Scrupulosity is an ongoing struggle for me and for many Christian woman I speak to. It’s not unusual for me to go to Confession and be told that whatever sin I am struggling with is not in fact a sin at all. During the pandemic, my tendency to over-think and over-moralize has worsened. Lack of clear guidelines, scientific consensus, and politicization of simple things like masks leave much of the moral decision-making up to individuals. For people struggling with anxiety – or its spiritual equivalent scrupulosity – this is paralyzing. But there is no moral value to being paralyzed by worry. God wants us to be free.
It’s Okay to Enjoy Life – Safely
Stores, restaurants, and businesses are opening up across the country. Depending on where you live, this may be a reasonable decision or it may be completely reckless. Without the ability to trust our leaders, scrupulous people may tend toward the extreme. Even if numbers are down, perhaps I should stay inside indefinitely? Is it acceptable to eat a meal outside? Can I really go to the park or the beach? If I choose to do these things, am I a bad person? Is it a sin to visit my family?
Scrupulosity has the power to prevent us from accessing joy in any circumstance. But the reality is that human beings need to connect with one another, and there are safe ways of doing so. This is not to say we should throw caution to the wind. But we can use the knowledge we’ve gained about outdoor gatherings, mask wearing, and social distancing to start reconnecting with those we love.
Disconnect from Judgement
Judgement is the mirror image of scrupulosity. Just as I hold myself to an unreasonable standard, I find myself making sweeping moral generalizations about people whose choices are different than my own. I get viscerally angry when I see someone choosing not to wear a mask. I’ve had fights with family members about this topic and said things that I’m not proud of.
When it comes to actions that seem willfully harmful, when I struggle to conceive of any rational motivation for a person’s decisions, it helps to remember how all of our decisions look to God. We know what is right for our immortal souls. We know what will harm ourselves and others. And yet, we continue to make selfish and foolish decisions throughout our lives, with little regard for the consequences. But God continues to love us and treat us with patience. We can only assume he expects us to treat our loved ones the same way when they make choices we don’t agree with.
Scrupulosity Impedes Grace
The biggest problem with scrupulosity is that it stands in the way of us accepting God’s love and forgiveness. By trying to control every aspect of our moral lives, we place ourselves in the role that only God can hold. While we should do everything in our power to prevent ourselves from contracting and spreading a viral illness, our individual actions only go so far. Individual human beings do not have the power to put an end to the pandemic. We have the power to keep those in our direct contact from catching the illness from us. That’s it. That’s all we can do. And we can do that safely from six feet away wearing a mask outside.
We do not bear the burden of hundreds of thousands of lives lost. God carries that burden, and He alone can handle it.