In 1884 he moved to the United States with nothing but a letter of introduction to Thomas Edison. The letter was written by his former employer, Charles Batchelor, and it simply read, “I know two great men, one is you and the other is this young man.”
Today, when we think of Tesla, we think of the electric car, but the electric car owes its name to Nikola Tesla, one of the smartest men to ever live. A man who had a photographic memory and spoke eight languages fluently
Tesla has been called by some “the man who invented the 20th Century”. And while we often give credit for electric lighting to Thomas Edison, it was Tesla who made electric lighting practical.
When we think of radio we think of Marconi, but reality is that it was Tesla who came up with the idea, and he would have perfected it if his workshop hadn’t burned down with all of his plans and notes.
Otis Pond, an engineer working for Tesla at the time, said, “Looks as if Marconi got the jump on you.” Tesla replied, “Marconi is a good fellow. Let him continue. He is using seventeen of my patents.”
And while Marconi was able to patent the radio in 1904, the US Patent office overturned that patent in 1943 and awarded the patent to Tesla. Of course, Tesla had died earlier that year.
The man who invented the 20th century died penniless and alone in a New York Hotel room on January 7, 1943.
While Tesla was a genius, his genius was hindered by mental illness. During his life he struggled with issues that back then led him to be called an eccentric. Now, we would say he struggled with OCD or Obsessive-compulsive disorder. Some have even speculated that Tesla may have been a high-functioning autistic.
We are told that he became obsessed with cleanliness and germs. All his food had to be boiled to make sure it was germ free, and he avoided shaking hands with people and if he couldn’t avoid shaking hands, he’d try to wear gloves. In the TV show Young Sheldon, Sheldon wears mittens to hold hands at the table while saying grace.
There are those who have speculated this fear of physical contact is why Tesla never married and remained celibate throughout his life, after all if you are unable to shake hands. . .
He became fixated on the number three. If he did shake your hand it was done in a set of three. When he washed his hands, it had to be done three times. He had to have 18 napkins on his table during meals, because that was six sets of three. When he stayed in a hotel it had to be in a room and on a floor that was divisible by three. And when he died, at the Hotel New Yorker of coronary thrombosis, it was in room 3327. You should read up on Tesla. He was fascinating.
This is week seven of our mental health series at Cornerstone, and over the past seven weeks we’ve looked at depression, narcissism, renewing your mind, anxiety, worry and fear. This morning I’d like to look at dealing with OCD.
The International OCD Foundation makes this statement on their website: “For many people, the COVID-19 pandemic may be specifically impacting your OCD symptoms, including your obsessions and/or your compulsions.”
And the Mayo Clinic defines OCD this way, OCD obsessions are repeated, persistent and unwanted thoughts, urges or images that are intrusive and cause distress or anxiety.
The clinic goes on to state that some of the common themes of OCD are:
Fear of contamination or dirt.
Doubting and having difficulty tolerating uncertainty.
Needing things orderly and symmetrical.
Aggressive or horrific thoughts about losing control and harming yourself or others.
Unwanted thoughts, including aggression, or sexual or religious subjects.
Often when we think of OCD behaviour, we are thinking of number 1 and 3, fear of contamination or dirt, and needing things orderly and symmetrical. And you might be able to picture specific people, if not in your own circle of acquaintances, then Sheldon from Big Bang or Howie Mandel.
But obsessive or intrusive thoughts are also symptomatic of OCD.
In reference to his OCD Howie Mandel, said, “There isn’t anybody out there who doesn’t have a mental health issue, whether it’s depression, anxiety, or how to cope with relationships. Having OCD is not an embarrassment anymore – for me. Just know that there is help and your life could be better if you go out and seek the help.”
The scripture that was read for us earlier tells us about a turning point in the life of King Saul. You might recall, Saul, he was anointed as the first King of Israel, and he did a good job at the beginning. He was the king in charge when the giant Goliath challenged the armies of Israel, and when the shepherd boy David defeated Goliath with his sling and five smooth stones.
And Saul became a mentor to David and David became Saul’s protegee and a trusted military leader. That all changed in the scripture that read for us.
David and Saul were returning from a successful military campaign and they were greeted by a crowd, singing their praises let’s pick up the story in 1 Samuel 18:7–9 This was their song: “Saul has killed his thousands, and David his ten thousands!” This made Saul very angry. “What’s this?” he said. “They credit David with ten thousands and me with only thousands. Next they’ll be making him their king!” So from that time on Saul kept a jealous eye on David.
For the rest of his reign, Saul became obsessed with the thought of David becoming King. Over the next dozen chapters we see Saul oscillating between fearing David and being consumed with jealousy and anger toward David.
That obsession resulted in Saul trying to have David killed and ultimately resulted in Saul committing suicide.
