WHAT IF?…. You were afflicted with cancer and raised your hand in a Sunday School class to ask for prayer and support and as a result, you experienced any or all of the following responses from your family in Christ?
“Have you prayed about this cancer thing yet? Because God will certainly take this away if you just pray with enough faith.”
Someone handing you a piece of paper with a bunch of Bible verses about being healed as if you’d never read any of them before.
“Well you should be thankful you’re not a quadriplegic or something like that which causes REAL suffering and pain.”
“Have you asked God to show you where there might be hidden sin in your life which might be the thing which is causing this?”
“This is a stronghold or a demon, and you need to get deliverance from it because if you don’t, you can’t be a useful Christian.”
“Real Christian’s don’t get cancer. You should make sure that your faith in Christ is sincere.”
“You are just letting Satan have his way with you. You are cooperating with him!”
“Have you tried reading your Bible?”
“I don’t happen to have cancer, so that pretty much qualifies me to teach you how to get rid of your cancer.”
“You’re seeing a doctor?! How is that trusting God??”
“You’re taking medicine for this? That’s trusting in the wisdom of men, rather than trusting in God for healing.”
“Physical therapy?? That’s for weak and spineless people. Just trust God to strengthen you instead.”
“If you would just trust God, you wouldn’t be suffering like this!”
“I would have to question whether or not you have received the Holy Spirit because the Spirit of Christ and cancer cannot dwell in the same body.”
“This is probably due to generational sin which has put a curse on you. You’ll need to ask God to reveal the specific sins of your ancestors and then you’ll need to do this 7-step process of renouncing those specific sins and then your cancer will disappear.”
“Every time you go to a psychologist you are cooperating with the work of Satan!!” You are on his team!”
Pretty “crazy” stuff – eh?
Sadly…I could go on with more of these of these absurd responses, (many of which I have personally experienced), but I think I’ve shared enough to demonstrate just how hurtful and counterproductive these statements would be to someone suffering from cancer.
And guess what? For every person that you know who is suffering from cancer, there’s someone else you know who is suffering from mental illness. The difference is that they aren’t free to talk about it because if they do, they know that rather than being supported, they will face accusation and judgment.
The point I’m trying to make is that these are the kind of responses that people who suffer from mental illness experience and the consequences are truly painful and counterproductive. This is what drives them into isolation and separates them from their family in Christ just when they need prayers, compassion, empathy, and support.
These are not isolated or rare events. They are, sadly, very common.
And, if we are honest, the real reason that this happens is that there are still so many people within the body of Christ who deny the validity of mental illness. To them, it is always viewed as a sin/spiritual issue rather than a disorder of the brain.
Change will only happen when churches begin to validate the experience of mental illness in the exact same way they validate the suffering of any other type of illness and to treat those who are afflicted in the same manner that they treat others with differing afflictions. This why I continue to write about it.
Our online support group for Christians with anxiety disorders has grown very large because people are desperate to communicate with someone who really understands that their pain and suffering is real, that it’s often excruciating, debilitating and life-altering. They are desperate for prayer and encouragement and someone to tell them that it’s more than okay to seek medical/professional help. That it’s not a sign of weak faith. That it’s not their fault that they are sick. And that God’s grace is sufficient for this thorn too.
Affliction is a common experience for the Christian, but it’s not without purpose. There are lessons to be learned through all kinds of suffering, and mental illness is not an exception to the rule.
What if The Church of Jesus Christ was a leader in showing the world how to support those who are suffering from mental illness in the exact same way they lead the world in how to support those who are suffering from any other form of trial, tribulation or persecution? What if I could feel at ease to raise my hand in a Sunday School class and say:
“Please pray for me. I’m going through a very bad flare of my OCD, and I’m experiencing a great deal of mental pain every waking minute of every day.”
And what if, when I did that, I wouldn’t need to fear the experience any of the above responses that I’ve just shared because people would automatically know that my affliction was valid just like they understand cancer to be valid?
