I had just been watching “Obsessed” on Netflix. It’s all about people with obsessive compulsive disorder. The question seemed like a good way to know a little bit more about my wife. If she were going to lose her mind and go crazy, what kind of crazy would she be?
She thought a moment. She wasn’t sure.
I thought for a moment too and came up with the answer.
“You’d be a hoarder.”
She agreed. The truth is that Cheri is already a borderline hoarder. It is only by my constant pressure that her stuff stays in check and does not take over the house. I’m like the Dutch boy with his finger in the dam, except the dam is holding crap instead of water.
She asked me the same question and I knew right away what the answer was.
The thing is, most of us aren’t OCD, but every single human being on the planet is dealing with the same problem as anyone who happens to end up on a reality cable show.
Looks Like a Fun Obsession to Me
I thought about what kind of OCD I would be, but it didn’t take more than a moment to find the answer.
“I’d be a cleaner.”
I said that as I passively rearranged the miscellaneous clutter on the end table into a more pleasing configuration. It bothered me that the magazines and pens weren’t stacked neatly. It bothered me that the baby’s bib and pacifier were not arranged together. Truth be told, the ideal situation would be to have nothing on the table at all.
If anything is going to drive me to obsession, it’s going to be my wife. She doesn’t see the mess. I suppose if one of us loses our minds, we are going to drag the other one down with us into a death spiral of craziness.
Why Do We Obsess?
I watched these people obsessed with cleaning their houses and found myself actually thinking that doesn’t look so bad. It was like I was tempted by the thought of becoming obsessed with cleaning. When they talk about the anxiety and stress they feel from something being out of place, I totally get that.
The other day, I came home to find that the dogs had tracked in some leaves and grass from the yard. Our brown living room rug shows every bit of debris and there it was, mocking me. I had just vacuumed the day before.
It was not five minutes before I had the vacuum back out to clean up. I just could not stand it.
Cheri collects and hoards things because she says she is trying to remember things. Each item is an artifact from her life. She thinks her memory is below average and she just cannot remember things. So things are important to her long after their usefulness.
One of our longest running semi-annual arguments has to do with an ugly green chair that lives in our basement. Twice a year, on large trash pickup day, I reopen the case of the green chair, while she makes her appeals for clemency. The green chair will not live outside of the basement. I will not have it. But she begs me to not make her part with it.
Every Human Being Is Built to Obsess Over Control
What Cheri and I are really doing is searching for control over our lives.
When I see clutter or dirt on the floor, I see something that needs to be brought back under my control.
Cheri is trying to control the fact that human brains are more like sieves than safes and are meant to forget most of their own existences.
And that is the same fate of every single one of us. Those of us unfortunate enough to struggle with OCD are trying to cope with a loss of control over their lives. The loss of control usually manifests itself in a tragic way and they try to reassert themselves with cleaning, counting or other rituals.
But every human being on the planet struggles with this one thing: control issues.
We want to control our environments.
We want to control the people around us.
We want to control ourselves.
And most of those things are not really under our control. Control is an illusion and sooner or later, the illusion is broken. We lose a loved one. Someone disappoints us. We struggle to conceive a child. And so we try to find the little things that we can do to say I am in control. We sweep dirt or keep things in a box.
I have come to believe that much of what passes for Christianity today is actually about the age old human desire to control our environments and our fates. We tell people how to pray “effectively” (i.e. make God do what we want.) We preach a gospel of self-empowerment. And yet, all of those “control” rituals, be they cleaning or prayer, do nothing to control things. Dirt comes back in the house. God does as He pleases.
The truth is that freedom, real freedom is not self-determination, but the realization of how little control we have, to free ourselves from the pursuit of control, and just to be.
What do you think? Where do you see your control issues in your life?