Even when David protested, Saul couldn’t get over the obsession. At one point David had the opportunity to defend himself against the King and this is how he responded, 1 Samuel 24:9–10 Then he shouted to Saul, “Why do you listen to the people who say I am trying to harm you? This very day you can see with your own eyes it isn’t true. For the Lord placed you at my mercy back there in the cave. Some of my men told me to kill you, but I spared you. For I said, ‘I will never harm the king—he is the Lord’s anointed one.’
And you might be thinking, well that’s interesting, but so what?
Well, OCD isn’t simply a quirk that makes people think you’re a bit eccentric.
David Adam, in his book, The Man Who Couldn’t Stop: OCD and the True Story of a Life Lost in Thought, said, “People who live with OCD drag a metal sea anchor around. Obsession is a break, a source of drag, not a badge of creativity, a mark of genius or an inconvenient side effect of some greater function.”
And while that is true, we also need to recognize that not all obsessive behaviour is destructive.
It comes down to the pathology of the behaviour, what it causes you to do and how that impacts your life and the lives of those around you.
As a matter of fact, one study found that 94% of people, across 6 continents, said that they experienced intrusive thoughts, images or impulses of some kind.
I have a friend who exhibits some OCD characteristics when he eats. He carefully divides up his plate so that none of the different food groups are touching, and then he eats them food group by food group in a particular order. So, he would eat all of his potatoes, then all of his vegetables, and finally all of his meat. That’s fine, quirky but fine. But, if you can only eat foods of a certain colour or shape or size, that might become an issue.
People who keep their homes and offices spotless might be a little obsessive, and again that not an issue. But, if you have to clean the same surfaces multiple times, and spend hours making sure everything is perfectly aligned. That maybe be affecting your quality of life.
In these days of COVID, being slightly obsessed with germs and hygiene might be helpful, but on the other hand if that has caused intimacy issues than maybe it’s gone too far. If your fear of germs causes you to pull away from those you love than you need to ask if the cost outweighs the benefits.
At its root, OCD is an anxiety issue and for the Christian it becomes a trust issue.
The bible tells us that we are both physical and spiritual creatures. Our bodies, including our brains, are the physical part of us. But that isn’t the entirety of who we are, we also have a soul, and that is the spiritual part of who we are. And there are times that we are tempted to isolate whatever it is that we are dealing with as either a physical issue or a spiritual issue.
But to truly understand mental health struggles, you have to take into account both the physical and the spiritual.
And as we have mentioned throughout this series, we are preachers, not mental health professionals. And while we have all had courses in counselling, that’s not our primary ministry.
I’m really not qualified to talk about the physical, or brain side of OCD, but perhaps I can help put the spiritual side into perspective for you.
Let’s start it the fact that OCD is based on A Need for Certainty And that in itself is not wrong, nor is it sinful. I would even suggest that it is the way that God created us, and is all part and parcel with our innate need for self-preservation and avoiding harm.
It wasn’t wrong for Saul to want to be certain of David’s loyalty, but that need for certainty led Saul into sinful behaviour.
It’s not wrong to want to be certain that you locked the front door of the house when you leave. but if you have to re-check it multiple times, it might be indicative of something more than a healthy need for certainty.
It’s not wrong to be certain that your hands are clean, especially in these COVID days, but twenty seconds with soap and water is enough. If you have to keep washing them over and over again, it’s really because you aren’t certain that you got them clean enough the first time.
Compulsive behaviours are our attempt to erase our doubt and increase our certainty.
And that’s all well and good, but are there answers?
The Mayo Clinic has this to say, “Obsessive-compulsive disorder treatment may not result in a cure, but it can help bring symptoms under control so that they don’t rule your daily life.”
It then goes on to state, “The two main treatments for OCD are psychotherapy and medications. Often, treatment is most effective with a combination of these.”
And that addresses the body/brain side of the equation, but what about the spiritual side?
Maybe, if you struggle with anxiety induced OCD, these suggestions will help.
1 Peter 5:7 Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you.
The first step is to Trust In God’s Care And Provision
This isn’t meant to be a fix when you are having obsessive thoughts and anxiety, this is a proactive action. You’ve probably all heard the old adage, “The best defence is a good offense” and that is a reality in our spiritual life as well.
If it is your habit to trust God in all things at all times, it will become easier to trust him when you are dealing with obsessive thoughts and behaviour.
Time and time again, the scriptures come back to this principle. God loves you and cares about you.
John tells his readers in 1 John 3:1 See how very much our Father loves us, for he calls us his children, and that is what we are!
And even while David was being pursued by Saul, he was able to write, Psalm 56:3–4 But when I am afraid, I will put my trust in you. I praise God for what he has promised. I trust in God, so why should I be afraid? What can mere mortals do to me?
