Today’s guest post is from Jennifer Jill Schwirzer, LPC–a personal friend of mine and a respected Christian professional. She is an author, private practice therapist, and the CEO of Abide Network, a non-profit organization dedicated to the promotion of faith-based mental health. Jennifer loves learning about Jesus, creating music, growing flowers and food, helping people, and riding her bike around her neighborhood in Orlando, Florida. Today she’s been gracious enough to share her views about the origins of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder.
I have often joked that Obsessive-Compulsive and Old Covenant have the same initials. Could there be a more than an alliterative connection between the two of them? I think so. Let us go back to the origins of the Old Covenant to see that connection. It’ll teach us something about the origins of OCD.
First, an overview of covenant history: What the Bible calls the “Old Covenant” actually came into human experience during Moses’ time after the New Covenant, which came through God’s promise to Abraham.
So, here’s the chronology:
God called Abraham out of idolatry to worship and follow Him.
“Get out of your country, from your family and from your father’s house, to a land that I will show you. I will make you a great nation; I will bless you and make your name great, and you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:1-3).
So we can see that the Abramic covenant focused on all God would do for Abraham. The only thing Abraham would do is get out of his country so he could receive it. Oh, and “Abraham believed God” (Genesis 15:6; Romans 4:3).
Years later, God gave Moses a covenant at Sinai:
“You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to Myself. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people; for all the earth is Mine. And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:4-6).
All God asked of Moses was to “obey” and “hear.” Those words are shama, which literally means “hear,” and shamar, which means “guard” or “keep.” In other words, God asked Moses to pay attention to and appreciate all God did in bearing the Israelites on eagle’s wings, and making them a special treasure, a kingdom of priests.
What response did the people give? They said, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do” (vs. 8).
God’s promise to Moses essentially reiterated God’s promise to Abraham because it is the “everlasting covenant” (Genesis 17:7), the only covenant God knows how to keep. He calls it the New Covenant because He keeps reiterating it, even after we again and again try to morph it into an Old Covenant.
Why do we do this? Why do we keep trying to make our faith about our promises to God rather than His promises to us? Let’s look at the origins of our self-salvation in Genesis Chapter Three.
The Origins of OCD…and Self-Salvation
Adam and Eve had fallen into sin. We’re told “the eyes of them both were open, and they knew that they were naked” (vs. 6). Nakedness symbolizes shame. Most of us stripped of our clothing in public would feel embarrassment, a type of shame. Adam and Eve knew for a naked nanosecond they had no righteousness of their own. The horror of that shame sent them into a self-saving frenzy in which they grabbed fig leaves to make themselves garments.
These fig leaves put the guilty pair’s self-righteous hearts on display. They symbolize the post-fall human attempt to cover our shame with self-righteousness. These fig leaves take different forms for different people. For people with OCD, they take the form of hypervigilant purity and perfection. If I can just do things thoroughly, and make them oh-so-right, I myself will be right.
But the effect of resorting to fig leaf righteousness is the deepening of shame. In other words, if we try to make ourselves better apart from God, we will actually make ourselves worse. Let me use one of my fig leaves as an illustration. As a new believer, I deeply desired God’s favor. I learned about fasting, and decided I would try it. Restricting food seemed to alleviate the howling shame in my conscience. Actually, it deadened me emotionally as my nervous system economized on superfluous activity. I wasn’t really shame-free, I was spaced out due to low blood sugar! One day I realized I had made my faith look like torture. Then the shame returned in a tidal wave. Broken in body and mind, I saw that my own shame-reduction program had become an embarrassment.
God’s Solution for Our Shame
Now we have arrived at the million-dollar question: How do we resolve shame? If shame drives us to fig leaves, which generate more shame, we’re doomed. Our loving Father must have a solution. Let’s go back to the garden to see what it is:
“They sewed fig leaves together and made themselves coverings” (Genesis 3:7, italics mine).
“The Lord God made tunics of skin, and clothed them” (Genesis 3:21, italics mine).
They made and they clothed themselves with the fig leaves.
But God made, and God clothed them with skins.