I feel very strongly that this kind of change would lead to people getting the help they need. It would free them from guilt and shame and allow them to talk openly about their affliction and in doing so, they would quickly discover they aren’t alone; that there are many other Christians who can relate to what they go through. The freedom to share without fear of stigma will open the doors of hope and allow for productive communication which can guide people toward getting the professional help they need without having to feel that it’s wrong to do so.
I realize that I’ve written about this matter before and that people might wish I’d stop being so redundant, but this is a problem that hasn’t gone away. As long as these hurtful responses continue to happen to my brothers and sisters in Christ who are afflicted with mental illness, I’m going to keep on talking about it and hoping and praying for change.
Reblogged this on Church Set Free and commented:
Have you ever thought this …
“What if The Church of Jesus Christ was a leader in showing the world how to support those who are suffering from mental illness in the exact same way they lead the world in how to support those who are suffering from any other form of trial, tribulation or persecution? What if I could feel at ease to raise my hand in a Sunday School class and say:
“Please pray for me. I’m going through a very bad flare of my OCD, and I’m experiencing a great deal of mental pain every waking minute of every day.””
Why not pop over to ocdmitzi’s place and share your thiughts?
(Comments closed here)
I just wanted to write you and thank you so much. God has used your book to help me immensely with my OCD. I was ruminating for years over the assurance of salvation. I needed absolute certainty that I was saved, and I’d read the same verses over and over again to try and stop the rumination. This never helped.
Through the help of a Christian counsellor, medication and finding your book, I have finally found Hope. I may never feel absolutely certain, and that’s okay because I commit the eternal safe keeping of my soul to God, Who will do right.
So thank you so much! Your book helped me to know that there are other Christians who struggle with OCD, that there is hope and a future. Your sorrow and pain have helped another in Christ.
A thankful reader😊
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Glenda, can i contact you ? I have the exact same problem… I need someone to talk to. I’ve only just discovred abour rumination and OCD. I think I match the description… Hours lost in my brain trying to “make it happen” // Praying // exposing it to brothers / sisters // Pulling my hair. Can I maybe have the title of the book you’re taling about ? Thanks.
Sorry for the late reply. Been going through a lot family trials and loss of loved one the last six months.
My book is available on Amazon: “Strivings Within – The OCD Christian” Author Mitzi VanCleve Praying it may help give you comfort and direction.
Mitzi, you are a Godsend. I have struggled for years with scrupulously and religious OCD, and have been through the gamut of various friends telling me it’s primarily a spiritual issue. I’m so very thankful for you and your encouragement, and was even crying reading your book out loud to my mom today to help her understand what it’s like to have OCD. The Lord has used you already so powerfully in my life to help me start to turn the scary monster of my OCD into that silly “ghost” who is harmless, and I feel some real hope in my heart. THANK YOU!
Thank you for expressing how the book has encouraged and helped you. My hope was that God would use my experience to help others, so I’m humbled whenever I get to hear of evidence that He’s answered that prayer. Now, some day you in turn will be able to encourage someone else who is going through this…and that will make it worth it all. These disorders teach us so much about compassion and empathy for others. Praying that you will continue to progress in your management of your OCD. God Bless!!