Pastor Rob mentioned last week that it has been said that there are 365 instances of “Fear Not” or “Don’t be afraid” in the bible, one for every day.
The Apostle Paul wrote his letter to the Romans in a time when the early church was being persecuted by the Romans and the Jews alike. Following Jesus was not easy, and often time it cost people their families, their livelihoods and even their lives.
For the Christians of the day there were all kinds of reasons to be anxious, and in that environment and in that culture Paul ask his readers this question, Romans 8:35 Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death?
And then he answers the question in the next verse, Romans 8:36 No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us.
We need to lay a firm foundation of trust in God to build our lives on.
Let’s keep going, again in the book of Romans we read, Romans 12:2 Don’t copy the behaviour and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.
Deal With Obsessive Thoughts When They Begin
I’ve mentioned before one of my profs at Bible College used to tell us, “You can’t stop the birds from flying over your head, but you can stop them from building their nest in your hair.”
You may always have those obsessive thoughts, but deal with them when they pop up and don’t let them simmer and grow bigger in your mind.
Pastor Rob has highlighted this concept in his last two messages when he spoke about renewing your mind. Choose what it is you are going to think about.
Last week’s scripture focus was Philippians 4:8 And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honourable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.
Paul is telling his reader, “If you have to obsess, then obsess on these things.”
Dr. Caroline Leaf is a communication pathologist and cognitive neuroscientist, and she said in her podcast on dealing with intrusive thoughts, “Whatever we think about the most is going to grow. . . OCD is not a disease it is a description of how a person is managing a traumatic experience.”
She goes on to write in her book Switch On Your Brain, “As we think, we change the physical nature of our brain. As we consciously direct our thinking, we can wire out toxic patterns of thinking and replace them with healthy thoughts.”
Like most of us, you’ve probably tried to not think about something, like the big pink elephant with purple polka dots, and that doesn’t work. The secret instead is to change your thinking to something else. Take time to go to God, tell him about your fears tell him about your anxiety.
The bible tells us in Psalm 55:22 Give your burdens to the Lord, and he will take care of you. He will not permit the godly to slip and fall. Other translation tell us to cast our cares on the Lord. But we need to make it a habit, not a quick fix.
And every time we are successful in breaking the OCD cycle, we weaken its hold on us.
Let’s keep going, 1 Corinthians 10:12–13 If you think you are standing strong, be careful not to fall. The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure.
Understand That You Can Win The temptation here isn’t the obsessive behaviour, the temptation is to not trust God. And we are promised that God will show us a way out of that temptation.
When Jesus promised us an abundant life, a life overflowing, it wasn’t a life that was shackled by doubts and obsessive behaviours. When you are tempted to go check the door for the fourth time or to wash your hands until they are raw, understand that isn’t what God wants for your life. He wants you to live an abundant life, not a life full of doubts and fears. And if that what he wants for you then he will provide you with the strength to live that life. He will show you a way out so that you can move forward.
And if you find yourself falling back into the same patterns, keep short accounts, go to God, confess your lack of trust, and ask him for the strength you need. Remember, it’s not the behaviour that is sinful, it is the lack of trust in God.
And it might not be an instantaneous process. OCD usually develops over a period of time, and developing the habit of trust can take time as well.
You might be thinking, but Denn, that is just who I am. But it doesn’t have to be.
We are reminded in 2 Corinthians 5:17 This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!
You don’t have to be the person you used to be, you don’t have to be controlled by your fears and your obsessions. I’m not saying you need to be fearless, I’m just saying that you need to control those fears.
Because ultimately, you will control your fear or your fear will control you. Jesus told us that we can’t serve two masters, which means we can’t serve God and our obsessions, whatever those obsessions might be.
We are reminded in 2 Timothy 1:7 For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.
Understand that the spirit of fear was not given to us by God, he may have given us common sense and a sense of preservation, but he is not asking us to leave in a state of constant fear. And OCD ultimately traps you in fear and allows you to be controlled by fear.
Let’s end with a couple of practical thoughts from the International OCD Foundation specifically about OCD and COVID-19:
- Give yourself permission to set a basic safety plan based on the recommendations of trusted health organizations and do not add to it.
- Remind yourself that no one can protect themselves “perfectly” from COVID-19, and no one expects you to. Times like these call for using your common sense instead of going to perfectionistic extremes.
And finally this morning, if the obsessions and compulsions you are experiencing are severe enough to interfere with daily life and relationships then you need to find a qualified counsellor or other Mental Health Professional who can help you, you don’t have to go through this alone.
If you have a family member struggling with OCD, check out the International OCD Foundation’s website at iocdf.org for ways that you can help.