God had taken the skins from the animals surrounding Adam and Eve in the garden. Their pets. As they stood in those lush skins, symbols of God’s robe of righteousness, they knew that for them to be covered required the death of their innocent friends. In that moment they began to understand the Cross. To be covered, a sinless Someone they loved would have to die.
These many years later, we know Who that Someone is. The innocent Jesus bore our sins on the Cross so that He could cover us with the lush robe of His righteousness. As we contemplate that, our compulsion to self-cover ebbs away. Why should we strive for what we already have? The cure for shame-driven self-righteousness is Jesus’ righteousness.
I’ve always wondered something about that fig leaves-to-skins transition. Did God ask Adam and Eve to remove their fig leaves first? Or had the leaves dried and crumbled off by then? In any case, it’s likely that the shame-filled pair stood naked before God for a time.
In order to receive His righteousness, we must do the same. We must trust Him with our shame. We must go to Him at the very time we want to run, and in the vey condition we wish to hide. We must believe the promises of the new covenant, which tells us all God has done, is doing, and will do for us. Resting in His righteousness, we abandon our own.
I’m really glad Jennifer Jill shared this post with us on the origins of OCD! I would like to direct my readers to one of her unique and beautiful resources that I think you’ll find very helpful in your OCD journey. You may have heard that “meditation” is helpful for reducing anxiety. But many of the meditative practices you hear about in the mental health world are full of eastern mysticism, which many Christians (including myself) find objectionable.
Is there anyone who can help us figure out how to meditate in a Biblical way? Yes! Jennifer Jill has produced the Jesus Meditations, which will guide you through a meditation that fills your mind with God’s word instead of empties it. These meditations are Bible-based and built on the latest psychological research. Not to mention they are incredibly calming! Please take a look at this resource, and be blessed!
Hey Jaimie! This is my first time posting and I had a question. So basically, I struggle with Scrupulosity a lot and my intrusive thoughts are become worse, they are becoming pretty much daydreams that I don't want as well as memories and flashes. I don't know if it is a compulsion or what. I've been struggling pretty hard lately especially with the fear of the unforgivable sin and it seems like I commit it everyday. I really want this to be over and I just want to live a faith based life and not a fear based one. My question is how can I get over this fear of the unforgivable sin and blasphemy? and also, is the remembering things/daydreams a compulsion or something else? I really need help with this and I want people to get over it as well. Thank you for your time. 🙂
First-time posts are always good. 🙂 Glad you’re here and hope you’ll circle back around and share your thoughts with our little scrupulosity community in the future!
Regarding the daydreams–it depends on what you mean by daydreams. Daydreaming can be either adaptive or maladaptive. “Normal” daydreaming that serves an adaptive purpose would be, for example, imagining what you’re going to say at a job interview next week, or trying to imagine what it was like on Noah’s ark. Daydreaming is normal and adaptive when it centers on real events and serves a preparatory or growth purpose in your life (in the case of the job interview, you are going over this future event in your mind to prepare for it; in the case of Noah’s Biblical story, you’re pondering this real historic event to grow in faith).
Maladaptive daydreaming is different (and you can google this phrase for more information). Maladaptive daydreaming is classified by two major elements: it is abstract and it is escapist. By abstract, it means far removed from your real life. You are no longer imagining the real you at a real upcoming job interview, you are imagining a very abstract, unreal version of yourself and your life–for example: a younger, stronger, more handsome “you” as a knight in Medieval Europe dashing around saving damsels in distress. Such daydreams serve an escapist function, and can be very long, detailed, and episodic.
There is not much data on maladaptive daydreaming, and it’s not even certain whether it should be classified as a disorder or not. But the best data that we have suggests that MD has high correlations with OCD. This is probably for two reasons:
1. Escapist activities are attractive to people with OCD, because they are alternatives to get away from OCD’s chronic anxiety
2. The OCD brain has vulnerabilities in its ability to stop repetitive actions (hence, it’s difficult to stop daydreaming once you start a session)
The good news is that maladaptive daydreaming is quite easy to overcome in comparison to other compulsive behaviors. If you feel like the description fits what you mean by “daydreaming,” I would recommend the short course at maladaptivedaydreaming.org.
