anxiety,  faith,  identity,  mental health

What does God think about OCD?

I- Chipped Paint

You have searched me, Lord, and You know me.

You know when I sit and when I rise; You perceive my thoughts from afar.

You discern my going out and my lying down;

You are familiar with all my ways.

This week, I sat on a familiar couch across from the familiar face of my counselor and talked about my recent anxiety struggles. About flare-ups in my people pleasing and old thought patterns that sneak up way too fast and overwhelmingly. About my shame for still struggling with OCD, and codependency, and sin, and basically … not being perfect.

When I was a child I have vivid memories of spending time on our wooden swing set that my dad built in our backyard. My siblings and I would go outside to play after school while mom cooked dinner. Instead of playing on the swing set, I would sit on the landing above the slide and fixate on the peeling paint. It would bother me greatly if an area was starting to chip or peel, so I would hyper-focus on peeling it away in strips to remove those seeming imperfections. Lost in thought, in somewhat of a trance, I would pull away the old gray paint to reveal the red wood underneath. It was strangely satisfying and calming but also a little unsettling in the aftermath — when my mom called us in for dinner, it would snap me out of the trance. I’d look down at the grass and see far more dried and chipped paint than I had intended to remove, and would be embarrassed for this strange habit. Eventually, in later years, I developed a form of OCD as a way of coping with my anxiety called trichotillomania, a rare disorder on the obsessive-compulsive spectrum that leads individuals to pull out their own hair. The trances with this reminded me of my paint peeling days, though the impact was far more damaging than an old backyard swing set missing its paint.

II- Tears

Before a word is on my tongue, You, Lord, know it completely.

You hem me in behind and before, and You lay Your hand upon me.

Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain.

For most of my life I’ve been a writer. It’s often been private, in diaries, journals, short stories not shown to others [I’m just getting brave enough to share it]. In my bedroom, I have a box full of old journals, and on the nightstand next to my bed, I have a stack of the three most recently filled within the past year. Each one represents so many stories and wanderings and prayers and tears worked through quietly, mostly on my own or with the Lord.

My counselor and I have walked together through 5 huge years in my life. These 5 years have carried total humility and honesty, growth, forgiveness, and transformation. She knows me better than anyone on this side of heaven. In the beginning of our time together I remember sitting on the edge of my seat, leaning forward with knots of fear in my stomach– fear of saying some things out loud for the very first time, showing someone else the way my brain works, fear of judgment, and overwhelmed with where to start in processing my heavy burdens. When I would begin to cry in those earlier sessions, I would quickly shut off the tears and put a smile back on my face, saying, “But I know it’s going to be okay.” Yet, every single session my counselor has met me with gentleness and grace. And at the end of every session, no matter what I’ve shared, we have ended our time together with prayer. These days, I sit nestled into the couch with comfort in this safe place. I let the tears flow freely, knowing that there is healing that comes with the fullness of that expression of overwhelm, grief, confusion, sadness, anger, or whatever those tears represent. I come into our Tuesday evening times together, able to share with her what I’ve noticed lately, what I’m learning, ready to share the newest pages of my journal out loud, with no fear of what she thinks of me.

Once, when I showed her that I was about to finish another journal after only 3 months of starting it, she asked if I was proud of that fact. I said without hesitation, “yes.” We both knew the hard work represented in those pages. But even more than that, they represented for me the bravery of saying the words out loud. There was freedom in that.

Lately we have been talking about this work we do, of retraining the brain to take on new thought patterns. And how even after 5 years of work there can be new work to keep fighting against 25 years of established patterns. But now, I AM doing the work of creating new patterns. This week, on that couch, I sat with tears in my eyes about my obsessive thinking and how it has gotten out of control lately, sometimes about great things like writing and creativity, and sometimes about things in my past or worry for the future. I asked her to be frank with me (I’ve asked her this question before too, but sometimes just need to hear the answer out loud)– is there something really broken with me? Is the way that my brain works really messed up?

III- Light, Tea, Psalms

Where can I go from Your Spirit? Where can I flee from Your presence?

If I go up to the heavens, You are there; if I make my bed in the depths, You are there.

If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea,

Even there Your hand will guide me, Your right hand will hold me fast.

If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,”

Even the darkness will not be dark to You; the night will shine like the day,

For darkness is as light to You.

To my question about my brain… my counselor met me with gentleness and grace, as always. She affirmed that the quirks of my personality {obsessive thinking, extreme motivation, my empathy, my creative brain, even my perfectionism} are part of how God made me and formed me and loves me. When these qualities and thought patterns get out of control and go into overdrive, I enter into discomfort, darkness, pain. But these quirks? They are also some of the qualities that make me an excellent researcher, someone who is innovative and bright, good at coming up with new and creative ideas, fiercely loyal, strong in my faith, a wonderful friend/sister/group member, a good communicator, and a tender-hearted human with a heart for serving others in this world with love and kindness. When I become aware that those quirks are in overdrive or are blocking me from putting my full identity in Christ, I can take a moment to breathe and have compassion for myself. Then I can use one of the tools in the toolkit I’ve assembled in these 5 years to get back to being grounded and centered, knowing that I am loved for exactly who I am. To let the light back in.

