If you’ve lived with OCD or any type of religious anxiety, you're used to seeing through the lens of fear. The question “How do I Know” has not been far from your mind. And that's a terrifying question.
“How do I know if I’m really saved?”
“How do I know if this is sin?”
“How do I know if I’m getting close to God?”
The problem is that fear smothers an important tool that we need for knowledge. That tool is passionate love.
Esther Lightcap Meek says that in order to deeply know someone or something, we have to deeply love that person or thing.
Let's look at an example. I love reading and writing and all forms of literature. I’m passionate about learning about craft, lyrical writing, and poetry. I can spend hours and hardly notice. It comes easily to me because of my passionate love.
You may have a different love. Perhaps you love airplane engineering or bird migration or cellular machinery. You're passionate about it. You study it because you love it.
Maybe you love the excitement of a football game, the adventure of camping, the way playing the violin engrosses your whole being. You can't wait to learn more statistics about football, find new skills for tying knots or building fires, or new ways to do trills on your violin.
Learning about the thing you love doesn’t seem like a burden. It feeds the fire inside you. It’s a constant quest.
Now think about the way you research your OCD themes or your fundamentalist religious beliefs. It feels different, doesn’t it? When you investigate something out of fear, you can sense a difference.
“What are the signs of melanoma?”
“What is flirting?”
“How do I know if my partner is right for me?”
“How do I know if I’m sinning or not?”
Is your heart pounding yet? Can you tell a difference? “Love” is not a word you would use when talking about researching your OCD themes. The word “hate” may be a better descriptor.
Because you hate and fear it, it's impossible to deeply know and understand that topic. You get stuck in an endless cycle of research, but you never find the answers. Compulsive research will never get you anywhere.
My topic of OCD research was sexuality. I spent hours Googling topics of sexuality, flirting, and sexual orientation. I often muttered, “I hate sexuality.” No matter how much I researched, I never felt like I understood it. And I certainly didn’t love it!
Esther Lightcap Meek says we can’t know about something without loving it. This standard will help you instantly tell the difference between researching as a compulsion and innocent researching as a hobby. Do you love the thing you’re researching? If not, it might be OCD.
Instead of focusing on “figuring out” your OCD themes, you can focus on cultivating a heartfelt appreciation for the things you're truly passionate about. What are your values? What are your goals? What truly interests you? What sparks a genuine sense of joy? How can you continue to pursue those dreams? Can you research the things you love instead of your OCD themes?
But sometimes, are OCD themes and our passions are closely related. What if the thing you love is the thing you obsessively fear? Is there a way to revive the love?
Remember, some OCD themes don’t need to be loved. You don’t need to love melanoma, fire, or abuse. But what if your fears are related to something inherently good, such as your partner or your faith? Then you might long for the love to come back and replace the fear. You might long for the days when you could learn to know your spouse, your hobby, or your God because you love them... not because you fear them. When you stay up enjoying your partner instead of ruminating on their quirks. Or enjoying the presence of God instead of researching about sin and judgment.
There are ways to cultivate your love for the good things, even if they seem to be corrupted through your panicked research.
As you consult with your professional OCD therapist, you can work on finding ways to revive the love. Do you long to learn about God out of love and not out of fear?
Biola's Advent Project can help you rediscover God through art and poetry.
Curt Thompson’s Reflections can help you stay present while you meditate on religious art.
Try Safe Place Prayer to feel safe with God again.
Try Life Model Works to connect with God and other people through JOY rather than through fear.
“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” 1 John 4:18