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Faith, Media & Culture

Here’s this week’s dispatch from the crossroads of faith and culture.

May this post plant positive seeds that yield eternal seasons of hope and redemption for those struggling with religious OCD and others. It represents what I believe for me and what I believe for everyone. We are all beloved children of God a who loves us and will never let us be snatched from Him.

What is Religious Obsession? Religious Obsession is an Obsessive Compulsive Disorder covers a multitude of symptoms, including obsessive thoughts or fears of being unworthy of salvation and of so-called “unforgivable sins” (a term not actually in the Bible) and an over reliance on people to provide constant reassurances.  Religious obsession attacks our foundational trust in God which leads to all kinds of negative consequences, including severe strains on relationships, dark imaginings and undue pain caused by deferred (let’s not say lost) opportunities to express God’s love through our lives. Thankfully, the foundation can be repaired. While medication may help some with the OCD symptoms, the real cure is shifting one’s faith paradigm from one rooted in fear of an angry, unforgiving (false) god to one rooted in trust in an infinitely-merciful God who disciplines and corrects us but whose love is everlasting.

Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake.  After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. – 1 Kings 9:11-12 / “Cease striving and know that I am God” – Psalms 46:10

You are not alone. In fact, if you go online (or get someone to go for you because going online yourself looking for reassurance can actually feed the problem), you’ll find a tragic number of people posting their fears that they are eternally separated from God because of something they thought, said or did. It’s so sad because God will never turn anyone away but the irrational fear (fed by a letter-of-the-law legalistic perception of religion) blocks the experience of the blessings He always wants to send us. But, you can know, that as alone as you may feel – and as much as you may think you’ve thought, said or did something that no-one else ever thought, said or did, that there is someone else out there who thinks he or she has that unwanted distinction. The truth is no-one does. The fears you have, many have shared in one way for another through the millennia. But they amount to false gods who we imagine are bigger and more powerful than the Infinite Love and Power of the One who created and loves us.

“No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.” – 1 Corinthians 10:13

My story…At this point, suffice it to say, if God can lift me up again, he can lift anyone up – including you. The secret is to trust in God and not our own fear-filled thoughts and reactions.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. – Proverbs 3:5-6  Yes, He will heal your past and untie your mental knots.

So, here’s what I have learned in the form of Ten Steps for Moving Beyond Religious Obsession and Imaginings, plus Five Tips for Getting Through a Religiously-Obsessive Crisis (those times when you are literally at the breaking point and feel out of control). These principles are not new to the world. Many people sort of get them without having to see them written down, or having cracked open a Bible. They don’t need all the affirmations. Some, because of revulsion to toxic forms of religion, use words like the Universe to describe God but they still, essentially, get it.  They trust God. These concepts are in the Bible (and other writings) though by sheer length, apparent contradictions, multiple translations and interpretations and use of archaic guilt-inducing trigger words, the Good Book can be awfully confusing. If you’re given to religious obsession, the core messages (that God is love, that He created us and declared us as His children whom He finds to be good, that his His mercy endures forever and, yes, that we can trust Him over our own fears) can be literally (not spiritually) lost in translation.

Some of us (perhaps scarred by toxic religion and, maybe, a bit slow to really learn another paradigm) need something more concise and simple to refer to. I hope this helps. These are all truths I have learned and, in many cases, tripped over again and again.  If you struggle with religious obsession, guilt and dark imaginings, I suggest reading the entire list then taking each step one day at a time and repeating until it sinks in. In case of an emotional crisis, apply the five tips below the Ten Steps. Print them and keep them with you, if it helps. Bottom line: Turn your thoughts storms over to God. Then trust Him, be calm and be patient. Things will clear.

