Once we encounter a test of faith, we don’t remain the same. Trials change us. Discipline grows us. And we don’t endure just to go back to how we were; God means us to keep going forward into further maturity (James 1:2-4). The Lord uses tests of faith to form our hearts and minds, sanctifying us that we might know him and love him and trust him more than we now do. And yes, the testing is difficult; that’s to be expected. In times of testing, the Lord often reveals what in us is not of him and removes it, and the removal is often painful. But the removal is necessary if we would follow him.

True, we may fight back against the refinement. We can try to prolong our time in immaturity or obey only halfheartedly. Such hesitancy may make us feel like we’re staying safe, like we’re avoiding the fearful and costly change. But doesn’t such a response change us too? The more I run, the more restless I feel. Once the Lord reveals his direction for me and calls me to move, my refusal doesn’t keep me safe, it simply makes me disobedient. And as he presses upon me to obey, I come to see that whatever I’m holding onto doesn’t ultimately satisfy me, that satisfaction is truly only found in him. His call may terrify me, but his ways are life and peace and truth. All else fades.

So maybe the goal shouldn’t be to go back to normal. Rather, maybe the goal should be to simply be faithful, no matter what comes. This seemed to be the approach of Job, who’s commended by God. Paul also seems to approach life with such a view, choosing faith and contentment in spite of difficulties. Both men found the Lord to be faithful and good, full of love and compassion. If the Lord keeps us put in one place, let us be faithful in the staying. If he calls us to move, let us be faithful in the going. In seasons of peace and seasons of pain, in times of tranquility and times of testing, let faithfulness be our constant response. And may the Lord use whatever we face to grow us in maturity, that he may be honored and that others may be better served.


Photo by John Salzarulo on Unsplash

I’m not certain, but I think the title and some of the ideas I explore in this post may stem from something C. S. Lewis wrote. I don’t mean to steal anything from him, so I want to state clearly that, while I can’t trace the thoughts directly right now, I seem to recall him dealing with this topic or with something similar to it.

Reflections on Work and Rest

This is the second year I’ve taken the month of January off from posting to the blog. For the last few years, I’ve tried to maintain a consistent schedule for posts: a new essay each Monday and a new poem each Friday. This keeps me in the rhythm of writing each week, the deadlines acting as accountability to sit and reflect. I’ve grown much over the years as I’ve taken time away from my other responsibilities each week to simply write about what God seems to be doing in and around me. In this way, writing is a sort of rest, a break from the weekly routine to think and to feel a bit more deeply about the present journey.

But I’ve noticed that an annual break helps to refresh my mind and heart for a new year of writing. At times, the writing that often promises rest becomes a burden, just one more responsibility to complete before the week is over. So I decided to start taking some time off on occasion. I still write during my month off (mostly poetry, rarely prose), but I do so not for a deadline but simply for the joy of writing. I reflect a bit more freely, knowing I have time to polish a piece before the words will be seen (if they ever make a public appearance). I don’t keep a schedule for writing or work too hard to finish anything. I write when I have time and when I feel so inclined, and I don’t worry if I go a few days without putting words on paper. In this way, not writing is a sort of rest.

This approach to writing somewhat parallels my current relationship with work and with rest in general. Each week, I work to manage a number of responsibilities. Each week brings new lessons to prepare, new readings to complete, new assignments to grade. I used to approach every day as an opportunity to get work done, to strive for progress in the tasks set before me. But after a year or two of this approach, I learned the importance of rest, of trusting in the Lord more than I trust in my own abilities. I started taking a day off of school and work, practicing Sabbath rest, and I noticed my life change for the better. I felt more rested and less stressed, and I found I was more productive than I’d been in a life of nonstop effort.

In recent months, however, I’ve noticed my times of rest growing stale. As I’ve reflected, I’ve come to see that I haven’t been resting in the Lord as much as I’ve been simply stopping from effort and turning my mind and heart off for the day. I may have enjoyed spending days off in front of a tv, but I started to recognize that doing so left me feeling still drained. True, I wasn’t working, but I wasn’t really resting in the Lord either; I just wasn’t doing anything.

