I’ve written about prayer on this blog a number of times. That’s because my fifteen-year-old son, Blake, has a form of OCD called Scrupulosity. Basically, his biggest concern is following religious rules perfectly – even over the top – to avoid making a “mistake” or offending the Almighty. He has other OCD symptoms, as well, including contamination fears (just try to get him to hold a dollar bill), but it is the rigid adherence to “his” religious rules that are so difficult for our family. I call them “his” religious rules, because they truly are his alone, and they defy what I was taught, and continue to learn, about religion.
A few days ago, our family decided to join friends at the horse races. It is something we have never done together before and Blake and his older brother, Michael, were well aware of our plans.
“Be all ready to leave the house at eleven am,” we told them both the evening before.
The best laid plans, however, do go astray. I woke Blake at nine am, knowing he has a series of rituals he feels he must do in order to get out of the house. He got out of bed and headed into his bathroom to shower – or so I thought. At 9:30, he was fast asleep again. I woke him again. He promised to get ready. At 10:00 am; he was still asleep. At some point, he managed to shower and dress, but he couldn’t seem to leave his room. My husband and I found him planted on the floor in front of his space heater. We took the heater away.
At this point you are probably noticing that we’ve got more going on here than OCD. You would be correct. We’ve also got a young man who doesn’t follow directions and a mom and dad who are trying to learn the best way to correct this issue. The point is, though, this delay in getting ready created the perfect OCD/Scrupulosity storm because by the time Blake finally made it downstairs, it was time to leave. But, WAIT, he hadn’t said his morning prayers!!! As we got into the car and drove away, I noticed that Blake had a prayer book tucked under his arm.
When we arrived at the track, Michael, the hubby, and I all got out of the car to meet our friends. Blake got out of the car, prayer book in hand (and some ritual items, too). It’s a big prayer book, by the way.
“Blake, the prayer book doesn’t belong at the race track. Leave it in the car,” I directed him.
“But I haven’t said my prayers yet. I have to say them NOW!”
“How long will that take?” the hubby asked. “Maybe you can do it here at the car and then we can go in.”
“Twenty to thirty minutes.”
“No,” I say. “Our friends are waiting for us. It will have to wait until we are finished for the day.”
“That’s not going to work,” Blake insisted. “I have to say the prayers now.”
“Blake,” I say – and I was getting angry – “you had the opportunity to say your prayers at home. You had two hours before we left the house. If your prayers were that important, you would have taken the time to complete them at home instead of going back to sleep. Now we have friends waiting for us. Put the prayer book and everything else back in the car. You can say your prayers when we leave.”
“That’s not going to work,” he insisted.
My hubby reinforced the notion that prayer books do not belong at the race track and that he must wait until we were finished. Blake continued to hold his ground. I lost my temper, told him he could just stay at the car all day, and walked toward the track entrance. Hubby stayed at the car and tried to talk some sense into Blake. Michael hesitated, not sure where to go. I could imagine the thoughts in his head.
“Gee, another family outing ruined by OCD…”
I turned back to see the hubby gesticulating wildly with his arms. The movements got bigger and bigger. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen him get this angry with either of our boys. It wasn’t going well.
A few minutes later, the hubby and Blake came walking toward us. Blake had the prayer book and all his paraphernalia. It was obvious who’d won this one. I was furious. I started to speak, but the hubby just motioned at me to continue toward the track. I fumed silently for nearly half an hour.
Our day ultimately turned out well. That is, we all enjoyed our time with our friends at the track. But beneath it all, OCD lurked. Combine teenage lack of responsibility with the unyielding rules that prayer absolutely, positively must happen by a certain time (and in a certain way) or the skies may fall in and you have the potential for high conflict. Blake was willing to spend the whole day in the parking lot by himself in the name of the prayers that HAD to be said, and to let down the rest of his family members and our longtime family friends. What troubles me more, he saw no problem with his behavior.
I think our family will need consultation with one of our religious mentors. I can understand that prayer is important, but I don’t think that it is so rigid that it would have us not meet our obligations to friends and family. To me, those are what we must nurture in life. We will see what the religious experts say.