Ten Steps for Healing Fear and Religious Obsession

  • Step 1/Love God by trusting in His goodness and power. He created you out of Himself and has good plans for you. He forgives your wrong choices and begins correcting your path as soon as you let Him. His Spirit will never leave you. Your soul belongs to Him and is securely in His hands. The world is in His hands, not yours and that is all Good News. This is your foundation. Ask God to help you believe it and everything else will fall into place. You will become more and more unshakable as you learn to master your mind and emotions and not be mastered by them. “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” – Jeremiah 29:11
  • Step 2/Reject the demons of fear, dark imaginings, destructive obsessions and addictions, religiosity, bigotry, prideful perfectionism, greed, jealousy, self-absorption, confused thinking,arrogance, crippling doubt, unforgiveness of self and others and unbalance of all kinds. They are not you and do not define you. They are false gods that attack the bliss that is your guide to the One True God’s positive plan for your life. Your bliss is your blessing. It leads to Christ within you. Follow it.
  • Step 3/Understand that if a thought or religious interpretation doesn’t nurture and grow the Spirit’s fruits of faith, hope, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, mercy, faithfulness, gentleness, empowerment, positive purpose, wholesome discipline and a sound, rational mind, it is not from God. Cruelty, arrogance and condemnation are not from God. Hopelessness is not from God.  Don’t test God by engaging in destructive thoughts, words and actions because they cause very real pain and have consequences that are truly unpleasant. Ask God for a soft and understanding heart so that you see and hear His love all around you. He will answer you. Never believe that you have drifted too far or relapsed too much to be redeemed by God. Gratefully accept God’s encouragement and imperishable grace as it comes but do not aggressively look for signs. Doing so will only confuse you.
  • Step 4/In thought, word and action, communicate your hopes and gratitude to God. Be patient and have confidence that, through Him, your positive God-given goals are already being accomplished in God’s way and in God’s time. Pray as if you have already received. Remember that “Thank You” is the greatest prayer.
  • Step 5/Honor, forgive and learn from the past. Make rational, positive and hopeful plans for the future. Live in the eternal and sacred present. Don’t take on undue burdens that stem from neurotic guilt. Give all your cares to God. Don’t worry.
  • Step 6/You forever belong to God. Your salvation is assured. Now, mastering the self-focused fear that once consumed you, turn outward and proceed confidently into a mature life. Develop, grow and joyfully share your gifts. When appropriate, share also your scars. Be real. Let your mess be your message, your test be your testimony, your healing wounds become healing words and entry points for empathy. Your weakness can become your strength.  In good times and hard times maintain faith. Always see God in yourself, others and in all creation. Gratefully and joyfully accept and build on the love of family and friends. Love and wish no harm to your enemies.
  • Step 7/Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Be honest, kind, faithful and trustworthy in all your relationships. Don’t abuse or be abused, physically or emotionally. Defend and strengthen the weak. Stand up for what is right. As much as is humanly possible, avoid violence.
  • Step 8/Seek not so much to be consoled as to console. Without guilt, receive God’s abundance so that you may avoid burdening others and may give abundantly. It is more spiritually and emotionally rewarding to give than to receive. At the same time, receive love and consolation as graciously as you give it. We need each other.
  • Step 9/Take care of your body and mind. Exercise and eat well. Focus on positive ideas. Choose and use words that build one another up.
  • Step 10/Let go of ego forever. Beware of an unwholesome form of pride.  You are not the center of the universe (more Good News!). Hopefully, you have gained wisdom but do not be impressed with yourself. Do not act as if you are God or idolize others as if they are. God is God, we are his beloved creation. That is the reassuring baseline from which these principles flow. Beyond that, we are not responsible for knowing and understanding everything. Our religions, theologies and politics are less important than we think, except that they should be rooted in a Creator whose very essence is Love. God is Everlasting Love. His justice is not eternal punishment but eternal mercy, healing and restoration for all because we all belong to Him and He loves us. God sent His Son not to condemn the world but, through Him, to save the world (John 3:17). That is the truth that sets up free. We are not called to convert or control people. Our job is only to express the goodness and power of God by being kind and forgiving to everyone, by using our gifts and experiences for the good of all, and (full circle) by trusting our Source.
    Finally, when you are healed, avoid thinking you got to this good place by yourself. God and many people helped you. You still are not perfect. That’s okay. Just beware. Demons, whatever their form, often return and distract us just when we are realizing we are free. Resist them by engaging in life and resting in Christ. Let Jesus fight for you. He’s already won. When you think you have broken free, you may stumble and fall but don’t let your confidence by shaken. God is still with you. Get up and keep going. Doing so praises God.

