4 Silver Bullets For Battling Depression In Your Life

Like millions today, I’ve faced the demon of depression for much of my life. In fact, I’ve battled severe depression ever since I was in the 7th grade, when I would cry my way through a long day of classes with a book held up in front of my face to hide my tears. My parents didn’t know what to do with my incessant sadness, and a brief mental breakdown during my high school years raised everyone’s awareness – especially my own – that something was not right inside. Even as a leader in the worlds of faith and the arts for over 25 years, the battle has never left – but a few silver bullets have made the clouds lift more often than not.

Screen Shot 2014-09-17 at 7.23.10 AM

image courtesy of anna siran photography

Are You Battling Depression Right Now?

Have you known that unrelenting sadness? That inner anxiety that everything will come crashing down at any moment? I used to tell my wife that I was one bad day away from being a street person, and two bad days away from a serious attempt on my life. Today, you wouldn’t know that’s my past, but for much of my life, the specter of depression haunted me daily. As a Christian, prayer has been the staple of my recovery. But other direct attacks on depression have also lifted me in powerful ways.

It’s my hope that some of the keys I’ve discovered, from sheer desperation, over the few decades of my life, may help you. While there is no one silver bullet for anyone’s depression, in my experience, a cocktail of them can put depression out of your life so you can function and enjoy your days.

Here are four of my silver bullets in my battle against depression:

1. Name Your Triggers, And Manage Them

One of the first things I had to do was to name what experiences triggered my spirals downward. If we never examine our lives and patterns, we will never discover the weapons we need to battle depression.

For me, relational conflict is a primary trigger. I’m fine if finances are tough, or even if I lose my job (having experienced this multiple times, the heat is off that one – See Gladwell’s David and Goliath). But whatever happened in my youth, whatever still happens in my psyche today when high emotions are expressed in a room, signals a trigger for me that I must constantly manage.

For that reason, a job that entails a steady diet of being around relationally dysfunctional people (needy, or belligerent, or hiding agendas, or socially clueless, or dismissive, or emotionally unfiltered) is not for me. I was a counselor of juvenile offenders, because my compassion compelled me there. I almost (physically and emotionally) died in the daily fray. I was a senior pastor of a local church, and while I was called to do it and wouldn’t trade that season for the world, the sustained need to be “on call” for crisis took me away from being emotionally present to my family. Some mornings I couldn’t get out of bed. Lord, I thank you for my wife.

I’m also an artistic personality, with a high bar for quality in visual, audio, and aesthetic fields. I’ve noted that being in environments where the bar for “quality” is what I would deem to be low, for a sustained period of time, takes me out.

Conversely, I thrive in arenas where creativity is high, interpersonal competition is low to non-existent, aesthetic comradery and collaboration is encouraged, and where my internal bar for quality can be exercised without being penalized or spoken of as “extreme.” (I can’t tell you how many deer-in-the-headlights looks I’ve endured because my dream is to live in a cathedral or modern castle.)

Having named a few of my triggers, I can note when an environment simply won’t work for me over the long haul.

2. Get Control Of Your Body, And Keep Control

Many moons ago, when I was in one of my darkest times as a pastor, a friend came to me. Natural eating and medicine were still quite unpopular then, and my friend was a hippy in a GMO world. I had tried all the natural anti-depressants everyone seemed to rave about – and they all had the opposite effect on me. I would be brought lower by using them. As I shared my struggle, he had a thought.

He suggested I try NuLife’s Energy – a unique blend of Ginsengs and other ingredients that serves as a food supplement and stimulates the adrenals. I needed to take it twice daily, for 30 days, for it to build up in my system. 20 or so years later, it daily takes me from feeling naturally “sad, tired, and afraid” to feeling “normal, energetic, and confident.” If I stop, I just go back to the way I was (Note: for women, ginseng has a different affect, so be aware; and everyone should consult a naturopath if you’re considering trying it).

For me, Energy was the first real game-changer in my battle with depression. Nothing else worked for my body like it did.

That told me that my body had something definitively to do with the depression. It was not just a spiritual darkness from which I needed delivered. My emotions were being controlled, in large part, by my body’s systems. Genetics, my early diet, and more were ruling me. Energy revealed the reality that if I could control my body, I could take the heat off of depressions onslaught.

