After 3 days of the John Maxwell Team International Certification Event, I have a lot to process. Certainly there are some personal changes to make, as well as a lot of good stuff for a project I have looming head. All of that leaves me with a lot to blog about.
Today, I will once again board a train (a coworker called me “old fashioned”) and begin that long trip back home. When I miss home, and that is often, I wish I had flown, but with so much to process I am glad I took the train. I’ll find a nice spot to settle in with my notes and a new book or two and begin making some plans.
One thing I am left thinking about is something that was said during lunch. People were going around the table sharing what they hope to do with all of this training. When it was my turn, I explained my experience in ministry, my depression breakdown, and my recovery and how I hope to go in to churches and tell my story.
“Is there a market for that?” One man asked.
“Every time I tell my story,” I replied, “I am contacted by someone that tells me that after hearing my story they began getting the help they need.”
“Sure, “ the man said, “it helps that one person, but I don’t think its a business model.”
I began to wonder if this man was paying much attention to John Maxwell.
“Well, I also have a book being published along these lines. Books can promote speaking gigs and speaking gigs promote books.”
He shrugged and then left the table.
“Hey,” The man sitting next to me said as people began leaving the table. “Yesterday a friend of mine called me. He’s really worried about this guy he knows and he was asking me for advice. This guys is really depressed, and I mean REALLY depressed. They are worried about him but nobody knows how to help.”
We spent the next half hour discussing depression and ways to get help. Then he left to make a phone call to pass along what I had said.
Every. single. time.
1 in 5 people struggle with Depression or Anxiety and 80% of those people never seek help. So just to be clear, I am not interested in whether or not this dream of mine is a business. I want to tell my story as often as I can to as many people as I can. If it makes a little impact every time, then eventually it makes a big impact.
Keep making a little impact!
Aaron Davis is an author, speaker, and life coach. His novel, "Street Preacher" is available now and his memoir, "Baggage Claim: my journey through depression, ministry, and finding peace" will be released in the Summer of 2017! If you would like to have Aaron speak to your church, ministry, or organization, contact him here.
At the beginning of the month, I accepted a position as a hospice chaplain. This seems to be a good fit for me, since I have the education and 15 years of experience in pastoral ministry. It does not have all the stressors of pastoring a church, and for someone who burned out on church work, it fits well.
If you know me personally, or you read my blog, then you know that I struggle with very severe depression and anxiety. This has caused some to wonder if I am going to be ok constantly dealing with death.
It is true that my work week is always surrounding death. I visit people who are not expected to live longer than 6 months. I also have the responsibility of visiting everyone for whom death is imminent. I attend as many as 3 funerals per week. I make phone calls to grieving families, and I am getting ready to begin a grief support group. It is true that I am surrounded by death.
People mean well when they ask me if this job is going to be ok. I know a lot of people worry about my depression and how I am doing as I deal with it. However, what I am finding is that being around sad things does not magnify depression. Granted, I need to keep it all in check. Being around sad things can make me feel sad, but that is different from depression.
There is a temptation to think that the best way to deal with depression is to avoid any sad or difficult aspect of life. This might be necessary in a crisis situation, but it is not a good way to approach depression. It is impossible to live life and not have to deal with anything sad or difficult. Thus, the only way to avoid such things is to withdraw from life, and that kind of thinking leads to addiction.
To truly overcome depression, I have to learn to deal with the things in life that are sad or difficult. In this regard, my new job has been a tremendous help to me. Every day, I have to face the fact that death and grief are real parts of life. There are healthy ways to grieve and there are unhealthy ways to grieve, but we will all grieve at some time or another.
This morning, my pastor spoke about a story in the gospel of John, chapter 6. The disciples had set out across the sea of Galilea. Halfway across, they encounter a severe storm. Then, in the midst of such fear and trial, they see what they believe is a ghost. It is not a ghost, however, it is Jesus, walking on the water. He tells them, “Do not be afraid, I am here.” However, the most literal translation from the original language is “Do not be afraid, the I am is here.”
Jesus refers to himself as ‘I am’ in other parts of scripture. The ‘I Am’ is not a reference to self, but to God. When Jesus called himself the I AM, he was using the name that God introduced himself to Moses with.
