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OCD, scrupulosity, and prayer


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#1 Johannes

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Posted 08 April 2013 - 02:20 AM

I have had OCD all of my life.  This makes prayer of any kind (as well as living a normal life) quite difficult.  The reason is that when I begin to pray, the worst thoughts imaginable enter my mind and insinuate themselves into my prayer.  When this happens I have two options: 1 begin the prayer again (which is impossible if praying in a group), or 2: end the prayer without completing it.  I know that this must sound like madness to anyone reading this, but I fear that if I complete a prayer in which I've thought or said something awful, that prayer will be "granted", and I will be cursed with whatever horrid details attached themselves to my prayer. 

 

I imagine that the root of my fear is that I know with conviction that prayer can be efficacious, and that God has punished people in history, as recorded in the Holy Bible.

 

Recently I accidentally ( I have no other way to describe what happens when these thoughts enter my prayers) prayed that God wouldn't hear my prayers.  Of course, a life in which God does not hear my prayers is equivalent to condemnation, which is something that I do not want and is something that I deeply fear.

 

Can anyone offer any advice or hope?

 

I apologize if this seems incoherent.

 

 



#2 Owen Jones

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Posted 08 April 2013 - 01:14 PM

Your description of what happens to you in prayer -- if that's OCD -- then every Christian who has ever lived has had this problem!  Stop thinking that you are unique, or uniquely sick!  I would suggest reading St. Theophan the Recluse's How to Pray and follow his lead.  You will see that you are not alone in your struggles and if you stop fighting then perhaps you'll see progress.  Somehow you have come to see your life as a condemnation rather than as a gift from God.  I would recommend focusing on the latter.  Also, go to your priest and ask him to instruct you in prayer, and on how to find peace of mind.  That's what he's there for.  I doubt very seriously that he is going to condemn you as destined for hell because of your struggles. 



#3 John S.

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Posted 08 April 2013 - 01:42 PM

You are describing logismoi (plural) (logismos (singular)), which is really just an orthodox theological word for “thoughts.” Owen is right: EVERYONE suffers from these to some extent or another.


 

I will say that I used to have many similar problems as you describe during prayer, and occasionally still do. You should read some books or writings on the topic of logismoi. One of the first books I read on it was “Mountain of Silence.” In it, Fr. Maximos describes just the type of thoughts you are talking about and how to deal with them. I will try to summarize generally.


 

The first thing you must realize is that those thoughts are NOT from you. They are from outside of you: from the demons, from the outside world. Did you WILL to have those thoughts? No, right? They just appear there? And you can’t stop them? You see? They from OUTSIDE of you. Therefore, you have NO need to feel guilty about them, or to let them bother you. I know that sounds hard, but imagine: why feel guilty for something that is not from you? If you were praying, and someone yelled some obscene word through the window, what would you do (assuming you can’t shut the window, which is your current problem)? You would ignore it, maybe cross yourself, laugh to yourself, and pick up right where you were at. If the guy kept yelling, you’d try to just ignore his yelling. Would you feel guilty about what he said? Of course not! And guess what would happen? That guy who was trying to distract you from your prayer will see that you pay him no attention. And soon, he’ll leave you and go find someone else to yell at.


 

That guy outside your window is the demons. They yell these things at you, and you listen, you stop your prayer, you get distracted. That’s what they want! You must ignore them.


 

Fr. Maximos said that most lay people don’t even have to confess logismoi. Now, if you are under obedience and you have a spiritual father, maybe you confess all of your thoughts. And in general, you would want to confess that you suffer from logismoi and distracting thoughts during prayer, because your priest can help you. But the idea is that you don’t have to confess those thoughts as if they are SINS. They’re not. They’re not your actions. They’re not products of your will. They’re just outside distractions to be ignored . . . and then they will go away.


 

Fr. Maximos described logismoi as flies flying in a window. They come in and you pay attention to them. So they land on you. Your attention to them is like a piece of pie on the table in the room of your mind. They come in and find something to stick to. But if you ignore them, they fly in, find nothing to land on, and so fly right back out. That is, you are praying, and some odd thought comes in (“God, don’t hear my prayer!” or “I hate God” or some sexual thought, or any other silly thing), and you laugh, cross yourself, and just keep on going with your prayer as if nothing happened. This works.


 

For me, the key was realizing that these thoughts were outside of me, that I didn’t have to feel guilt for them. Then I laughed at them at first. What odd things Satan puts in your head! Then soon I just ignored them. And I’m ABLE to do it because I realize they are not originating in me. They are temptations and tricks of the demons. So if they assault you at prayer, or in church, or right before you go up to the chalice, you can just shrug them off and thank God for his mercy.


 

You should read more on this and on logismoi. Mountain of Silence is good. So is Hierotheos Vlachos’s “The Illness and Cure of the Soul in the Orthodox Tradition.” I’m sorry if I’ve not explained it well, but if you take nothing else away, remember this: Those thoughts are not of you. They are from outside, from the demons. Ignore them, laugh at them, but whatever you do, do not feel guilt for them, and do not quit praying!



#4 Ryan

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Posted 08 April 2013 - 05:28 PM

A key thing to understand is that God is not a mischievous genie who is waiting for us to trip up in our prayers, say something wrong, and then use it against us. Nor is God constrained by our prayers- he will answer our prayers insofar as they accord with his will and our salvation. Everybody struggles with thoughts during prayer- it is a constant theme in many writings of the saints about prayer. Some of the thoughts may be our own, and others may come from somewhere else. Say your prayers straight through, do your best to keep concentrated and focused on the prayer, and God will see your struggle and fill in what is lacking. Have confidence that God desires the best for you and with his help you can fight the passions. If you have certain recurring thoughts, you might want to discuss them with a priest. Vigilance is good but despair and fear of your mistakes are not.


