For the first several months of my struggle, I didn’t share with others. At least, not completely and transparently. I remember sharing with my dad in the early days, but I only shared vaguely about my lack of assurance. He told me this was normal—every Christian doubts their salvation through it at some point. I felt encouraged by this.
I continued to share periodically with others, just asking for prayer when I was feeling especially anxious. It got so bad that many days I felt near despair, but it only got worse as I kept it to myself. At the time, I didn’t realize how helpful it would have been. I knew other people wouldn’t be able to fix this, and I feared they’d think something was wrong with me (confirming my own worries), so what was the point in sharing vulnerably with them?
Community is a part of the Christian life. What do I mean by community? I don’t just mean friends we can do fun things with. I’m talking about others who know us intimately. We need safe, trusted people to be vulnerable with. This is risky, because it’s essentially giving the power to others to be able to hurt you; but it is far more rewarding to trust in a safe friend and risk rejection than to hide away, struggling alone.
With that established, let’s look at just four of the many ways in which community is vital in the particular struggle of scrupulosity.
1. We need community to walk alongside us.
I used to think I needed to talk with someone who understood my struggle in the same way I do. I’ve met multiple fellow strugglers online, but never one face-to-face. Often, community doesn’t come in the form of connection among fellow strugglers, but more often from those who have the wisdom and love to enter in and walk beside those who struggle, even when it’s two equally but differently struggling people offering mutual encouragement. There is a great deal of encouragement to be found in a friend who’s willing to walk with you through your suffering, even if they haven’t had the same experiences. My counselor has not shared my years-long, continual lack of assurance, but he is empathetic and kind. My family does not understand my particular spiral of doubts, but they are patient and committed to walk with me for the long-haul.
2. We need community to bear us up.
Sometimes we need others to preach the gospel to us when it’s too hard to preach to ourselves. Sometimes we need others to believe for us when our faith seems too frail. I have found this to be especially true in my struggle with scrupulosity. For years, others have persistently believed I am a Christian when my doubts tell me otherwise. Others have communicated biblical truth to me when the Bible feels too unsafe for me to read it alone. Others have prayed for me and with me when it feels I cannot muster a prayer myself. Others have trusted in God’s goodness when I can’t see it and, as a result, this has encouraged me to press on in hopes they may be right. By bearing me up, others have shown me the long-suffering, patient kindness of God reflected in his children’s lives.
3. We need community to show us reality.
There’s this lovely woman I once knew who struggles with schizophrenia. I remember her saying once that trusting others was a big part of her journey with hallucinations and delusions. When she saw a strange, threatening man approaching her, she had to rely on her husband’s words that there wasn’t really a man there, even though all her senses were telling her there was. This realization showed her that she is not the highest authority. Even her perceptions are fallen and faulty, not always accurately depicting reality. In addition to trusting God’s care for her, she had to learn to rely on a few trustworthy people, particularly her counselor and her husband.
In the same way, we with scrupulosity can trust others when they tell us “that isn’t true” or “that’s a scrupulous thought.” I can be so wrapped up in my thoughts that I am convinced something is true (at least, I can’t imagine it not being true). When I am convinced a certain thought is true, I need others to pull me outside of my inward, downward spiral by pointing me to objective truth. Others are a lot quicker to take an objective look at my struggle; where I see only sin, they see scrupulosity-driven obsessions and self-condemnation. Where I see faith even smaller than a mustard seed, they see faith that persists and endures.
I’m not saying I’m always wrong and they’re always right. Honestly, I find it very hard to trust others’ judgments about me. When someone speaks truth to me, I doubt them; they don’t really know me, I think. I act as though I’m the only one who sees things clearly. But while others aren’t going to be 100% knowledgeable, neither am I! Even our most trusted helpers and friends can’t see everything accurately, not in themselves or others. But we can trust their insights nonetheless, believing the Holy Spirit is at work in their lives as he is in ours.
4. We need community to point us to Jesus.
We don’t need others only to remind us what Jesus has done for us. We certainly do need this. But we also need others to show us his heart for us. If it’s true that actions speak louder than words, then we need others to show us Jesus’s heart instead of only talking to us about it. In my experience, I’ve found that words sometimes fall short. They’re just arguments, trying to convince me of something that my brain immediately grabs onto and twists into doubt. Often, I need someone who is willing to sit with me and listen, which—whether purposeful or not—magnifies the tenderheartedness of Christ.
Certain trusted people in my community will cry empathetically every time I do; if that’s how they react, how much more will God be burdened by my burdens? When others take on my burdens as if they are their own, I’m reminded of the Great Shepherd who carried our ultimate burdens and still takes a deep concern for our lives. I’m reminded that he isn’t aloof, stiff, or disinterested.
Scrupulosity attacks my very faith. It causes me to question God’s character. Others’ care short-circuits these doubts with evidence of a kind, present God. In the tangible presence of other people, I feel a bit more of the presence of Christ. In others’ kindness and care, God feels a bit more real to me. God in his grace has given us other people to manifest his presence and care—however imperfect—among us.
As others learn how best to care for you, know that it’s going to be a lot of trial and error. Over time, as you change and your struggle changes, the best way to help you may change, too. I’ve found that it’s beneficial to have a continual conversation with those closest to me about ways they can help. I’ll be honest, it feels very self-centered to tell others how to love me. But at the same time (recognizing this is a scrupulous thought!), we can help others grow in wisdom and care by gently pointing out what they’re doing or saying that may be unhelpful and suggesting helpful alternatives.
Community isn’t perfect. Relationships are messy and people mess up. Be patient with those who seek to help you. They will mess up, too, however well-meaning their intentions. This may happen especially given how understudied and little-known scrupulosity is. Assuming you have some healthy (however messy) relationships in your community, be patient with them.