Back in June I emailed my blog followers to explain why I had been silent for months. I shared with them that I had been working through some intense personal issues. This was the truth. Last year my OCD peaked to an unbearable level. Prior to receiving a diagnosis and learning how to fight it, I was barely able to eat or take a shower, much less write.
But what I didn’t share, and what I had not yet been fully honest with myself about, was that I stopped writing because I had succumbed to the OCD (note: the point of this post isn’t OCD; just bear with me for a moment). Around May 2018, I was in a much better place and could have resumed blogging and book-writing. But I didn’t. I told myself and others, “The Lord is leading me in a different direction; I’m in school now and don’t have time; after two and half years of non-stop writing, I’m just burnt out.”
These things were true. God had led me to resume a college education. Classes and studying do occupy a lot of time. I did need a little breather. But these weren’t the primary reasons I stopped writing. I stopped writing because I was paralyzed by fear.
OCD latches onto the things a person holds most dear. This is why obsessions can differ drastically from person to person. We all have different values and things we treasure. I don’t care if I have germs on my hands and might get sick, so I don’t suffer from contamination OCD. But I deeply value my relationship with God and staying out of trouble. This is why I deal with scrupulosity (which is subtype of OCD) and excessively checking to make sure I abide by every letter of divine and human law.
In the case of OCD suffers who are Christians, the callings God has placed on our lives definitely fall into the category of “things we hold dear.” The OCD tells us that doing X or Y for the Lord is dangerous—that it could bring ridicule, embarrassment, loss of friends, loss of security, or other forms of suffering into our lives. It relentlessly terrorizes us with ridiculous, irrational fears so that we will stop ministering in the way(s) God has called us. I believe writing is one of my callings, and the OCD attacked it with all its fury. It was easier to quit writing than to continue dealing with the fears surrounding it.
OCD’s agenda sounds a lot like Satan’s, doesn’t it? He also attacks us in our weak spots so that we’ll shut up about Jesus and quit serving others in His name. And by “us,” I mean all of us. The whole church. Every Christian. You may not have OCD that bombards you with irrational reasons why you shouldn’t do X or Y for the Lord. Maybe your fears are more legitimate. Perhaps you feel God has called you and your family to serve as missionaries in South Sudan, but you’re afraid that the lack of policing and immediate medical care might result in one of your kids suffering violence or sickness. Or maybe you believe the Lord wants you to start a Bible study during lunch hour at work. Though your workplace would allow this, you know that your superiors aren’t believers and you worry that displaying your faith may affect the promotion you’re supposed to get soon.
Or maybe it isn’t fear primarily that keeps you silent and inactive. Maybe it’s shame. Maybe you’ve sinned in such terrible ways in your far or recent past that you feel unworthy to serve God in whatever way he’s leading you. Every time you start feeling energized to do X or Y in His name, memories of past sins flood your mind. Shame settles over you like a big black cloak. It tells you that you’re not worthy or qualified to serve the Lord in the way you feel led.
I believe the Holy Spirit has a word for all of us today. And that word is this: go serve your Savior, even if you tremble.
Easier said than done, I know. I really do. It took me months to muster up the courage to write the blog post I published on Saturday. And I’m anxious right now as I write this one! I felt a joyful hope when I posted last weekend. I showed myself that I can do it! I can push through the OCD craziness and write for the Lord. But those bright and sunny feelings were quickly darkened by a storm of irrational fears. “What if there has been too much sin in my life for me to be doing this? What if my readers think I’m more sanctified than I am? What if they think I’m ‘just tempted sometimes’ rather than being a complete moral failure sometimes? What if I need to write a blog post confessing to everyone all the sins I’ve committed since becoming a Christian so they can decide whether or not I’m qualified to write? What if confessing and being accountable to my pastors and church isn’t enough? What if God wants me to tell everybody all the dirty details of my life?”
The rational part of me recognizes these thoughts are absurd. I’ve always been forthcoming (maybe too much, actually) about my weaknesses, failures, and sins. I’ve never made myself out to be 100% pious and pure. And my sins, however numerous and shameful they are, don’t disqualify me from writing about my personal walk with the Lord and all he is teaching me. But nevertheless, anxiety and irrational thoughts persist. I continue to feel afraid, unworthy, unqualified, and tempted to quit.
This blog post is me fighting back. Refusing to quit. Refusing to cower. Refusing to let my life be controlled by fear. I want to stop succumbing to the lies that my broken, sinful flesh (and the Enemy) are throwing at me. So that’s what I’m going to do. I may tremble as I write, but I’m going to write. Come what may, I’m putting my hand back to the plow.
Won’t you join me? I know you can’t just “stop” feeling afraid, guilty, and unqualified. Neither can I. But we can put our shaky hands to the plow and serve the Lord, regardless of how we feel. That’s part of walking by faith, right? And the more consistently we walk by faith, the more consistently our feelings will align with the truths of the gospel: in Christ, we are pardoned; in Christ, we have been qualified to serve; in Christ, we have nothing to fear.
I know there are some vocations from which a person can be temporarily or permanently disqualified if they participate in certain sins. If you cheated on your wife and she divorced you, pursuing pastoral ministry may not be an option. You don’t need to be debilitated by guilt and shame if you’ve truly repented, but you may not be able to serve a church in certain roles (being a pastor is the only one I can think of). Most of us aren’t aspiring pastors who’ve had extramarital affairs, though. Most of us feel called to serve the Lord in other ways and are not biblically disqualified from doing so. We’re just immobilized by our anxieties and our unbelief in God’s love toward us in the gospel. And we need to fight those fleshly inclinations by giving ourselves to the work of the gospel! We don’t have to feel 100% fearless. We don’t have to feel 100% clean or qualified. We just have to act according to what we know is true. We may feel afraid, but we know the truth that God is sovereign over every potential threat. The only sufferings that can touch us are the sufferings that God has ordained to serve our ultimate good. And though our sins are very real, we know the truth that God’s mercy and grace are just as real. Though we may tremble for a while, and though it may take time for our fears and shame to subside, we can begin serving the Lord today in the power of these truths.
I’m a fearful saint with a messy record. You’re a fearful saint with a messy record. But praise God he’s a loving Savior who forgives, cleanses, and empowers us to do his will.
“When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.” – Psalm 56:3