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Thank you for sharing your experiences and I hope to order your book. I can’t express how much I relate to what you’ve gone through as I’ve been dealing with similar issues for close to 40 years. Although there have been a few periods of relief, almost every minute of my life has been completely occupied with overwhelming fear of going to hell and trying to figure out how to deal with it right now. After many years as a young person completely oblivious to OCD/scrupe I did find out about the disease and try counselors, psychiatrists, etc. But all pretty much to no avail. I can’t express the misery and I truly wish I had never been born. My current problem is that I seem to doubt the “authority” of Jesus Christ (i.e. can he alone really save me, I’m not sure I really trust him and believe, etc). I can’t seem to put my trust in him so I truly don’t know if I’m saved/believe and I don’t know what to do about it. Yes, I have scrupulosity. But my mind tells me that doesn’t matter. It’s beside the point. People in other religions have scrupe but it doesn’t by default mean they’re somehow saved or avoid the responsibility to believe the right thing. I just don’t know what to do. My mind tells me that if I may not be saved the only sane thing is to deal with it immediately……that doing anything else (work, TV, reading an article, talking to someone) is taking a chance that I might go to hell. I think I need to do nothing but read, study, pray……and the fact that sometimes when I read it does seem to help my faith only increases the validity that I must do it right now. I’ll try to go to work tomorrow, I’ll sit at the computer for 8 hours and hope I get an hour of work done. I’ll read a line of an email and think – I need to be saved, I need to address it now, I need to leave here. I’ll relentlessly argue back and forth in my mind between “I have to address being saved and to work one more minute is rejecting an eternal decision” and “I need to do my job and I want to keep a normal life”. I’m really glad you’ve found your peace…….I wish I could and I appreciate prayers.
I’m sorry to hear of the pain you are in, but clearly the OCD hasn’t been addressed properly due to the excessive engaging in compulsions that you describe. I completely understand that you feel horribly compelled to do these things, but treatment means learning how to resist those things. ERP or ACT therapy combined with meds. and typically some practical lifestyle modifications is the way to go. You’ll never find that perfect reassurance that will lay it all to rest. OCD is insatiable no matter what the theme is.
I do hope you will read my book as I think it might help to encourage you and give you the courage to tackle the beast of your OCD through ERP and/or ACT therapy. Praying for you!!!
Mitzi. Thank you for writing your book and sharing your experiences. It helps knowing that there are others in as much distress as I around ROCD. I’m sorry that you are going through ir, but know russert your book made a lasting impression on me. I recommended it to my therapist. God Bless.
Thank you so much!
Hi! My name is Emelie and I stumbled on your blog a couple of months ago, and what a relief it was! Your experience with religious OCD is so similar to what I have been going through, especially since this past August. I was diagnosed with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder when I was 14 and was in therapy (CBT) until the age of around 21. My OCD was quite severe and through a combination of therapy and medication I now no longer suffer from the anxiety of my previous fears. However, I still recognize patterns of OCD in my thinking, and it has especially affected my faith for the past 3-4 years. I became a disciple when I was 16 years old while I was suffering from intense OCD. My anxiety drove me towards God and a dependency on him for strength and help to get through this tough time, so I credit my faith as largely resulting from this hardship. However, as my OCD got under control through therapy and medication, I found myself questioning my faith and doubting God. I got to a point where it became so overwhelming and I just wanted to give up. In the end, I decided to continue on in my faith with the goal to really invest in getting answers to my questions and growing in my faith.
Flash forward to today, I have seen tremendous growth in my faith since that time. However, I still struggle with doubt almost daily, and the anxiety I feel as a result reminds me of the anxiety I felt with my previous OCD fears (although not exactly the same, maybe due to the medicine?). At first I thought I was just in sin and that I needed to trust God, which is true, but as soon as I doubt, I get into these mental spirals that totally destroy any peace. There are a variety of questions that are triggered at various times and by various things, a few being: “Does God really exist and how can I be sure?”; “Am I really a sinner? Does sin really exist?”; “Can I trust that the Bible is reliable and true? Did these people actually exist and did things actually happen the way they are written in the Scriptures?”; “Am I brainwashing myself and going against my deep-down desire to live my life my way?”; “Am I keeping myself from being the true me?”. Other doubts arise in terms of what is required for salvation, homosexuality, and suffering in the world. I’ve also had doubts about God’s existence in relation to how everything fits in with science and the evolutionary perspective. I have really worked at resolving most of these doubts but they never seem to FULLY go away, they cycle back and forth. The crazy thing is that I can feel resolved about something one week (or day) and feel super faithful, then another week feel bombarded by doubt. My initial response has been to “fix” these thoughts by answering them in my head, but this often becomes obsessional and I can spend long periods of time trying to reason things out, often feeling extreme guilt and fear in the process as well as an assumed disappointment from God where fixing my thoughts becomes the key to reconciling my relationship to Him. Sometimes by brain doesn’t want to cooperate and I’m bombarded by more doubts or conspiracy theories surrounding the New Testament. Even as I read your accounts, where your faith in God is expressed, I can doubt.