There is something else interesting about John’s telling of this story. He leaves out the part where Jesus calms the storm. It seems that the point John wants to make is this: To know Jesus and to know who He is antithetical to fear. I have no need to fear because Jesus is the great I am and He is with me.
Thinking back about how a person might struggle with depression but face everyday difficulties, it is important to note that Jesus need not calm every storm in my life. It is enough to know Him and to know that He is near. There is no need to hide, no need to withdraw. There is endless glory in facing the day with Jesus.
Ministry burnout is more than just ending a career in the ministry. Burnout can damage churches, families, and yourself. Here are some warning signs and some tips for saving yourself from ministry burnout
1. I do not have time for important things!
Many ministry leaders will say that their marriages and their families are most important to them, but the demands of the church make those things take a back seat from time to time.
When you have a moment to think clearly, make a list of the things that are most important to you. If you find that you do not have time for those things, you are in danger of burn out.
2. These people are awful!
Does it feel like life would be so much better if your church was different? Are the individual idiosyncrasies of your lay leaders occupying more and more of your conversations and your thoughts?
Every church has its problems. However, ministry ought to bring more joy than pain. If you find yourself thinking and talking more about the problems of your church, you are probably beginning to burn out.
3. I cannot talk to anyone!
Ministry is a unique situation, but not so unique that no one can possibly understand it. If you find yourself thinking that you cannot talk to anyone about your struggles then you are not only on the path to burnout, but you are on some shaky personal ground as well.
4. I want out!
Escape fantasies may range from longing for a different church, to longing for a different job, to even wanting a completely different life! It is common to think that the grass is greener on the other side from time to time, but when escape fantasies become more common and more grandiose, burnout is taking place.
Steps to take to prevent burnout
1. Evaluate your health
Are you exercising? Are you eating right? Are you following your doctor’s orders? There are 4 aspects to being healthy. Read more about them here.
2. Evaluate your time
Remember that list of things that are most important? When you schedule your week and your day, do those things get a place on the calendar? If you cannot find room to spare, consider ending a few projects or delegating some responsibility in order to make room.
3. Evaluate your calling
Spend time with a coach or mentor and get to the center of your calling and vision. Sometimes the day to day work of the church gets further and further away from this. Make a plan to get things back on track.
4. Consider taking a sabbatical.
Not every pastor is in a position to take a year off to study. However, it may be possible to take a week or two off from preaching in order to get refreshed and reorganized.
When to take emergency action:
If escape fantasies involve the end of your marriage or your life, or your family is experiencing major stress at the expense of the church, you need to take emergency action. You need to speak to someone and make a plan immediately!
Aaron Davis is the author of the novel Street Preacher and is currently working on a memoir, Baggage Claim. He is developing a speaking and coaching ministry to address mental health in the church and ministry. If you are interested in having him speak to your church or organization, click here for more information.
I am glad it is November. From October 2015 to October 2016, I had the hardest year of my life. It started with closing the church I had worked to plant and moving back to my hometown. Since then, I have had two jobs that taught me exactly what my skill set does not include. I was diagnosed with the beginning stages of type 2 diabetes. I have lost friends. I have been angry at God. In October 2016, I spent 5 days in a psychiatric hospital. I am glad it is November.
And here is what I have learned this: Total health must encompass the body, the mind, the soul, and the tribe.
A Healthy Body
I served in the ministry of Southern Baptist churches for 15 years. Southern Baptists frown on drunkenness, but we would rather not have to talk about gluttony. It is an acceptable vice. We eat. We eat fried chicken and we love desserts too. In that aspect of Southern Baptist life, I had no problem fitting in. I can eat a lot. I also enjoy sitting at a desk, writing, or visiting with someone. I do not get a lot of exercise. At my last annual physical, my cholesterol was somewhere over 210. My blood sugar was 132. I have even managed a blood pressure reading this year of 186/120. Needless to say, I have to make some changes.
I am happy to report that I have lost 13 lbs. I have cut out sugar almost completely. I eat vegetables and I cook more and eat fast food less. Exercise is tough, but even if it just means walking a couple of miles on the college campus near my home, I try to do a half hour a day. I am getting physically healthy.
Perhaps because we fixate too much on Heaven, we Christians tend to ignore this gift of a physical body that God has given us. It is a gift. Life is a gift. To be able to live long and live well is crucial to having good relationships and a good legacy. For total health, one must look to what they put in to their body, and how they train their body.
