Sunday, July 8, 2012

define sin

I revisited the church I went to last Sunday. I was excited until Sunday came, at which point the anxiety came back. The irritableness visited during the church service, and I wasn't sure that I wanted to go to Sunday school, not feeling like that.

Instead, I picked up on a comment the pastor had made regarding how our country might be healthier if it followed God's laws. I decided to ask him about it. After all, I've only been there twice and I don't have that much to loose yet. I'd rather know up front if he judged mental illness to be because of sin.

His answer was complicated, citing three categories of sin, one being like the blind man, who was blind so that God could be glorified when he was healed, not because of sin. The second was people who had sinned and that when God forgave their sin, they were healed. His examples here seemed too much like a correlation without proved causation, so I wasn't convinced. Thirdly, I forget. Maybe it was more general illness because of not following guidelines regarding sanitation, etc., and he cited Old Testament laws that could bring health benefits. In short, I considered it quite possible that he would go to a sin issue for my depression and anxiety. (And also, he kept enough clauses saying he was generalizing and each case is different to avoid too much trouble.)

Wanting to nail him precisely, I brought up Job. He passed that test. Then I threw out my depression and anxiety and asked him if he would say it was because I had sinned. He said that if I was going to trust him enough to be that honest, he would be honest back. I'm not exactly sure that trust would be the right conclusion there, and I'm not sure if he expected that, but I rather think that anyone asking the questions I asked should be suspected of having a specific instance they are really asking about. Anyway, he answered by asking if I was a perfectionist. "Yes," I answered without preamble. So he proceeded to take me to his office and show me his "diagram" about how perfectionism starts by being hurt and trying to please someone and then we exhaust ourselves going for depression, fall into disillusionment on the one side or depression on the other, regain our strength, and repeat the process. He equates this with bipolar, the part where we surpass excellence trying to attain perfection being the manic part. I disagreed and said that the manic part should be off the page high, but he wasn't interested. Thus, he unknowingly grouped himself with the pastor at another church who told a very similar scenario of how perfectionism led to bipolar disorder - this pastor, when confronted, assured me he wasn't talking about me, and I presume I should be comforted by that fact? Instead, I am annoyed by their misunderstanding.

Back to today, I tried to pin the pastor's opinion down to judging me, but it didn't quite work. I said, so if I do this, I'll get better. He clarified that no, it wouldn't happen over night, but yes, it would happen. And since the future hasn't happened yet, I can't prove him wrong. So I asked, if I do this and am still struggling in 5 years, does that mean I did it wrong? No, he countered, then we would have dealt with one issue/layer and we could move on to the next. We have to work on what we know to start with. I even threw out that I'd been working on the perfectionism for a while, but that didn't solve anything, (neither in my current life, nor in my current conversation).

Then he got into the holiness doctrine/theology/whatever, which included re-defining sin as intentional rebellion. All in all, he preserved gentleness and grace in his overall theology. I was impressed by that, but I'm still skeptical about the redefining of sin as deliberate transgression instead of any falling short of the perfect law. To some extent, I think his perspective would really mess with my OCD, maybe giving me some more freedom. But I'm still hesitant to accept new ideas. Some ideas appear freeing and helpful when they enter, and then they snap on handcuffs.

Anyway, I missed Sunday school and got overwhelmed by new ideas talking to the pastor such that I am distracted from the whole do-you-think-mental-illness-means-I'm-doing-something-wrong idea. I'm looking for a church that wont trigger my false guilt as much, so these questions matter to me.

Also, I did try out for a part, but I haven't heard if I got one or not in the musical. I did hear that I did a good job with my audition, so that's nice. And I really enjoyed experiencing "normal" anxiety. Let's just say it was much nicer than the moments that my OCD really worried me about "lying" on the paperwork. "Normal" anxiety seemed nicer in that it was bound by time, not expected to continue forever, and in that it didn't question my self-worth.


  1. This is such a tricky issue. I have found that there are a lot of well-meaning Christians who are - what would the word be- afraid? - to put mental illness in the biological/genetic category. I went to a Neuthetic counselor for a while, they basically see OCD as a control addiction and depression as anger turned inward. My mom was the one who had to diagnose me - the counselor afterward said that he knew I had it, he just doesn't want to use that term. Still, he was a very kind man, just not the right counselor for me.

    I really resonate with what you said about being afraid to let new ideas in, and how some ideas can "snap on handcuffs." It's hard to have mind that make EVERYTHING into a rule, isn't it?

    So excited you tried out! What musical is it? I hope you get to be a part of it. I love theatre and it can be a huge distraction from depression/OCD/anxiety!

    1. You said it well that "it's hard to have mind that make EVERYTHING into a rule." I think my church issues wouldn't be so difficult if I didn't have OCD adding to the fun.

      I got in to the musical! It's "Big; the Musical." Actually, I don't know a whole lot about it yet.

  2. Wow...I won't set foot into a church this day due to the very rigid, damning church I grew up in. It terrifies me. If you weren't happy you weren't following God the right way, Hellfire and brimstone, Can't go there. And I'm 41 and haven't been since 18. I am definitely going to have to share my experiences growing up, on my blog. You made me realize even more that a "church" is not where I need to be right now. I can worship God where I am and not have to be afraid. Although I am sure many will hate me saying this. You are brave to go and try. I just hope you don't think your illness is a form of punishment. <3

    1. I'm really sorry you had such an experience in a very judgemental church. I guess I'm still hoping that I'll find the kind of church I'm looking for... And thanks, at least part of me believes that my illness isn't God's judgement because I'm sinning. I wish all of me would understand that.

  3. Abigail, I can relate so much with this. I had terrible experiences with religion in high school when I went to a "fundamentalist Christian" school. It wreaked havoc with my OCD. I was a sitting duck. I stayed away from church for many years. I go to church now (well, semi-regularly), but I would not be able to go to the same kind of church that ran the school I went to.

  4. One of the things hardest for me has been learning to trust my own judgement--OCD makes second-guessing a second nature. Analyzing sermons was a huge difficulty for me, and I stopped going to church about 7 years ago. I do occasionally go with my husband to his church, and I'm much better with being able to tolerate the distress of my OCD thoughts about the nature of sin and needing to be perfect--the ERP for my OCD and perfectionism has really helped. But I'm still not ready to get really involved in a church. So much of church culture encouraged my perfectionism rather than helping me to accept my imperfection and God's love of me in spite of that imperfection.