So this week, I pulled out some of those tools. I spoke with my loving dad on the phone. I ate a healthy black bean burger and sweet, fresh pineapple for dinner. I played the piano. I am drinking peach ginger tea or a spicy cinnamon variety of hot tea in my favorite mug in the evenings. And I’m going back to my favorite Psalm- the one that reminds me of the Truth of who God is and that He loves me no matter where my mind goes (Psalm 139, written throughout this post).

IV- Paper and Stained Glass

For You created my inmost being; You knit me together in my mother’s womb.

I praise You because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;

Your works are wonderful, I know that full well…

How precious to me are Your thoughts, God! How vast is the sum of them!

Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand—

when I awake, I am still with You…

Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.

See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.

The other night, while on the phone with my dad, I looked over and saw this piece of art that I created a few years ago. When my OCD was probably at its worst and my life felt utterly out of control, I discovered an interesting world of paper cutting and the art of scherenschnitte. This folk art form from Germany which literally means “scissor cuts” became a new creative outlet for me to channel my perfectionism, anxiety, and OCD. In those moments of digging into my artwork, it is me, the paper, an exacto knife, and worship music. Entering into a new kind of trance, I get to hyper-focus on slicing straight lines and chipping away at the pattern before me. My favorite designs are ones like this with symmetry, order, a calming pattern to cut out–the ones that remind me of stained glass or a fractal. This design, created out of a season of disorder and darkness, is such a clear and tangible reminder to me that I crave order, creativity, and color. And that hard work, generosity, and hyper-focused motivation and thinking are part of the fabric of who I am. I am working on having GRACE for myself for how much I have grown and for who I am. And reminding myself that He is crafting me into something beautiful, even in my brokenness.

The mind of God and all of His ways are mysterious to us–I don’t believe that any man will ever be able to comprehend the Lord’s thinking fully here on earth. Here’s what I DO know though, from spending the past 5 years digging further into His word, praying, and pressing into His truth:

  • He calls us to “be still” before Him, for He is God (Psalm 46:10)
  • We were created in His image (Genesis 1:26-27)
  • He calls us fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139)
  • He has so much grace and mercy for us (Romans 3:23-24; Hebrews 4:16)
  • He is a stronghold in times of trouble (Psalm 9:9-10)
  • He rejoices over us with singing (Zephaniah 3:17)
  • He refreshes and restores our souls (Psalm 23)
  • He bears our burdens for us (Matthew 11:28-30)
  • He knows every thought in our hearts/minds (Psalm 139:3-4, 23)
  • The peace that comes from Him is far better than any peace I can find in this world (John 14:27)

I do not know the details of your struggles. But God does. He loves us and calls us to love others in the same way. So I want to encourage you to find balance–more grace, less self-condemnation. More rest, less striving. More community, less isolation. If you’re wrestling with what it looks like to have a healthy mind and how these things seem ingrained in the fiber of your being, try to have compassion, mercy, and gentleness for yourself. After all, YOU were fearfully and wonderfully made by a loving Creator– in His very image. He is crafting you, too, into something beautiful, with every single part of who you are.

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P.S. Do you battle with keeping Truth at the forefront of your mind? Do you wrestle with lies, insecurity, anxiety, depression, OCD, mental battles of any kind–anything that pulls you away from the present into a rabbit trail of fear, worry, or restlessness? I would love to share some of my favorite Scriptures with you in the form of a free printable I created. These 11 powerful Truths are some of my favorite Scriptures to come back to when the lies get loud in my mind and heart. Though I know prayer and Truth are a component of a holistic solution, I encourage you to print it out to hang on your mirror, next to your desk, or to cut into note cards to encourage a friend for the hard days.

Enter your email here to get your Scripture cards. Be encouraged. You’re not alone.

6 Comments

  • Catherine Hawkins

    Heather, I am so glad to have reconnected with you through your writing! This is one of my favorite psalms as well, and it reminds me that the most beautiful things about me can also cause the most pain. Also, counseling changed my life. Thank you for sharing!

    • HeatherLobe

      Aw thanks Catherine! And I’m so glad you’ve encountered great counseling too– it’s something I wish everyone could benefit from at least for one season in their lives. Such a helpful tool when you find a good person 😉

      Also, hope you’re doing well!

  • Joan Melady

    Heather, you are such a besutiful (in every way) child of GOD. You SO inspire me, I have SO FAR TO GO!! Thanks for you beautiful, motivating and inspiring words!! GOD bless you!

  • Leslie

    Thank you so much for your vulnerability! I found it very inspiring!! I journey through anxiety as well, and I can empathize with your coping mechanism of OCD, I usually clean or do laundry when I’m super anxious in my heart (after I pray of course) because I guess it’s something I can control. Again, thank you for your honesty and openness! Even though I get upset and how he created me at times, I am encouraged, like as you said, I have attributes that I am very thankful through this struggle, and I know I wouldn’t have those if this wasn’t the case.

    Thanks, Heather!! We are strong!

    • HeatherLobe

      Leslie, thank you for your kind words and for sharing parts of your story here too. I hope that we can continue to walk in confidence in who He created us to be! Sending you love, and grateful to connect with you here!

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