I’m trying to learn how to rest, and I’m finding that it’s not as simple as merely ceasing from weekly activities. Rather, true rest is found in turning my mind and heart to the one who sustains me, the one whose power is made perfect in weakness. I feel more rested after an afternoon of reading Scripture or books about the Lord than I do after an afternoon of video games or tv shows. I find more peace in a few hours of creative writing and reflection on the Lord’s work than in a few hours of inactivity. I get away and seek the Lord in solitude, finding comfort with him there. I still enjoy entertainment and fellowship and breaks from activity, but I’m learning to make those things peripheral rather than primary on my days of rest. And I’m making these choices not to seek some self-righteous status but because I’m coming to see more and more how much my life and well-being depend on the Lord.

I’m not good at resting yet, but I think I’m growing, and I’m praying for grace to rest well and to work hard, keeping both in their proper place. The Lord is good and faithful, and he’s given me sweet seasons of rest as well as strength sufficient for the work. As I learn to trust him more and more for these things, I pray that I’d be faithful to him in all of it, that he would be pleased.


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Waiting

The psalmist waited patiently for you
And then bore witness to your care and grace.
Relief followed the waiting like the dew
After a night when darkness hid your face.
Though you are never absent, we may not
Detect you in the time before the dawn.
Your promises—oft doubted, oft forgot—
Prove true, a hope long hidden, never gone.
But patience is required, for though the end
Is certain, yet it does not come too soon.
You use the time we wait to break and mend.
In silence, we learn how to sing in tune.
So hope, though time be now a source of strain.
Our waiting on the Lord is not in vain.


Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

Loss and Grace

Some things are lost never to be recovered.
Some absences are gifts shrouded in grief.
Apart from pain, some truths stay undiscovered.
Some losses point the way to true relief.
But future glory does not make less real
The sufferings we meet from day to day.
Christ does not minimize the pain we feel;
Christ knows it best and shows there is a way
For loss to pave the road to greater gain,
For suffering to serve a holy end.
We mourn in hope, for nothing is in vain
In service to the ever-faithful friend.
Count it all joy no matter what you face.
Feel deep the loss, then rest in perfect grace.


Photo by Ryan Parker on Unsplash

Faithfulness and Failure

I’m beginning to wonder if faithfulness often feels like failure.

Recently, some trusted individuals told me they associate me with faithfulness. While I’m humbled, I don’t feel very faithful; I feel more like a failure. I look at my walk with the Lord and see all the times I waver, all the times I doubt, all the times I second-guess my way and misstep. I see the conviction of the Lord, his discipline in my life. I see all the ways I struggle to submit to his lordship, all the ways I feel disappointed by his plan for my life, all the ways I wish things were different. I feel more faithless than faithful, more fearful than full of faith.

True, I’m thankful. I see the ways he’s blessed me in this season. I can see some of the wisdom in my present location and how he’s enabled me to do what he’s called me to do. I know he’s at work, and I can detect hints and whispers of that work as I pursue faithfulness. I am not abandoned or lost. He knows where I am and knows what he’s doing. I can count it all joy when I meet trials of various kinds (James 1:2-4).

I guess I assumed faithfulness would look more like boldness or strength than timidity or weakness. But both boldness and strength are found not in the individual but in the Lord of the individual. Christ is the source of contentment, the certainty of salvation, the power in weakness. If we stand, we stand in him.

I want to be faithful to him in all things, so I pray for faith to grow, for love to deepen, and for hope to endure. I pray for contentment when I’m disappointed, for wisdom when I’m confused, and for peace when I’m troubled. I’m challenged by the truth that faithfulness is often tied to obedience, and I pray for strength to obey, to walk by faith when I can’t see the way. I pray that I would abide in Christ and would be a witness in this season to his power, mercy, and grace.

In short, I pray often and seek him, confessing my inability and trusting in his sufficiency. And maybe that’s enough. Maybe faithfulness is not defined by having the answers but by following the one who does, not by having the strength in oneself but in obeying the one who is strong, not by being capable oneself but by surrendering to the God who is. Maybe God is glorified more by continued repentance and surrender than by a perfectly executed journey. Maybe faithfulness really does feel like failure sometimes.


