I’ve never considered myself to be much of a control freak. I’m normally a pretty flexible guy who can go with the flow, and who has no problem with spontaneity. Heck, a fair amount of my greatest college adventures started with an absurd suggestion at two in the morning. When else are you going to find the time to put a toilet on the top your student center? Normally, I’m happy to follow the example or lead of someone whom I trust, and if I have to change my plans on a moment’s notice, it’s typically no big deal.
Unless, I am afraid.
I have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Under normal circumstances that means that I have a proclivity to get caught in a seemingly endless thought loop of over-analyzation. It’s normally not very noticeable. However, sometimes it can be paralyzing. Sometimes I feel acute guilt for benign interactions I have with friends, family, and strangers. If I am afraid that I have offended someone, regardless whether or not anyone has actually taken offense to anything, I will examine and reexamine my actions, words, and motives from every possible angle until I am emotionally exhausted. I want to be absolutely certain that nothing in my interactions went wrong. In one sense, I am really afraid that something I said or did will come back to hurt me. So my constant analyzation is a form of self-preservation. I need to find out where I failed in a situation so I can correct it. However, because one can interpret a situation in an infinite number of ways if one is creative enough, and because I can be quite creative, this task normally takes an eternity coupled with an enormous amount of energy.
While the root of my OCD is partially biological (it’s the result of a serotonin imbalance in the brain which can be treated with medication, certain foods, exercise, cognitive behavioral therapy, etc.), there is a sense in which it is spiritual as well. Now, I don’t mean to make any sort of generalization about mental health, so please don’t misunderstand me. (In fact, check back in a little while; I hope eventually discuss that subject at greater length). However, for me personally, I’ve recognized that certain aspects of my obsessive behavior have their root in a desire for control. I’m desperately afraid of being hurt. If I can understand, and therefore control a situation, I can circumvent any possibility of harm.
This past Sunday evening, I sat, more out of obligation than desire, in a pew at my church. I wanted to engage in worship, but I was feeling tired, guilty, and disconnected from life. Eventually, I tuned in to the sermon. The Rev. Deborah Leighton preached on 1 Peter 1:1-12 with an emphasis on the suffering of the Christians. She reminded the congregation that suffering is ubiquitous in this world. Sometimes it is the result of our own sin; sometimes it is the result of the sins of others; sometimes it is the result of the effects of sin upon the world in general. And yet, this suffering, be it monumental or mundane, is not without meaning. She harkened to biblical imagery that compares the trials of our lives to a refining fire that God uses for our sanctification and recited the perspective-altering words of that old hymn “How Firm a Foundation”:
When through fiery trials
Your pathway shall lie
My grace all-sufficient
Shall be your supply
The flame shall not hurt you
I only design
Your dross to consume and
Your gold to refine
It is not insignificant, Deborah pointed out, that Christians in countries where severe persecution is the norm typically do not pray for the alleviation of their sufferings; on the contrary, they ask for the courage to remain steadfast in the faith as they experience pain and tribulation.
Both my week preceding and my week following this sermon have been saturated with this sort of message. Again and again I have been, and am still being, confronted with messages and exhortations that confirm the reality of suffering.
And strangely enough, it has been liberating.
The Christian message does not end in suffering, and the suffering we experience is not nihilistic. It has a purpose in the long run, even if we never understand that purpose this side of the resurrection. And speaking of the resurrection, that is the climax of our story, not our suffering. As I’ve been reminded of this, it has actually allowed me to rest in the peace of Christ. That same peace that Christ spoke to the frightened apostles as he showed them his nail-printed hands (John 20:19-20). That same peace that comes from knowing, in the midst of tribulation, that Christ has overcome the world (John 16:33). That peace that comes from finally giving up control, embracing the pain of this life, and recognizing that I am being refined. I’m tired of being a control freak. I’m ready to pray for courage.