A Healthy Mind
I have been diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder and General Anxiety Disorder. I come by it naturally. It runs in my family and I have a rare endocrine system disorder that does not help. Thus, I have a mind that does not feel happiness they way a mind ought. My mind can acknowledge all the good in my life and still tell my body to feel miserable. Mine is not a healthy mind. However, it does not have to be that way. Medication helps, but so does exercise. Learning to notice unhealthy (and errant) thinking and consciously retrain myself to think in truthful, helpful ways is crucial. At the same time it is important to note what I allow my mind to take in. I have to get rid of the junk food of thoughts, so to speak. If I want to be healthy, I have to take care of my mind.
A Healthy Soul
I have spent most of the last year being angry at God and angry at many of my brothers and sisters in Christ. I neglected the spiritual aspect of my health. Now, as I strive to be healthy, I realize that spiritual disciplines are crucial. Spending time in scripture, prayer, being honest with my church, serving others, etc. are all building blocks to a healthy soul. I am fortunate to have a church that is incredibly welcoming of people no matter where they are in life, but I cannot just join the crowd. It takes effort to feed and protect the soul. Effort that is well worth it in the long run.
A Healthy Tribe
Everyone lives within certain social circles. For me, those circles start with my family, my extended family, my friends, my church, my neighbors, etc. These circles are the tribe in which I live. A tribe is only as healthy as the relationships that exist within it. Thus, for a healthy tribe, I have to be intentional about my relationships. I must work to be a better husband, father, son, brother, friend, church member, and neighbor. I have to be aware of the relationships that exist in my life and work daily to strengthen them.
Putting it All Together
Now here is something that is often goes unnoticed: Each of these areas of health impacts the others. If I were to sit around all day in front of the TV, gorging on junk food, it would become very hard to avoid depression. Depression and anxiety would then get the best of me and I would begin to neglect spiritual matters. In this state, my family would surely suffer and I would become isolated from any healthy relationship. All of these work together.
For this reason, it is important to address total health. To move forward intentionally building up the body, mind, soul, and tribe. It is a lot of work, for sure, but well worth the journey!
Several years ago, I had a bad car accident. After several hours in the Emergency Room, I was released. I had broken my right hand in three places and had torn the ligaments on the top of my right foot. This made walking without a crutch impossible and using a crutch almost impossible. When I finally go to my house, I tried to hop up the front steps. I fell and the pain brought me to tears.
“Are you going to let me help you now?” My pastor at that time asked. He was the person who brought me home from the hospital and I refused his help so far getting up to the door of my house. However, now I had to let him help me up and hobble on in.
It is hard to ask another person for help. I would much rather figure out a way to help myself. In American culture, we honor and support this idea. We even have a saying (as inaccurate as it is) that, “God helps those who help themselves.”
On Sunday, my pastor taught on the very end of Ephesians, where the Apostle Paul says his good-byes. He pointed to Ephesians 6:23 where Paul concludes with three things: Peace, Love, and Faith. These are perhaps intended to be his final words to them and thus the legacy that he desires to leave.
Our pastor then challenged us with this question: Am I leaving the same kind of legacy? Am I blessing others with peace, love, and faith?
So today, I have been thinking about this notion of Peace. American Christianity is often associated more with bickering and political strategizing, so I find it hard to point to a good example of this peace. My own life (as any of my readers know) has the internal chaos of depression and anxiety. That’s the opposite of peace!
The Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible defines Peace as "Total well-being, prosperity, and security associated with God's presence" A quick glance at most popular Christian television shows and books suggests that Christians today are pretty focused on well-being, prosperity, and security. But would we say that is Peace?
Did the Baker Encyclopedia get it wrong? After all, a major struggle for me as always been to find peace with myself, and one need not look far for examples of those whom enjoy the most prosperity having this same struggle.
There are two missing keys here. The first is right in front of me in the Baker definition: Total well-being, prosperity, and security associated with God's presence. So often, we think of our faith as something we use to attain things like well-being, prosperity, and security, and we get frustrated when despite our best efforts at believing, these things are still lacking. That is because we are striving for a notion of peace that is found apart from God. Seeking God's usefulness is not the same thing as seeking God's presence. I would imagine the difference is something like the difference between sitting in a room, talking with a good friend, and sitting in a room, barking orders at my good friend so that he is reduced to being my butler.