The second part of that silver bullet was a book called The Mood Cure. It addressed the amino acids in the brain, and the unhealthy fats, that wreak havoc on the moods of our generation. With a naturopath’s guidance, I began to experiment according to their system. One amino acid, in a low dose (had to figure that one out), put a “bottom to my cup” emotionally. That has generally remained. It’s a book worth the read if this is your battle.

The third part of this was identifying the foods that take me down, and make me tired. Carbs, especially breads, desserts, and alcohol – things that convert quickly to sugar – I treat like enemies (with occasional forays into their territory just because melted butter on bread or a frosty glass of Guinness is so darn good). When I went with primarily proteins and vegetables much began to change. Egg whites for breakfast beats a bagel hands down for my moods.

The fourth part of this is weight loss and exercise. To be honest, the “buzz” others say they get from exercise, or the “clarity of mind” has never been my experience. I hate exercise. I really hate it. My skin itches, my body hurts, and sweating is miserable. But I do it anyway. Because it must be good. Do it anyway.

3. Surround Yourself With Positive Reinforcements, And Manage Your Influences

This is short. I am, by nature, compassionate. But I have to watch my relationships. I need people in my life, like my wife, who are “can do” people. I don’t buy the folk philosophy you see on Facebook quote graphics that says you should avoid everyone who brings you down. Jesus walked into the mess, and we should to – to heal it, and be healed ourselves in the process. But we can watch our diet, and hang around the orbit of those who are waking up believing anything is possible.

I also have quotes up in my office, and images, that remind me of who I am and what I am here for. I keep a sheet of phrases in my drawer that I review each morning, that helps me reorient to what is truly important in my day. While there are often no fireworks with this one, the steady diet of these words keeps me from The Drift in my calling and hope.

One day, when I was at my worst, one of my closest friends was with me in a car. I said, “I feel like I’m about to lose my mind.” He was matter-of-fact. “No. You won’t lose your mind. You’re going to be fine. That’s the truth.” It was all I needed. I still need words like that in rough moments. We all do. Someone can help us take charge.

4. Invite Prayer Unceasingly, And Embrace A Lifestyle Of Gratefulness

This is another short, but no less vital silver bullet in my arsenal. The power of prayer sits at the center of the universe, a tool given to us by God to invite Him into any and every concern we have. When my community prays for me, I am stronger. When they forget, or I forget to ask, I am weaker. I don’t understand the theology of it all. I just know it’s true. Humble yourself, and welcome God into the equation. (If you’re not a follower of Jesus, or not sure about God in general, I invite you to ask Him to show himself to you in your depression. In surprising ways, though the depression may not lift overnight, He will.)

Two little spiritual books have also helped me put a dent in depression. 1000 Gifts by Ann Voskamp, has been a game-changer for me. I now see most of life through the lens of thankfulness, and have come, with her and my wife, to believe that cultivating the habit of thankfulness for every little thing is the key to a joyful life.

The second book that has served me well as an artistic personality and Christian leader is Emotionally Healthy Spirituality by Peter Scazzero. Using ideas in spiritual formation, which were familiar to me, I learned to face fears that were previously tucked away, and to learn from them what my heart was telling me. Sure, we can get lost getting in touch too deeply with ourselves (in some folks view), but in my experience, leaders who stuff their emotions are far more broken and on a fast track to health issues than those who are listening to their heart daily.

I have a daily rhythm of personal prayer, reading, and devotion that keeps me centered, and this also prepares me to step into the battle of my day fully armed, and with my silver bullets locked and loaded for any challenge that may come.

This Is Just A Start

These are a few of my silver bullets for battling depression as a fellow journeyor and as a leader. I chronicle my path for keeping my spiritual passion alive in my book, The Elemental Life: The Earth, Wind, Fire, And Water Of The Passionate Spiritual Life. In my experience, if this part of me is alive and well, I have the strength to apply all of the above in my changing life.

I encourage you to seek out support in each of the areas above, and find – with God’s help – the silver bullets that will matter for you. My prayers, today, and as I read every comment below, are with you.

::

Question: Have you battled depression? If so, what “silver bullets” have helped you in your struggle?

Resource: I’ve named a few above. Again, The Elemental Life: The Earth, Wind, Fire, And Water Of The Passionate Spiritual Life chronicles my path for living in 4 rhythms that strengthen us for daily life.