Edited by Ryan, 08 April 2013 - 05:28 PM.


#5 Marc J

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Posted 08 April 2013 - 06:08 PM

As the other responses state- do not feel singled out as this is not abnormal.  Trust in God to understand what is you and what is not of you.  Most of all, DO NOT STOP PRAYING.  This is exactly what they want.

 

 



#6 Rdr Andreas

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Posted 08 April 2013 - 07:16 PM

I was taught to ignore intrusive thoughts.  That may sound simplistic; one may retort, 'easier said than done'.  But given that instrusive thoughts are not our thoughts, treat them as you would some person who is trying to interrupt you, attract your attention, or in some way distract you.  The instinct of most of us is to respond when someone addresses us - in order, I suppose, to be helpful.  It seems to rude to ignore someone.  But that's what we should do - be rude to those demons who want to distract you from prayer.  Ignore them and just carry on.  As I was told, 'no man wants to stay in company where he is ignored; so the demons will depart if you ignore them'. 



#7 Lakis Papas

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Posted 08 April 2013 - 10:01 PM

Most people want to achieve a successful absolutely wonderful prayer. And most of us fail. It's just our failure that shows that we need to continue to pray. The failed attempt by someone to pray does not attract the wrath of God.

Johannes, I understand how difficult it is for you, perhaps impossible, to achieve a prayer that will satisfy you. This is not a proof that God is not satisfied by that same prayer. Please try not to become disappointed. God certainly understands and accepts the prayers, even the most bizarre. God knows what is in the heart of a patient, how more difficult it is for a patient to establish a balance in the way that he is expressing a prayer - compared to someone who has no such problem.  
 
With regard to mental disorders Ι also think that use of medicine and pharmaceuticals provides effective help. 

Edited by Lakis Papas, 08 April 2013 - 10:10 PM.


#8 Johannes

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Posted 08 April 2013 - 10:33 PM

Thank you all for your encouragement.  I am comforted to know that I am not the only one who experiences this.  Thank you again for your insights.



#9 Rdr Andreas

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Posted 08 April 2013 - 10:36 PM

I was also taught that it is not for us to judge the effectiveness or acceptability of our prayers.  That is a matter for God.



#10 Jason Rossiter

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Posted 08 April 2013 - 10:50 PM

This is one of my own most frequent struggles. You are definitely not alone. The number and types of thoughts that rush into my head during prayer can be quite alarming.

 

The advice I received was to reorient my mind back to where it should be whenever this arises (as it does many times during even the shortest session of prayer), recommence my prayers as many times as need be, and struggle onwards, trusting in God's mercy.



#11 Father David Moser

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Posted 09 April 2013 - 06:09 PM

Thank you all for your encouragement.  I am comforted to know that I am not the only one who experiences this.  Thank you again for your insights.

Johannes,

 

Yes, other people experience what you do - and I recognize that what you experience is probably 100 times more intense than what most of us experience.  Not to mention the idea that you have of having these "unintended" prayers answered.  This is indeed something difficult and distressing.

 

A few things to remember - God sees our hearts.  He knows our failings and deficits and deepest sins and yet He still loves us and desires to reunite us with Himself.  God also sees what are your thoughts and what is imposed from the outside.  These intrusive thoughts are just that - intrusions from outside.  They do not come from your heart, your mind or any part of you, but are the suggestions of demons shouting at you from the outside.  God hears YOUR prayer and is not deceived or confused by the intrusions of demons.

 

I would suggest that you use many short prayers (the Jesus Prayer for example - or the invocation of the Mother of God) rather than longer prayers.  That gives less opportunity for those thoughts to intrude.  Also if you are asking only for mercy, then even those thoughts can't change the prayer, you want mercy - and all the moreso because of those thoughts.

 

There is a story of a novice who wanted to pray unceasingly and so he set out to do so.  He found a quiet isolated place in the countryside and began to pray - the Our Father, the Psalter, and many other prayers.  All went well until that night when the sun went down and it was dark.  The novice continued to pray but he was distracted by the sounds of the night - things moving in the dark, rustling in the grass near him, shadows moving around him.  He began to be frightened.  Instead of his prayers, he began to cry out "Lord help me! Have mercy on me! Preserve me! Save me!'  His prayer rule forgotten in his panic.  This went on all night and safely arriving at the morning the novice was relieved because he could get back to his prayers and work on praying without ceasing.  But then the thought occurred to him that all those beasts that were out there during the night were still there with him and again he lost his prayer rule and his panic returned and he began crying out to be saved.  Finally he realized he could not pray in seclusion and returned to the monastery where he confessed his failure to his spiritual father.  The spiritual father stopped and thought for a moment and then told his spiritual child, "But did you not indeed pray from your heart this whole time? Now go to your cell and continue to pray in the same way with the same fervor."

 

Fr David



#12 Rdr Andreas

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Posted 09 April 2013 - 06:43 PM

I was taught that sometimes, rather than prayer with words, we can have a silent mindfulness of God.  Such may lead to a more quiet and unhindered communion with God.  Worth trying.



#13 Herman Blaydoe

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Posted 09 April 2013 - 07:04 PM

Be still, and know that I am God; (Psalm 46:10). Praying is never wrong. But sometimes it is good to just listen.




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