This leads to the other missing key, that peace is something to be shared. For the Christian, the way to experience God's presence is found far more often in gathering with other believers than it is in being alone. This is the necessary value of the church. If our desire for our well-being, prosperity, and security leads to making God our butler, then it will also lead to the church becoming nothing more than a supply closet. It becomes a place we go when we feel we need something. However, if we are seeking God's presence then the church is no longer a place but those fellow believers where we experience that presence together. In the New Testament, the word for "Church," always refers to a group of people rather than place or building. It would be hundreds of years later, and sometime around when Governments started to see Christianity as a tool for political power, that the use of the word changed.
So my desire for peace, and thus, my desire for total-well being, prosperity, and security must be focused on the presence of God and sharing these things amongst one another.
That is the hard part. Something in our nature wants us to seek our own well-being over that of others, but in Christ, we are to seek our well being in that of others.
This is why it is not only helpful, but necessary to both rely on others and serve others. It is easy for a person like myself to try to isolate myself. I’d love it if I could just sit somewhere and write all the time. Of course, a story that is not read, like a song that is never heard, hardly exists. Likewise, for the Christian to exist in and experience peace, requires that our lives, messy as they are, be intertwined with others.
Peace to you!
I'll be speaking in Willow Springs on November 13. This will be the first time since I announced the Baggage Claim Project that I've been invited to speak. It will be a different sort of sermon for me.
Usually, as guest preacher (and especially in my experience as a church planter), I would try to emphasize the best things that are happening. This time, I will be talking about my hospital stay, my time in ministry with untreated Major Depressive Disorder, and the scripture that I have been clinging to lately.
If you are in the area, please come! I'll have copies of Street Preacher available for sale and for signing!
I'm speaking in the evening service, a joint service between First Baptist Church of Willow Springs and Trinity Baptist Church. The service is at 6:30pm at Trinity Baptist Church.
In my personal Bible Study, I am focusing on one particular passage this week:
Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
and do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make straight your paths.
(Proverbs 3:5-6, ESV)
There are three simple instructions here:
And there is one promise: He will make straight your paths, or as Eugene Peterson put it, “He will keep you on track”
One of the things I have been working hard to do since my hospital stay is reworking my negative thoughts. This is not easy work. It is scriptural, for sure (take every thought captive), but when you have enslaved yourself with your own negative self-talk for so long, getting all untwisted is exhausting at times.
As I reflected on this verse, it occurred to me that this provides an additional check against my thoughts. [My psychologist in the hospital suggested that I take ever negative thought and ask: Is it true? Does it make me feel how I want to feel? Does it help me reach my goals?].
Now here is a little peek into my therapy sessions. One of the overriding negative thoughts that I tie myself down with is:
I am a failure. I failed at church planting. I failed at insurance. I failed at time shares. I fail, I fail, I fail. I am a failure.
So I worked in my notebook at the hospital to take a serious look at this thought. After I answered the questions, I came up with this thought to rehearse instead of thinking “I am a failure.”
Hawaii did not work out the way I wanted it to, and I am not a salesman, but there are plenty of things that I can do that I have yet to try.
That’s not bad, and it is a lot more hopeful, but after spending some time in Proverbs 3:5-6, I decided to do some additional work on this thought:
I added the question: Am I leaning on my own understanding or am I trusting the Lord? The notion that I am a failure is based solely on my own understanding of things that have happened and the silly idea that I can predict the future. Next question? What would it mean to acknowledge Him in this situation?
For the answer there, my mind went to Philippians 4:13: I can do all things through him who strengthens me.
So I edited my reworked thought at bit and now this is what I will tell myself whenever I start to think I’m a failure:
Hawaii did not end the way I wanted it to but good things happened there. I have learned that I am not a salesman but there is still plenty of things I have not tried, and as I seek the Lord, it will be His power and not my own on which I may rely!
I can hardly believe where I’m sitting. They told me to sit down at a table and they brought a plate of food. I’m hungry, but none of this is appetizing. I pick through my meal and then sit and survey the room.