How To Start A Worship Circle In 7 Steps

Many years ago I gathered about 50 college students into a room on the upper floor of our small university’s main building. I had called the idea a “Worship Circle,” based on a phrase that was floating around at the time. I invited anyone who wanted to come, from kids, to students, to adults. I wasn’t prepared for what would happen that night.

front-ceiling-decorative

Since that night all those years ago, I’ve run many Worship Circles with groups of 5 to 200, in many denominations – and they work. First, I’ll give you an example of a Worship Circle, then we’ll look at how to start your own.

An Example: My First Worship Circle

After we set a night and chose a room that was big enough to hold us, but small enough to create a sense of energy (sanctuaries rarely work), we told everyone to bring their instruments. It didn’t matter what they played, could barely play, or didn’t play, they could bring something. Many students weren’t even musicians that we knew of. Before the event, I and a few of my students gathered as many cajons, djembes, guitars, mandolins, keyboards, and anything we could find – and put them in the room.

Then, we set the room up in tight, packed, rough, concentric circles. The chairs were a bit staggered, and some areas gave more room for bigger instruments. In the middle were our strongest musicians. A solid drummer was on cajon, another on djembe, a few acoustic guitars, a violin, a bass, and an electric guitar rounded out our “inner” circle. They were going to keep us locked in and musical.

I had brought about 30 sets of chord charts, with 10 familiar songs we had chosen in each. Familiarity and quick connection was key. My goal was to, with another worship leader, model the flow of a worship set and lead us into more spontaneous spaces. The students in our Worship Arts program would benefit, but what about all the others students? If we brought extra instruments, what would they do? Would the music fall apart if musical chaos ensued?

Anything but chaos happened that night. As the buzz of student laughter and conversations filled the room, we in the center began. Instead of everyone getting quiet, because the room was small and were packed in like sardines, they joined the fray.

Within minutes, students were following chord charts, keeping with the groove of the inner group, and engaging in passionate worship.

We ran worship circles weekly for whoever wanted to come, and over time, more musicians (with worshipper’s hearts) were being born. Now, I run them anywhere I can – they are fun and are a great learning tool.

How To Start A Worship Circle

Once you get an attractive invitation put together (youth need to be drawn to it), and set the night (1.5-2 hours should be enough), let people know early and invite every age to come. On the invitation, tell them to bring an instrument of any kind, even if they are new to it – but they don’t have to.

Once you’ve invited everyone, here are 7 steps to running an effective worship circle.

1. Choose a room that has good, rich acoustics, and gather instruments. Choose a smaller room, as when people are packed in, it’s a more energetic experience. If you can, find comfortable seating and have snacks available on the perimeter. High ceilings can kill worship circles. You want to be able to hear each other well, and for the sound to resonate (it’s why we love to sing in bathrooms!). Your church sanctuary, unless it is very small or the only option, is typically not the best choice for this. A large living room is.

Then, gather as many instruments as you can. You don’t need 3 keyboards or more than 2 electric guitars, but an unlimited supply of guitars and percussion never hurts.

2. Create a small, inner circle, big enough for a few solid guitar players, a cajon/djembe player, a bass, and a keyboard player. Put amps in close so as not to take up too much room. The tighter, the better. They don’t have to rehearse before it, but they should be pretty good. They will be the glue that makes the night work. If not, just make sure you have a locked in, good guitar player at your side.

3. Put chairs out, staggered, but in concentric “circles” radiating out from the center. Leave room for kids or youth to sit on the floor. The more “family” it feels, the better. Note: The circular shape matters – horseshoe shapes, rows, or any other shape does not work as well in my experience.

Again, pack it tight – people can always move their chairs.

4. Create and hand out a 10 song chord chart pack, enough for everyone to take one. People will use this during the Worship Circle, but will also take it home to practice. You are modeling how you would follow a chart, and diverge from it as well. Their mistakes will be swallowed up in the larger sound. You don’t need to do every song on the list. Have enough to choose from. Make them generally familiar.

5. Ask everyone to tune up to a tuner near them. If you can find a bunch of PT-10 tuners, and get those going around, it helps. Make some fun out of the tuning experience. It will sound crazy for a few minutes.