Early in the fall I had a few panic attacks after my morning devotionals and was prompted by my mom to seek professional help. I live in Europe and the system is a bit different here so it has taken a long time to be given a time with the psychologist. Now I have a time in late January but I’m wondering if a Christian counselor would be better since the country I live in is quite secular and I am worried the person I talk to will call my discipleship into question. However, thus far I have felt God’s presence with me in the process of seeking help and I’m trying to trust Him that he will lead me to the right person. When I realized that “fixing” my thoughts was only leading me into more and more anxiety, I started to use my knowledge of ERP from previous therapy to expose myself to my doubts. That has been a really scary and exhausting process, and I still struggle to know when affirmation with Scriptures and evidences of God is appropriate. The confusing thing for me is that it has been hard for me to figure out what is OCD and what is my own rebelliousness towards God and his word. My mom has told me I was quite rebellious as a child and I have had a track record of finding it hard to submit to authority figures like my parents and religious leaders, as well as trusting that God’s way is the best way. It has taken me a long time to even recognize that my doubts may be attributed to OCD but the obsessional nature of them has convinced me. The tricky part is that I see in my character a desire to lean on my own understanding, so combined with OCD tendencies, my Christian walk feels like a looming mountain to climb. I know that with God all things are possible and I truly deep down want to have faith and stop questioning, although even there doubts arise, like am I just doing it because of peer pressure and because my life revolves around my faith? However, I have lots of answered prayers to support my faith in God and examples of how he has worked in my life and provided me with good things, plus I know that there is nothing in the world that can compare to the love of God that is in Christ. If OCD has done one good thing in my life, it’s that it has given me perserverance and a high tolerance for mental stress, such that I am very stubborn and will hold on to my faith even under such difficult circumstances.
When I have talked to my old therapist about this religious theme, she has said that she can’t say the doubts are in an of themselves OCD, but that my response is definitely OCD. I find my Christian walk to have become so burdensome because of these mental battles, and they’ve led me to further doubts, like “Is this really life to the full, like Jesus promised?” Some days I feel like I am going crazy and my mind is continuously trying to solve the issues raised by my doubts, its impossible to turn it of. These past couple of weeks have been unusually peaceful but things changed when I read something in Hebrews about faith that triggered my doubt again. Finding your blog has been a big relief for me because in it I have found that I am not alone! My boyfriend bought me your ebook on Amazon and I have started reading it. Thank you so much for sharing your story! Any insight on my experience is deeply appreciated, as well as if you can relate to any of the doubts I mentioned above.
Everything you wrote is very similar to my experience with this form of OCD. For me, the presence of the anxiety and the extremely compelling feeling to sort it all out are the things which let me know it’s my OCD at work. Glad you found my blog and the book. I pray God will use them to help you manage these excruciating intrusive thoughts.
Good to hear back from you! I started my own blog since I wrote this comment and its been helpful to have a place to channel my thoughts: https://fromdoubttofaith.wordpress.com/
Thank you for your openness. I read your book, Strivings Within. Could you direct me to your online support group which is mentioned in your book and other articles? I recognize a major ROCD pattern in my life and would like to engage in support and recovery if this is indeed part of my current and lifelong struggle.
Yes. So sorry for the delay. Here’s the link: https://www.facebook.com/groups/424477494383675/?ref=bookmarks