 And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen. –  1 Peter 5:10-11

Hopefully, these Ten Steps work for you on an ongoing basis. As a fellow struggler (aka sinner), I am learning that the only way forward is through an acceptance and trust in God’s eternal love and grace. However, if you’re going through a religiously-obsessive crisis now, you may need some extra help in keeping your focus where it belongs — on God’s goodness and power.

FIVE RELIGIOUS-OBSESSION CRISIS TIPS:

  1. TURN YOUR WORRY OVER TO GOD FOR TEN DAYS. HE WILL UNTANGLE YOUR TWISTED THINKING. THINGS MAY SEEM WORSE BEFORE THE FOG LIFTS. PUSH THROUGH THE FEAR AND DOUBT. Meditate on one step a day, as a kind of spiritual retreat in which you let go and let God.
    Note Step 3: If a thought or religious interpretation doesn’t nurture and grow the Spirit’s fruits of faith, hope, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, mercy, faithfulness, gentleness, personal empowerment, positive purpose, wholesome discipline and a sound, rational mind, it is not from God. Cruelty, arrogance and condemnation are not from God. Hopelessness is not from God.
  2. STAY BUSY WITH WORK, FAMILY, FRIENDS, EXERCISE AND HOBBIES. ENGAGE LIFE. FOLLOW YOUR BLISS (CHRIST WITHIN YOU). TRY NOT TO BE ALONE TOO MUCH.
  3. STAY AWAY FROM RELIGIOUS WEBSITES AND ESPECIALLY DON’T ENGAGE THE COMMENTS SECTION. (If this post helps, as I hope it does, good – but don’t keep looking for further reassurance. You’ll only confuse yourself.)
  1. TRY TO KEEP YOUR THOUGHTS BETWEEN YOU AND GOD. IF YOU MUST, ENLIST ONE PERSON YOU TRUST (WHO IS NEITHER HOSTILE TO FAITH NOR GIVEN TO RELIGIOSITY) TO HELP YOU MAINTAIN BALANCE BUT DON’T BURDEN YOUR CONFIDANTE WITH AN ENDLESS LOOP OF YOUR WORRIES. Remember, your confidante can help you stabilize and see the broad picture more clearly but that person is only human. Don’t expect the person to do anything more than help you to quiet your mind while you connect to God’s loving voice within you.
    NOTE TO THAT “LUCKY” CONFIDANTE: DON’T BE DRAWN INTO THAT LOOP OF WORRIES. BE COMPASSIONATE AND AVAILABLE BUT SET BOUNDARIES. HELP BY SPEAKING GOD’S POWER OVER THE PERSON. FOCUS ON THE PERSON’S FAITH AND HOPE NOT HIS OR HER DOUBTS AND FEARS. REFER THE PERSON TO THE TEN STEPS. PRAY WITH THE PERSON IF YOU FEEL COMFORTABLE DOING SO.
  2. DON’T LET YOUR IMAGINATION RUN AWAY WITH YOU. AVOID SECOND GUESSING YOURSELF. JUST AS YOU’RE COMING OUT OF THE CRISIS, EXPECT A NEW ATTACK OF DOUBT. VIEW IT AS YOUR OPPORTUNITY TO TRUST GOD. IF YOU STUMBLE AND DO SOMETHING STUPID (MOST LIKELY BECAUSE OF DOUBT), GET UP AND MOVE FORWARD. AS STATED IN STEP 10, DOING SO PRAISES GOD.

Suggested Prayer: God, my thoughts are in YOUR HANDS, my prayers are in YOUR HANDS, I AM in YOUR HANDS. Totally and completely, now and forever, I belong to You body, mind and soul. I AM so very grateful to be YOURS.  There is nothing that can snatch me from YOUR  HANDS. My positive goals come from YOU and are already being accomplished.  You will fulfill Your purpose in me. THANK YOU.

One more thing: Taking medication for depression and OCD is not a moral issue. If it helps you great. Either way, these Ten Steps and Five Crisis Tips are offered to help. God’s blessing is upon you.

This post is written in eternal gratitude to God and to all the good people (family, friends and others) He has graciously placed in my path.

Encourage one another and build each other up – 1 Thessalonians 5:11

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