6. Begin by leading a more mid-tempo, familiar song. Let people find their way in, and a medium groove is just easier to follow till everyone gets comfortable. I encourage you to vary the song feel that night, and incorporate fast, medium, and slow tempo songs. Note that a whole set of 90% familiar songs is the big win. 7-8 songs for the night is fine. Let them drag out.

7. Take your time, and let a 1-1.5 hour (or longer) night unfold. If a Stomp-fest begins on a certain song, let it go. When things flow naturally, as in a good worship set, the whole experience is better for everyone. Avoid stopping and starting too much, and create one long sequence of music – and worship. If people start locking into a groove, and it gets “Stomp-like” in the room (the Broadway musical where percussion instruments are made out of anything from brooms to chairs), just go with it. In fact, start it if you can.

Variations On Worship Circles

  • Do a small one, in a living room, with just your worship leaders. Sensitivity and musicality will grow.
  • Candlelight a room, and make it a special night of more intimate worship.
  • Find a highly acoustic space (like a stone chapel), and try it there. Fun – except djembes and tambourines must be checked at the door.
  • At Christmas, do a Worship Circle with Christmas Carols. Everyone wants to learn those.
  • Do a Youth Only Worship Circle. However, I encourage mixing generations whenever you can.
  • Do a Hymns-based Worship Circle, and focus on… hymns.
  • Do a “New Songs” Worship Circle, and get everyone learning new material (tougher).

Benefits Of Running Worship Circles

  • Young people gain confidence in both playing instruments and flowing in worship expression.
  • Older people break out of their confines and try new things.
  • The “all-age” dynamic brings people together.
  • Songs are taught to small group leaders.
  • Band members learn how to linger in a song, rise and fall with dynamics, and respond musically to changes.

Video Lesson

Here is my video on how to start a worship circle, if you need more help.

::

Question: Have you run Worship Circles in the past? Or did you recently try one? What was your experience?

Resource: I talk about musicality, and Worship Circles as a tool for team building, in the Essentials In Worship Leading study.

Weekly Worship Team Devotional: What Is On Your Spiritual Business Card?

front-hands-against-sky

photo courtesy of www.mattfrise.com

[The Weekly Worship Team Devotional is designed for reading before a rehearsal, forwarding via email to your team, or sharing with your tagged team on Facebook]

WHAT IS ON YOUR SPIRITUAL BUSINESS CARD?

From Luke 3 in The Message. “After all the people were baptized, Jesus was baptized. As he was praying, the sky opened up and the Holy Spirit, like a dove descending, came down on him. And along with the Spirit, a voice: ‘You are my Son, chosen and marked by my love, pride of my life.’”

DEVOTIONAL

People have many reasons for creating and carrying business cards. They usually designate something about that person’s identity and what they would like to be known for, be it the kind of work they do, or the way they like to express themselves. On every business card, you will find a person’s name, and then something written underneath it. What is written underneath may be a job title, a role, or a creative way of expressing a person’s sense of purpose.

I like to imagine that we all have “spiritual business cards.” Imagine your name written on your spiritual business card, and what the design might be like. Is it sleek and well-designed, or crumpled up and haphazardly laid out? Are the fonts clean and smooth, or are they rough, big, and loud?

Now, imagine you see your name on the card. What have you written beneath it – i.e. what words have you used to describe your sense of identity? I know that I, and others like me, take our spiritual business cards every day and write on them things like “worship leader,” “songwriter,” “vocalist,” “sound tech,” or “center of the musical universe.” We even may write “Mother,” “Father,” or some other role in our home or ministry life.

I believe that, every evening, God’s takes our spiritual business cards into His keeping, as our heads hit the pillow, and does some editing. After all, they were first designed by Him – we didn’t start from scratch. Where we have scribbled our roles, titles, and dreams, He lovingly erases each one to uncover the words that he knows belong under our name.

All it says is “Son” or “Daughter.”

You belong to God. Your identity, and my identity, begins and ends here. The rest is a privilege.

TEAM PRAYER

Lord, make me aware that today each one of us is Your son or daughter. When we begin to root our identity anywhere else, we ask you to make us aware and draw us back to this simple, eternal truth. In Jesus’ name we come, amen.

::

About The Author: Dan Wilt is the creator of WorshipTraining’s Essentials In Worship Video Training Course for worship leaders and teams. His worship leadership blog serves up weekly tools and team encouragements at DanWilt.com.