There is a lot of commotion. Another patient, I’ll call him Jay, is yelling profanities at the nurses because the rooms are locked. They tell him that the rooms are open after 8pm, after everyone has had their meds. He calls them quacks and a few words that would make Donald Trump blush. Another patient tries to intervene. Jay yells at her too.
I ask the nurse if I have a room. I do, but it won’t be open until 8. And Jay is my roommate. I look at the clock. It is six. Am I supposed to sit in this chair for 2 hours?
This is by far the most surreal day I have ever had. I have spent most of my life trying to hide the fact that I have some serious struggles with depression. It comes at me in waves sometimes and lately, the waves are larger, and more common.
That’s what happened. The day started normal, but sometime in the afternoon a wave of despair hit me and left me in a fog. I couldn’t think straight. I wondered if there was any possible way to die that wouldn’t look like a suicide. I started an argument with my wife and then I started melting down.
As I lay on the bed sobbing that I needed help and that I didn’t trust myself to be left alone, my wife reached out to her sister, who happens to be a professional counselor. Her advice, “get him to the ER.”
We drive to the hospital. Part of me is hopeful that this is the path to help, part of me is embarrassed that I’m going to have to finally admit my struggles. Most of me is just in a foggy stupor.
My wife goes in first and finds out that the ER handles psychiatric cases, so she brings me in. Now I have to start telling strangers about my plans I made a month ago do drive my car into a ravine. My wife and I are placed in an room that is empty except for a small mat on the floor. I’m told to undress, put on a hospital gown, give my valuables to my wife and bag up my clothes. They take my clothes from me, there is no getting out of this. Tests are done. Blood is drawn, I pee in a cup. At least three people ask me the same questions, then one asks, “What do you want?”
“I need help,” I say. This may be the smartest thing I have ever said.
They explain that they are going to admit me. A few minutes later a nurse comes with a wheel chair and an armed guard. It’s time to go to the unit. They explain to my wife that she can call the unit for visitation rules. They explain that I might be able to take a phone call later. They tell her that this is where she has to say good-bye.
The nurse wheels me to the elevator and then through a set of locked doors. The armed guard goes with us. The nurse now calls in to a nursing station and the next set of locked doors opens. They have me sit in a room while a nurse begins getting all of my information. My blood pressure is dangerously high. They ask if I’m nervous. They ask if I have ever been in a locked down facility like this or jail. I haven’t. I have no idea what to expect.
Next, a male psych tech is brought in. He finds me some underwear, scrubs, and no-slip socks. Then I’m strip searched. By now the hospital knows that I have not tried to harm myself recently, I am carrying nothing, and I am not on any drugs. They escort me out to the “day room” where I sit for my tray of food.
As I sit an ponder the fact that I have two hours before I can go to my room or make a phone call I wonder what I’m allowed to do. Most of the patients are watching Lonesome Dove on the TV but they are arguing over how many parts in the series there are. I see a shelf of games and puzzles, but I’m not sure I can go look at them. I see a book shelf, but I don’t know how I’m supposed to handle myself in a room like this.
Eventually, I get up the courage to go to the bookshelf. There are some Grisham, ironically one that features a suicide in the first chapter. There are also a bunch of Gideon Bibles, and as a former pastor, I’m pleased to see that they are in my favorite translation. I try to read, but the words are literally a blur.
I return to my chair by the dinner table. I ask a nurse where I can use the restroom and she points me toward one just to the side of the dayroom. “Sorry,” she says, “the door has to stay open.”
What am I doing here? I’m in scrubs sitting along side people that are having heated arguments about a miniseries. One patient is having a heated argument with himself. I have no privacy. At 8pm, phones are brought out. I suddenly realize that I have never memorized my wife’s phone number. A nurse is kind enough to look it up and write it on a post it. That post it becomes the only thing I actually own throughout my stay.
My wife calls me, but I can’t speak. I am overwhelmed and I just cry. She assures me that things are going to get better. She’s crying too.
She is right. Over the next few days I learn from the nurses, the psychologist, the psychiatrist, and the general practitioner all sorts of ways that I can be healthy in all aspects of my life. When it is time for me to leave, I have a medication plan and a counseling plan and I cannot help but notice that the sun is shining brightly as I walk out of the hospital.
My experiences with depression are fueling "The Baggage Claim Project." Check it out and please consider supporting me on this journey!
Author, Parent, Husband, Christ-follower