As for the urge to make sure you remember things, this is typical scrupulosity or Pure-O type behavior. The way to deal with this is not to feed into your urge to remember by making lists or whatnot. Rather, we want to expose ourselves to the reality of human fallibility and the possibility that we might forget something one day, and we might even forget something REALLY important that will have big consequences for us and other people. When we face that reality and lose the fear of it, the urge to compulsively remember things will decrease significantly.
And as to your fears about blasphemy, I would recommend reading the guide I have on blasphemous thoughts. It’s currently my most popular and commented-upon article, so be sure to read through the comments as well, as I answer a lot of specific questions down below. 🙂
You’ll make it through this, Xavier! Keep your courage up, God is with you. Glad to have you here and hope to see you around!
Thank you so much for responding! I really, really appreciate it. My question is though, why are my intrusive thoughts becoming like memories now? For example, writing this can trigger a memory of a bad thought and I get scared thinking if I have this thought or if I remember this, I'm blaspheming. And also, today I felt depersonalized and had intrusive thoughts and I feel like I go into this stage of mania with bad thoughts. Is that normal? Or am I just getting super stressed because I felt super doomed today.
I would recommend googling a bit about “magical thinking.” It might clarify your question a bit. I don’t have an article or resource on it yet, but you’re putting the idea in my mind that I need to write something up. For now, google that key phrase and see if it helps.
Hi Jamie, I always love your posts! Very helpful. Thank you for helping people with OCD scrupe
Hi Donna! Thank you for your kind comment. I’ll credit it to Jennifer Jill who wrote this post for us. 🙂 Be blessed!
Hello Ms. ECKERT. GOD bless you and your ministry.
I thank God for all the servants He wills to speak/teach His word. In Jesus name I say and pray…Amen.
My religious OCD manifests itself in buying book after book and then not reading them or starting to and stopping. I'm an inconsistent Christian.
I say to myself, " am I trying through this recurring process?" Meaning trying to be a good Christian.
My other obstacle, thorn in my side, to borrow from St. Paul. Is my unattainable vistory over my recurring sin! Lust. The shame its brings! I am constantly praying for forgiveness on this issue because its unending. Porn addiction. It makes me say "I'm not worthy to read the Bible", or other books that help with Biblical insight.
I have pondered, do I do the fleshly deed to feel guilty, so to drive myself to read the Biblical stuff to make myself feel better? Barring the usual reason of human weakness to sexual release.
Addiction and OCD go hand in hand. I know you
know this. But then there is the comment I spoke of, of the sinful behavior keeping me from reading the Bible. So I'm not sure.
One thing I do. Is to say to myself, " isn't it better to keep going to God's word even though I cannot stop this certain sin, as compared to letting the enemy win?
The enemy wants us to turn from God. To not believe in God's love,through the sacrifice of His only
begotten son, Jesus Christ, on the cross.
So…in the midst of my circular behavior, I keep pushing to stay in God's word, even if it's inconsistent at times.
Thank you for listening. God Bless you. In Jesus name I pray, Amen.
Thank you for your comment. We are so glad to have you here. 🙂 I am sure your struggle could be seconded by a number of other readers. I have coached several people who have the same book-buying compulsion, actually. I think it may be common because when you buy the book, it gives a reassuring feeling that we are about to “fix” ourselves–and you know OCD is always looking for a “fix” for the repetitive, anxious feelings!
Regarding the lust, it certainly sounds like an uncomfortable struggle! Lust is an issue for many believers, not just those with OCD. One thing I can say is that the fact you see it as a problem and WANT to stop already represents the working of God’s Spirit in your life. But it is the enemy’s work to make you feel that you are unworthy to read the Bible. In Christ, you stand in His merits, not your own. In Him you are pure, forgiven, and “accepted in the Beloved.” Thus, you may come to the Bible, and should come, and must come. Do not let any thought or feeling keep you away.
On a side note, most Christians struggle to some extent to develop consistent devotional lives. Don’t worry, and don’t feel like it’s a fatal flaw. This is part of the faith experience. Keep pressing into your relationship with the Lord, and as you “abide in the vine,” Christ will work in you to will and to do of His good pleasure.
Best wishes always,