Gungor, Beeching And Moving On From Christian Celebrity Culture

On this blog, I intentionally stay focused on supporting worship leaders and teams with ideas, inspiration, and hopefully raw encouragement that keeps us strong in doing what we do for the long haul. But some things get going out there that ruffle feathers, cause confusion, and even stir fear in us. The recent news items about Michael Gungor and his questions about Genesis, and Vicky Beeching coming out as gay, have had quite a ripple effect. My response here, as usual, is not focused on my perspective on either Genesis or homosexuality. My opinions run strong on both issues, mind you, but something else felt more important than those.

Screen Shot 2014-09-03 at 7.55.48 AM

What Happened

A few weeks ago, an interview resurfaced on the interwebs that respected artist and worship influencer Michael Gungor questioned the idea that the Noah story literally happened. Drama ensued. As well, Vicky Beeching, a respected UK/US worship leader, songwriter, and now social media maven, told the world she is gay.

The web blew up (at least in the Christian contemporary world), babble and banter flew into the cybersphere, and many of my friends around the world were confused on both issues. Opinions flared, as they should have. We are people. Opinions, expressed harshly or softly, are the way we work our inner world out.

Gungor, Beeching, And Moving On From Christian Celebrity Culture

Here are my thoughts, touching on both topics as we go, but focusing more on how we think about these things rather than what I think.

1. Both Gungor and Beeching are people in process, just like you and I. Let’s focus on own our own development rather than living through theirs.

The fact is, Vicky is a friend of mine, and I’ve seen this moment coming for years. However, that doesn’t mean it’s not hard for folks, a surprise, or challenging to those who elevate her to a place of significant influence in her life. Popularity has never meant someone is right; it just means they have influence (remember junior high?).

Gungor is an inspiration to me, and many of you. And? He’s a guy in process. We’ve probably read some of the same books, and not read some of the same books. And? He’s a guy in process.

Reality check: Vicky is a woman of our age, and her decision is what it is. Her influence is not what should be shaping your worldview or mine, either direction. It’s the young ones we need to always care for, and help discern in our crazy time in history. Our walk with God should be shaping our view of the world, and our passionate study of God’s word, the history of the Body, and the culture of our time.

After having reacted to these news items, stemming from people in process who have a public face and responsibility, let’s get back to faithfully leading worship, studying the Scriptures, and serving God’s people with our best understanding of what it means to follow Jesus. Hard decisions will come. Make them with your best understanding, and be open to learning as you go.

2. Artists think in metaphors, and push boundaries by nature. Their passion or popularity does not make them right, or wrong.

In my home, my kids think I’m the opposite of literal. I usually take this as a compliment, but it can get in the way. I find it hard to just accept things I probably should. My wife carries the innocence, trusting, and believing factor far more in our home. I want to be like her. But, in many cases, I’ve come to embrace most biblical stories as literal (C.S. Lewis suggested that takes more imagination at times than making everything a metaphor). Truth is, Gungor can think what he wants about Noah. He doesn’t ultimately know. You and I don’t ultimately know either. We’re guessing based on our best understanding of the text (scholars have strong opinions, and after my study, so do I), tradition, and more.

I studied Genesis significantly over the years. I needed to for my work in the Essentials In Worship study. Of course there are those of us who believe Adam and Eve are literal figures, and others who don’t. The text can take us those places; both are scary for those who don’t approach the text that way. They are scarier places if we don’t study toward landing well on what we believe.

Reality Check: Gungor is a guy, an artist, and a human being in process. We all are. He has an opinion. And he makes great art. And? Our problem is that we give way too much weight to his opinion. Why? Because contemporary Christian approaches to working out our faith have not included aggressive reading, thinking, and fighting for understanding. In today’s spiritual goulash world, this kind of faith, processed in heart and mind, is deeply needed. Instead, we live vicariously through others who are popular, have passion, read, and fight for these things. There is no worship leader who should not be reading, watching, or thinking about theology. Full stop.

There’s too much at stake to be all heart and little mind today. Postmodernism and Post-Postmodernism will force you off the platform, eventually. Both/And. Both/And. A thinking heart and a feeling mind, as a friend of mine always says.