Photo by Mitchell McCleary on Unsplash

I wait for you, often impatiently

I wait for you, often impatiently.
Passionate and shortsighted is my soul,
Resistant to the truth of your control.
My faith wars with my fears consistently.
I pray for grace to give up while I grip
More tightly to what you require of me,
Thinking of faith as eyes widen to see
Any way out. A trembling heart and lip
Often appear instead of steadfastness,
Longing for Egypt in the Promised Land,
Reaching for idols as you hold my hand.
Spirit, sustain me. Help me see past this.
Teach me to rest in your ability
And wait in rev’rence and humility.


Photo by Oliver Hihn on Unsplash

Why I Write

Life is weird these days. Between a pandemic, multiple hurricanes, school, work, and the south Louisiana heat and humidity, there’s a lot going on. There’s always another responsibility, another danger, another factor to consider as I go throughout the day.

When life is busy, I tend to look for things to cut out. Some decisions are easy. Netflix and Xbox both take a backseat to homework or Bible study. Other decisions are more difficult, however. When is it wise to skip a workout? When should I stay up a bit later or wake up a bit earlier to get my work done? When is it best to take a break from the blog?

While I typically take some time off each year from posting new content to the blog, I try to maintain consistency in my schedule here whenever possible. Even if I don’t get the time I’d like to write and edit, to reread and refine a piece, I try to post consistently, and I wanted to share some of the reasons why today.

  1. I write as an act of self-discipline.
    Writing helps me think. The act of writing words on paper or of typing words into a word document provides the opportunity to organize my thoughts. Writing serves to clarify ideas and to reveal truth. And while I receive these benefits when I write in my journal, I find that writing for the blog is different. Here, I’m trying to take an idea and trace it out to application, drawing lines from theory to practice. Knowing others will read these words adds a level of accountability I don’t always have in my journal. While I may be more vulnerable there, I feel more responsible here. I see consistency as part of that responsibility, as an aspect of that accountability to the reader.
  2. I write as an act of self-expression.
    Much of what I write stems from the lessons I’m learning, from the emotions I’m feeling, from the joys and sorrows I’m experiencing. I’ve often thought that you can probably tell what I’m going through by looking closely at what I’m writing in a given season. I try to be vulnerable in my writing, sharing my fears and my hurts through poetry and prose. I don’t give you everything. My journals and notebooks contain more specific reflections and poems. You likely won’t see those. But I want to share, at least in some measure, the work I do, partly because I want you to see me and know me. But I also want to share because I’ve seen God use the things I write to serve others, and I want to be faithful to that form of ministry, which leads me to my third reason for writing.
  3. I write in the hope that you’ll benefit from these words.
    While I want you to see me and know me, I don’t write simply because I want sympathy (though sometimes I do desire that). Rather, I write in the hope that you’ll see yourself in the words, that perhaps I can articulate on your behalf something hitherto unspoken or unexpressed. The writers who have moved me the most are those who gave voice to my soul when I felt lost and alone. I seem to remember Andrew Peterson getting at this idea in his book Adorning the Dark, and I’ve found the point rings true. As I’ve found myself in his writings and in the writings of others, I’ve been greatly helped, encouraged and challenged to press on through difficulties and to wait and hope in the goodness of God. I pray that my writings might be so used in your life and in the lives of others who happen across my words.

I don’t claim brilliance. I don’t seek fame. I know my faults. But I desire faithfulness and pursue it, often falteringly. And so I write. I write in the hope that I’ll understand a bit better after the writing. I write in the hope that you’ll see and know me a bit better after the reading. I write in the hope that you’ll see yourself in the words and will be moved to know and love God a bit better in the process. And I pray the Lord is pleased in it all.


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Redeem

How can you redeem what I have done?
I have sought solace in sin,
worshiped idols, chose
self over you.
True,
you are sovereign still,
ruler over every realm.
But how I rebel,
rejecting life,
desiring death.
I wound
myself as well as
those I love
less than I love myself
but more than I love you.
I have no excuse,
no plea but your pardon,
no hope but your help.
Salvage me
that I might be useful,
perhaps even
faithful.
May it be.
Have mercy.
Redeem even me.

Photo by Zane Lee on Unsplash