3. These things matter, but our Christian celebrity culture makes them matter too much. Let’s move on. Really. Heroes are heroes. But let’s move on.

Of course what Gungor thinks about Genesis, and what Beeching sees as normal Christian sexuality, matter. Those things matter to them, and to those who love and respect them. However, the industry makes them larger than life, which is helpful in business, and unhelpful in the end to the Body of Christ. Larger than life platforms generate revenue, but what people do with their platforms is ultimately in their own hands. The industry has no intent of mitigating that.

The fact is, they are people like you and I. God knows the influence they have/He has given them, and they’ll need to work that out with God just like you and I will.

Reality Check: There should be 10K Gungors, and Beechings, in faith, talent, skill, creativity, and forcefulness of passion. Among those, there should be many approaches to faith that root us in orthodox faith and inspire us to tell God’s story in a 1000 ways.

But the reality is, our Christian celebrity culture, and our truncated contemporary Christian worldview of sacred and secular, make them just a few of the “special” Christians people look to.

We should all move on, and get great at what we do. Then we should study, grow, discern, listen, pray, and humbly lead in our sphere of influence.

Let’s Have Opinions – But Better Yet, Let’s Have A Vision

Should we exert our opinions about these things, and seek to diminish confusion in our homes, churches, and those with whom we work and serve?

Absolutely.

Should we turn our energies to creativity, honing our craft, studying the Scripture, devotional living, incarnating the Gospel, and discipling 1000 others who are as artistic and passionate as Gungor and Beeching, and yet have other ways of seeing faith and the world around them?

Absolutely.

Let’s get a vision for what that creative Christian worship leader, songwriter, or artist of our age looks like, then embrace studying the Scriptures, church history, and our creative craft with passion so we can become it – and disciple others.

May the God of Grace and Wisdom lead us as we lead others in worship.

::

Question: Without explicitly stating your opinion about either of these issues, can you articulate what you envision to be the characteristics of the “optimal” worship leader/songwriter/artist, who follows Jesus, of our time?

Resource: Essentials In Worship Theology hits on both these areas. It’s an easy entry point into worship study that relates to Genesis, human identity, and current cultural issues as they relate to our worship worldview. Also, Worship White Noise unpacks how we can dis-entrench our vision of worship from the industry and misconstructed sacred/secular worldview today. My goodness.

 

Weekly Worship Team Devotional: Worship Is Collaboration With The Congregation

[The Weekly Worship Team Devotional is designed for reading before a rehearsal, forwarding via email to your team, or sharing with your tagged team on Facebook]

istock-hands-cropped

WORSHIP IS COLLABORATION WITH THE CONGREGATION

From 1 Corinthians 14:26 in The Message. “When you gather for worship, each one of you be prepared with something that will be useful for all: Sing a hymn, teach a lesson, tell a story, lead a prayer, provide an insight.”

DEVOTIONAL

The next time you and I step to on a stage, stand behind a microphone, strap on our instrument, or rehearse our hearts out – we are only getting closer to achieving half of what is about to happen in the room during that worship set. The reality is, unless the community we lead in worship engages, finds their language of prayer in the songs and liturgies presented, and offers themselves to the community worship experience happening in the room that day, then our worship expression is only a show.

That is why we choose songs that gather the community in one voice, familiar songs seasoned with new songs on occasion. That is why we create for our communities, yet do so in a way that is submitted to a higher goal than just our own self-expression. This is why we can step on a stage to lead, or step off to serve in other ways for a time. We are collaborating with the community. Then community is then, ideally, collaborating with the Spirit. This is when all the gifts of worship truly flow.

When their song rises, to the tune of the music we lead, and amplify, and sing – then we are all collaborating in the kind of worship that the Father seems to seek. Recognize that we are collaborating with our congregation in worship, and leave the show to another place and time.

TEAM PRAYER

Lord, help us to see the beautiful collaboration that is our community in worship. Help us serve with our instruments, musicianship, and technical equipment, the shared worship experience going on in the room. Teach us to serve with our gifts and talents, rather than making our self-expression the motive behind what we do. In Jesus’ living name we come, amen.

::

About The Author: Dan Wilt is the creator of WorshipTraining’s Essentials In Worship Video Training Course for worship leaders and teams. His worship leadership blog serves up weekly tools and team encouragements at DanWilt.com.